Whether your child participates in group or individual achievement tests, there are a number of things the homeschooling parent can do to reduce text anxiety and improve test performance.  All of these strategies can be incorporated into the regular homeschool routine, and recorded in the log as legitimate instructional activities.  Best of all, the ideas listed below can all contribute to your learning goals for your child, no matter what educational philosophy guides your homeschooling.

  1. The Educated Child: Keep up with systematic instruction in all subject areas.   Be sensitive to your child’s interests and developmental level, but don’t let things slide week after week.  Discovery learning is great in the younger years, but we live in a complex culture which requires that students develop skills in many areas which may not be inherently appealing to them.  When faced with a tedious or distasteful homeschool assignment, all four of our children would hear me say, “You don’t have to love it, you don’t have to enjoy it, you don’t even have to pretend to be interested in it, but you DO have to learn it, and you will be tested on it.”  Hold your child accountable for his learning, even in those areas which are more difficult for him.
  • If your child scores are consistently below the 30th percentile in one or more areas, heed the warning signs, and get help fast!  You can schedule individual achievement testing even after you receive the group test scores, and use the diagnostic information from the individual testing to guide your educational plans for the following year.  Also, ask your homeschool evaluator for input about adjusting your teaching methods or curriculum to better meet the educational needs of your child. Don’t just keep doing the same old thing that hasn’t been working.
  • If your child still scores poorly, consider having a complete diagnostic assessment done to determine if there are learning disabilities, attention deficit issues or other learning problems which need to be addressed.   Be careful about getting “taken” by well-meaning but unqualified people who want to test your child.  Some of my families have called me in a panic because of the misdiagnosis of their child by a public school guidance counselor, or an optometrist, or even an elderly neighbor who taught special ed 30 years ago.  A professional person doing diagnostic assessment should be a licensed clinical or school psychologist.  If you cannot locate an individual in private practice like myself, check with local universities or children’s hospitals which often have clinics where this type of diagnostic testing is offered.
  1. Math: Around age 8 or so, begin weekly timed drills in basic math facts:  by the end of 3rd grade, your child should be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide single-digit numbers FAST.  You can make this fun by using a stopwatch and keeping a chart of progress, or try the Math-It system (getting all the math fact cards on their correct answers while holding your breath!), timed math games on the computer, or have a friend over to do timed tests with your child.

Teach your child to use scratch paper when allowed – don’t let him always do complex problems in his head, especially multiple-step word problems, division and multiplication of large integers, fractions and decimals, or algebraic equations.  When I test children individually, I am always amazed at how many homeschoolers refuse to use paper and pencil to work out math problems, even when I encourage them to do so (and they almost always make a lot of mistakes by trying to do everything in their heads).  Mental computation is a great skill, but so is efficient use of pencil-and-paper.

  1. Reading: Read, read, read!  Read aloud to your child (even your older child), have your child read aloud to you and talk about the stories…talk about new vocabulary words, the plot, the characters, what might happen next, summarize what happened in the previous chapter, what motivated the characters, etc.  Read poetry, non-fiction, essays, even magazine and newspaper articles.  The more knowledgeable your child is about a wide variety of topics, the greater his understanding will be on test day. (Not to mention the fact that reading widely makes us all more competent and interesting people!)
  • Teach your child how to look back in the story to find the answer . . . learning how to skim over a selection to find specific information is a very helpful skill.
  • Also work on visual and auditory memory – have your child do silent or oral reading, then ask him to summarize what he has read out loud to you.  Have him practice remembering what he has just read – he shouldn’t have to look back in the passage for the main idea, characters, setting and basic plot.
  • Give him 5Ws book reports to write (who, what, when, where, why, how).  For 5th grade and up, focus on the Why? and How?
  • Practice choosing titles of main ideas for reading selections.  On the standardized tests, students should NOT be creative, but need to think like the boring adults who developed the test.
  • Work on gaining meaning from a reading selection even if your child cannot de-code all the words.  The first time through, have him say the word “something” for each difficult word; then re-read for meaning and see if he can figure out the words he didn’t know based on the context of the sentence, picture clues and phonetic features.  There is nothing wrong with making an educated guess about a word to see if it makes sense in the sentence.

         4.  Written Language: To develop skills with grammar and punctuation, have your child write, write, write, but take the time to have him correct his errors!  Letters to Grandma, book reports, thank you notes, field trip reports, poems, stories, captions for drawings or photos.  Make a poster of basic rules for capitalization and punctuation (color-code it, if you want), and encourage your child to refer to it as he writes so he doesn’t have so many errors to correct later.  Teach him to do a rough draft first, then help him correct mistakes and re-write neatly for his final draft.  Type up a copy of his rough draft with all his spelling or grammar mistakes in italics and punctuation errors marked with an arrow or parentheses.  Let him be the editor and correct it with a red pencil.

      5.  Reducing Test Anxiety: The group achievement test format is overwhelming if your child has never seen it before, so practice filling in the little dots, using a separate answer sheet and scratch paper; stopping when the page says STOP, erasing stray marks or changed answers completely, working within a time limit, working next to other kids but not looking on their papers or sharing answers (this is often a unique challenge to homeschoolers who have no concept of cheating on learning assignments).  Consider having your children take achievement tests every year, not just in grades 3, 5 and 8, as required by the PA law.  Research clearly shows the benefit of the “practice effect” in lowering tests anxiety and raising tests scores.

     6.  Develop Test-Taking Skills: Invest in the Scoring High or other practice tests, and work through them systematically for at least 2 months prior to the achievement test.  Know what your child will be expected to know and the format of each section of the test.  Talk your child through the principles of test-taking that the manual emphasizes:

  •   following oral directions given by the test proctor
  •   paying attention to the different directions in each section of the test
  •   consider every answer choice, don’t just mark the first one that seems right
  •   quickly rule out the two most unlikely answers
  •   make your best guess when unsure of the answer
  •   manage your time efficiently:  skip questions that you really don’t know, come back to these later; but don’t skip around on the page; don’t spend too much time on one questions.
  1. Individual Achievement Testing: If, in spite of all your efforts to prepare your child for group testing, she still cannot manage the group setting or the test format, arrange to have individual achievement testing done by a qualified educational psychologist like myself.


               As an Educational Psychologist, and homeschool evaluator, I am fascinated by the amazing array of approaches to teaching and learning in the homeschool setting.  From loosely organized “discovery” learning to regimented video classrooms, homeschool families in Pennsylvania have the freedom to develop the educational styles that fit them best.  However, the achievement test requirement for students in grades 3, 5 and 8 makes many homeschool parents tremble . . . Parents either become extremely anxious over what the test scores will reveal about the perceived success or failure of their homeschool program, or they shrug off the tests as irrelevant and ignore the warning signs of low test scores year after year.

Like it or not, we live in a test-loving society . . . college entrance exams, drivers’ permit tests, professional and trade license exams, and on and on.  The required achievement tests can be viewed as onerous burdens, or as early opportunities to master strategies for effective test-testing and overcoming test anxiety.  I always remind parents that achievement test scores are just one means of assessing the child’s educational progress, and that a well-documented portfolio with a wide variety of learning activities can certainly off-set lower-than-expected test scores.

Happily, in Pennsylvania, we have the option of either group achievement tests or individual achievement tests.  The individually administered tests are a huge blessing for many homeschooled students who have special needs, and cannot manage the large group setting, working within a strict time limit, or filling in the little bubbles on the answer sheet.  Individual testing is more costly due to the high level of professional expertise required to administer the tests, and also the expense of the testing materials themselves. When scheduling an individual achievement test, be sure to verify that the credentials and experience of the person giving the test are legitimate. The test publishers generally require that individual achievement test administrators be educational, clinical or school psychologists; or have advanced degrees in special education or psycho-metric evaluation.

I personally administer the Peabody Individual Achievement Test-Revised, which uses a flip-book system with a lot of visual picture cues, and requires mostly verbal or pointing responses, no time limits, and no little bubbles to fill in.  Best of all, this test gives me valuable diagnostic information which I can share with the parents to help them adjust their homeschool curriculum or teaching methods to better meet the educational needs of their child.  I usually print out two separate reports – a simple summary of the test scores for the school district, and a more detailed diagnostic report for the parents.

Most parents are amazed at how accurately the PIAT-R test results reflect their child’s academic strengths and weaknesses, in comparison to previous group achievement test scores which tended to be dismally low just because the child was not able to manage the test format or large group setting.  Parents are also pleasantly surprised that, although their child leaves the testing situation feeling pretty tired, there are no outbursts of crying, tantrums, throwing up or fingernail chewing previously associated with test anxiety during group tests.

As students get older, I often suggest that parents let them try to group achievement test in a non-required year, just to gain some experience, but come back for the individual PIAT-R when accurate scores are needed.  I do my PIAT-R testing in March which allows plenty of time to enhance the learning program or even do a re-test before the year-end evaluations. You can contact me to schedule the Peabody Individual Achievement Test at <>



Do you dread the hectic holiday weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s?  Are your children so hyped up that there’s no “peace on earth” at your house, and your own “Good will” toward everybody is wearing thin?  How can you possible teach your child with special needs the deeper meanings of this wonderful season when our culture demands that you over-eat, over-spend and over-extend yourself for 4 weeks straight?  Let’s slow the pace and re-discover what’s truly important during the Christmas/Hanukah season, and share tips on simplifying the celebrations.  Our own family is going through uncharted waters this year in redefining what is essential to our celebration of the birth of Jesus, and what changes we can make so we truly enjoy each other’s company in a spirit of love and harmony.  Here are some things to consider:

1)  List the top ten things the holiday season means to you

2)  Put a star by the five items that you consider essential – the holiday would feel incomplete without these five things

  • draw a line through two things you could do without this year
  • how can you streamline what’s left?

3)  Try to re-evaluate your traditional holiday activities in order to reduce stress and enjoy more meaningful times with your family and friends.

  • what is the essential spiritual meaning of the holiday
  • make a decision to simplify
  • let go of sacred cows
  • make lists to keep your self organize and delegate tasks
    • decorations to put up outdoors (garlands, lights, wreaths, yard ornaments)
    • indoor decorations (nativity sets, candles, floral/evergreen arrangements)
    • Christmas tree (live or artificial or none this year?  where stored?  who will assemble and put up?  who will decorate it?)
    • annual family photos
    • annual family newsletter
    • Christmas/Hanukah cards to mail out
    • gift list (immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, teachers,     therapists); set a price limit for each or make homenade gifts or mutually agree on no gifts
    • church, school and social events – what can you eliminate?
    • housecleaning – what can you delegate?
    • year-end giving to charities (list all; get your donations out before Dec. 31st!)
    • gift wrapping (would gift bags work just as well?)
    • special baking (do you really need 5 kinds of cookies this year?)
    • travel plans, including motels, if necessary
    • hosting guests plans, including menus and where people will sleep (is this the year to rent a retreat center and share holiday festivities in a larger, more neutral setting?)

ASSIGNMENT: With your family, cross off 5 items that are not essential this year and redefine your goals of celebrating together – more meaningful time of spiritual growth?  making memories?  developing qualities of selflessness and helpfulness in your children?

Post-High School Technical Training

Here is some information from Katie Bischak, Director of High School Operations with Triangle Tech, which might be helpful to homeschoolers looking for post-high school options other than college.
“First, let me give you a little biography of Triangle Tech, in case you aren’t familiar.  We are a trade school that has been in business since 1944.  We offer a 16-month Associate in Specialized Technology degrees in Carpentry and Construction Technology; Maintenance Electricity and Construction Technology; Welding and Fabrication, Computer-Aided Drafting and Design; and Refrigeration, Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning. We have schools in Pittsburgh, Greensburg, DuBois, Erie, Sunbury and Bethlehem.  We also offer many services to students; including free tutoring, financial aid assitance and career advising assistance.
We have started to see an increase in Homeschool students as well as Cyber students enrolling in our school across the state.  We have a great career exploration presentation, we can present just on Triangle Tech information or even offer field trips of any of our schools with lunch included!! We could do the presentations in person or possibly over a computer.  We would want to accommodate whatever need or method you think would be best for your students.


Katie Bischak
Director, High School Operations
Triangle Tech
Cell: 412-417-2039
Office: 412-359-1000  x 7147
Fax: 412-359-1012




The homeschool portfolio should be a collection of samples of your student’s academic and creative endeavors during the school year, and should address both the diploma requirements and the richness of your unique homeschool program.  A 3-ring binder with thumb-tab dividers for each subject works well.  The portfolio can be put together on a weekly basis, and will be helpful to the student in the interview process for jobs, college, and scholarships. Under the 2014 PA Homeschool Law changes, only your evaluator (not the school district) reviews the log and portfolio so you should insist on a thorough subject-by-subject review and written evaluation report which you will turn into your school district

TITLE PAGE:  Student’s name, age, grade, school year, name of diploma program enrolled in.

COPY OF AFFIDAVIT which you submitted to your school district by August 1st of academic year.

CURRICULUM OBJECTIVES:  Short summary of learning goals in each subject, specify textbooks, key activities, lab experiences and supplementary resources. This is what you submitted to your school district at the beginning of the current school year.

EVALUATOR’S REPORT:  Subject-by-subject summary of evaluation of your student’s home-school program based on interview with student and review of portfolio and log; notes volunteer work, practical life skills, and how diploma requirements and academic credits were satisfied. Evaluator should date and sign.

TRANSCRIPT FOR GRADES 9 -12: A recognized diploma program issues an official transcript and you can pencil in grades, credits, course titles, etc. on copies of the transcript.  Your evaluator serves as your student’s academic advisor and works with student and parents to complete and sign the transcript yearly and to make sure the student is meeting graduation requirements.

READING LIST:  List of books read by student, authors, date completed, classics noted.

RESUME:  Student’s own summary of activities, honors, community service and leadership.

STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES:  Test reports for Grades 3,5 and 8 and PSATs, SATs or ACTs for Grades 9-12 recommended as part of the student portfolio, but not required.

SAMPLES OF WORK: Total of 15-20 samples in each subject per year, plus required compositions, research papers and speeches; each course subject divider should have a short title that describes the course topic (Academic English 10, Algebra I, General Science 9, etc.) plus a brief summary of major skills or concepts studied, projects, field trips, etc.

  • English: Literature, grammar and composition studies, including writing process; speech.
  • Math: computation, problem solving, geometry, algebra, trig/calculus, practical math.
  • Science: reports, study questions, drawings, lab write-ups, photos of field trips and labs.
  • Social Studies: reports of unit studies, maps, time lines, graphs, notes from textbook, vocabulary and study questions, brochures and photos from field trips.
  • Health/safety: summary paragraph, illustrations, photos and reports on unit studies  field trips; fire safety, drug and alcohol awareness, moral purity, driving safety.
  • Physical education: summary paragraph, certificates, photos of sports activities.
  • Electives (Art, Music, Foreign Language, Home Ec, Computer, Bible, academic electives): reports, study questions, tests, unit studies, field trips, readings, photos, performances.

LOG OF INSTRUCTIONAL ACTIVITIES:  Daily lesson plans for each student by subject, indicating text, topic, page and exercise numbers, or other learning activities related to your learning objectives.

HEALTH RECORDS:  Immunization records, and evidence of appropriate medical care in required years (date/name of physician/type of check-up). 

Reminder About Changes in PA Homeschool

In the Fall of 2014, PA House Bill 1013 simplified what is required of homeschoolers in Pennsylvania, but increased the burden of responsibility for evaluators. Please make sure your evaluator is aware of these changes, and be prepared to pay a bit more since your evaluator is now the only one ultimately responsible for declaring that an appropriate education has taken place for each student evaluated.

  • You no longer need to take your student’s portfolio to your public school superintendent or principal for the year-end review. Parents will still be required to keep documentation for health checkups, immunizations and achievement testing in Grades 3, 5 and 8, and have the student’s program evaluated by a qualified evaluator of the parent’s own choosing, but the superintendent must accept an evaluator’s written report that an appropriate education is occurring. You must get your evaluator’s written report to your school district by June 30.
  • The new law establishes an administrative procedure to resolve any claim by the superintendent that the parent has failed to comply with any aspect of the homeschool law. Under the old law, this procedure was only used to determine whether the student was receiving an appropriate education. This means that you must still keep thorough documentation, including the affidavit, copy of parent’s diploma, immunization records and learning objectives which you still submit to your school district when you start homeschooling each year.
  • High school diplomas issued by either the parent or an approved diploma-granting organization (like PHAA or ECHSA (Erie) must be given the same rights and privileges as other diplomas (e.g. public or private school diplomas) by the Commonwealth, including consideration for financial aid by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.  Before opting for a parent-issued diploma, please check with the requirements of potential colleges for admissions and scholarships.
  • The special requirements of the original law for Special Needs Students remain the same.


Natural Horsemanship

Trimming Bridle Path  Lily saddling Cassie Kayle with Cassie Rocking Bridge

4-H CLUB:  Love horses, but can’t have one of your own?  Or, maybe you have a horse, but need some help with ground manners and basic horsemanship skills?  The Laurel Highlands 4-H Horse Club in Westmoreland County may be just what you need in 2015!  We will learn about safety around horses, horse care, breeds, personalities, barn and pasture management, and basic handling skills using natural horsemanship techniques and an obstacle “playground.”   Activities will be held at our “Stillwaters Farm” in Donegal, using our five older, trained horses (Appaloosas and Quarter horses).  In addition to learning horsemanship skills, we will enjoy field trips, poster talks and community service.  This is NOT a learn-to-ride program.  Students need to sign up for private lessons to get going in the saddle (see below!)

PRIVATE LESSONS: Natural Horsemanship Lessons are offered in a 6- or 8-week series, and include ground work, tacking up, riding in the arena, through trail obstacles and on the trail.  With the 8-week series, the 9th lesson is FREE (either as a make-up lesson if you miss one, or as a bonus if you don’t miss any of the previous 8 sessions.)  Dates and times can be arranged to fit your schedule – daytime for homeschooled or cyber school students, early evening for students in traditional schools.

ABOUT OUR HORSES: We have five healthy and seasoned, senior-age horses, who like working with kids, including two Appaloosas (Captain and Gilligan) and three Quarter horses (Rebel, Lady and Cassie).

ABOUT OUR METHODS: Our students start out by learning to work with the horses on the ground, first leading, then directing them through obstacle courses.  Everyone starts riding bareback with a rope halter and reins in order to develop balance and a secure “seat.”  Students then graduate to a Western saddle and snaffle bit.  A 12-foot safety line is used by the instructor until the student is ready to ride independently, and helmets are required for groundwork, grooming and mounted work with the horses.

Contact Barb McMillan <> for more information.