My problem with trying to answer this question is, well, I don't care whether or not my kids are keeping up with some arbitrary standard set by the public school beauracracy. Maybe that is because I can readily see that comparing my kids to others their age around here isn't going to tell me anything.
Connor, for instance, may be years ahead of some of his peers in math. So what? Is he making forward progress NOW? Is he being challenged? Is he growing? That's what I need to know, not how he measures up against somebody else's 12 year old.
Or William and his reading. Comparing him to his peers depresses us both. No, he is most certainly not keeping up. So what? Is he making forward progress NOW? Is he being challenged? Is he growing? That's what I need to know, not how he measures up against somebody else's 5th grader.
Comparisons are totally natural. I get that. It started the day they were born, and we moms discussed how much they weighed, how much they ate, how many dirty diapers they had. It continued to whether they had their first tooth, when they started crawling, and how many words they could say.
So naturally, measuring them up against their peers is something that we really do whether the results mean anything or not. My son is taller, your son has a firmer handshake. My child won the spelling bee (that statement is totally unrealistic for my family), your son writes amazing poetry. And maybe some of that comparison is healthy. Watching another child confidently interact with adults, including a solid handshake (you know, not involving staring at both hands, trying to remember which hand to use) made me realize that this was something we needed to practice. And that is a good thing.
Back to the math and reading examples I gave above. Knowing that Connor is at the 99th percentile in 7th grade math tells me nothing of value. Maybe he ended up totally lost midway through algebra (totally hypothetical here). So, as a 7th grader, he'll score well. As an 8th grader, he'll score well (having learned NOTHING new). As a 9th grader, his scores might start to fall. By that time, we've wasted 2-3 years. What I want to be able to compare is how he is doing compared to himself.
Or William. Knowing he is behind other 5th graders doesn't really help. Let's say he is at a 3rd grade reading level. Did he make a year of progress this year? If he keeps doing that all the way through high school, it would mean he's at a 10th grade reading level upon graduation from high school. And while there is a huge difference between a 3rd grade and a 5th grade reading level, the difference between 10th and 12th grades is nowhere near as striking. But if every year, we get down because he is "behind," where does that leave us? I'd rather spend each year celebrating a year's worth of progress, and not stressing about being behind anyone. This child is not destined to record audio books, or to otherwise make a career out of reading aloud. And while I'd love for him to be "caught up" the truth is that comparing to himself is the only measurement that truly matters.
I think that if you have figured out a good course of study, that the best thing is to try to figure out how much they are learning this year. Not to figure out if they are keeping up with the Joneses.
All that being said, standardized tests are one way of getting a clue as to how your child compares to others. Colorado requires me to test my kids in odd grades, starting with 3rd. So this spring, I'll be testing three of them. But I really think it is a waste of money, as how they are doing compared to their peers is not something I truly care about anyway.
The TOS Crew Blog is sponsoring a question of the week every Tuesday. How Do You Know if your kids are keeping up with their peers? is planned for 2/9. I plan to participate as often as possible.