How Private Schools Work

Private School Testing

Private school testing policies vary widely in terms of standardized testing requirements. While the federal department of education requires students at public schools to take part in these tests, they aren't always required of private schools. Policies are set by each individual state's department of education. In general, public school students are much more likely to submit to annual testing than students who attend private schools.

The U.S. Department of Education does require both public and private schools to submit to National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) testing every four years. This test is given to students in fourth, eighth and 12th grades, and it's used to measure educational progress. Individual results aren't given to students, and only randomly selected schools are required to participate. Only about 10 percent of all schools are subject to NAEP testing at any given time, and these schools are chosen randomly to generate statistically accurate results [source: Florida Department of Education].


While public schools must publish their NAEP test results, private schools are permitted to keep these results a secret. Some private schools may choose to publish these results as a marketing tool to draw new students or to enhance the school's image [source: Wilde].

Besides the NAEP tests, most public schools are also subject to state-level assessment tests. Private schools are not required to participate in these tests in most areas, but some may choose to take part for a variety of reasons, like developing a benchmark for comparing their students' test scores to those at other schools in the area. Parents of potential students may request these scores when deciding whether to send their children to the school. The scores can also be used as a powerful marketing tool, especially if the private school's students score much higher on these tests than students at area public schools.

In general, though, private schools tend to shy away from standardized testing because it often conflicts with core values, such as promoting individuality and aiding multifaceted development. Many education professionals also argue that standardized testing as a whole is flawed, though this debate is ongoing.

Even students at private schools that don't participate in standardized testing will likely find themselves facing the biggest test of all: the SAT. This exam tests a student's aptitude to succeed in college and is required by a majority of colleges prior to admission. For private school students, lack of experience with standardized testing can be a hindrance when it comes time to take the SAT, though private school students still tend to score better on the SAT than students from public schools.

While private schools may choose to reject most standardized testing, some may reject traditional grading entirely. Many Montessori and Waldorf programs skip grading until the high school level, choosing to offer other types of feedback to help improve student performance. Rather than returning papers marked with red ink, teachers take note of a student's mistakes or weak areas. They can then work with the student to develop a plan for improving these areas in the future. For example, a child with spelling trouble may be geared toward activities that naturally improve spelling, including reading or educational games.