This was adapted from a discussion in the Texas Unschoolers Facebook Group.

Unschooling: What is wrong with testing?
There is NO legal requirement for Testing/Evaluation in Texas.

Texas Homeschool Laws

If our Unschooler wants to take tests – why shouldn’t they? I thought Unschooling was letting them do what they want?

There’s nuances to this. Yes. We should support our unschoolers. However, if they have been in school (or schoolish set-ups like some types of preschools, &/or even lots of “organized” activities like sports, religious studies, civic groups, etc that model themselves after school paradigms – then there is deschooling that needs to happen. Otherwise, some of their motivations (and ours) are built on a foundation of suppositions, poor methodology, and sometimes lies.

Additionally, if our children have a lot of friends/peers who are “schooled” (this may mean public, private, or even traditional homeschool) – the heavy emphasis on testing, grades, and the message that being successful in these things is necessary for life may cause them to want to embrace these “benchmarks”. So, when a child who has been in school for several years and who has only recently begun homeschooling/Unschooling says they want to take a test – we should strongly question whether it is a good idea, if they understand what testing does/doesn’t do, and whether at this point & time taking a test can do more harm than good.

Yes, that is ultimately up to the parent – however, we want to be sure parents and child(ren) are aware of the problematic nature of testing. Just like we’d be concerned if they wanted to adhere to a dress code, be assigned homework, only eating from 11:45-12:15, restricted to a sip of water 4 times a day, having two bathroom breaks a day, etc. None of those things are healthy for children and are solely set up for creating a working school environment convenient for the adults.

Expanding on above – If someone is raised their whole life/heavily influenced into believing that the only way to learn is sitting at a desk, wearing certain clothes, facing forward, only responding when called on, etc. They may bring those into the home. If someone posted, “My child wants to wear a school uniform every day and follow a strict schedule for learning, eating, and drinking.” I might say, “Look, I get you (or child) aren’t comfortable with this yet – but why don’t you try offering snacks at various times. Having a water bottle nearby. Trading out one item of clothing for something more comfortable.”

Does that mean that I’m suggesting other Unschoolers start adding clothing requirements, schedules, or meal times?  No. 

Does “Someone trying the best that they can.” or “Doing what works best for their family” make their school-laced-day Unschooling?  Also no.

Unschooling isn’t about “letting them do what they want” or “child-led” in a vacuum. Especially if they don’t have all the information or incorrect information. Pam Sorooshian has a really good explanation of the nuances in her post: Unschooling is not “Child-Led Learning”.

I always enjoyed taking tests and pushing myself.

This falls both under deschooling and under the problems with tests (see more resources below).

For a LONG time, I didn’t understand what the big deal with tests was. I enjoy taking tests too. Because I’m good at taking them. I always have been. I was praised by teachers (most of whom had little to do with why I did so well) for “being an excellent student”. You know, the same teachers who spent most of the year writing me up and punishing me for talking too much and distracting other students were thrilled to take credit for my high test scores. (Nevermind that I was bored because I already knew all the info.) As I got older I learned not to mess with whatever didn’t interest me because I could often pass a test on something I was completely unfamiliar with simply because… I am a “good” test taker.

There were also students who studied really hard, who did all their homework, who could have conversations proving their competency, and then would go on to completely bomb tests. Testing (and grading, reward, punishment, praise, criticism) kills intrinsic motivation. It changes the way the brain approaches learning and interacting with the world.

There are tests in life and they need to know how to take tests.

This is somewhat true. At that time, you can prepare for test taking “skills” and still with the understanding that an imperfect score does not always indicate a problem. Just like our kids didn’t need to have 12 years of lockers at school to learn how to use a combination lock – our children don’t need regular/yearly academic testing/assessment to learn how to take tests.

Sometimes there were quizzes/tests when our kids were involved in various activities. When our son was taking driver’s ed, there were practice quizzes and then the test to qualify for his learner’s permit. It didn’t take long for him to figure it out. When he took a Khan Academy class to prepare for a college class he was interested in, the testing was a little different, again – he figured it out or asked me questions and I explained what they were looking for/asking with certain verbiage.

Another thing to consider is that as more Colleges/Universities/Companies move away from testing – it may not be as necessary for their future as you think.

Ultimately – Testing doesn’t work​

Here are some posts by Alfie Kohn* where you can read the research about the harms of testing and how they don’t actually measure competency:

Standardized Testing and Its Victims

Why The Best Teachers Don’t Give Tests

The Deadly Effects of “Tougher Standards”

The Case Against Grades – While this is specifically about grades – it talks about “assessments” which is sometimes a word folks who are trying to get away from the stigma of “standardized testing” are using for tests/evaluations that are still problematic.

Fair Test: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing has a HUGE list of articles/research on the issues with testing.

The SAT and the Prep Business – PBS/Frontline. Collection of views of authorities on intelligence and testing.

Unschooling specific articles/blogs about testing

15 Problems with Testing Unschoolers and Homeschoolers by Unschooling to University

Filling in the Dots: What One Life Learning Family Learned From a Test by Suzanne Malakoff on Life Learning Magazine

Testing…1-2-3…Testing… by Cathy Earle on Unschooling Mom2Mom

*I know we’ve linked to a lot of Alfie Kohn. The reason being is that he has done a LOT of research in this area. All his articles come with links to more info, studies, other articles, books, etc. This isn’t a singular source – just easy links to get you to multiple sources & information.