In the Age of High-Stakes Testing, How Do I Know if My Child Measures Up? by Cheryl
One of my biggest fears as a homeschool mom has been that my children will be “behind.” Behind what? Behind where the public school system says they should be? This fear plagues the minds of many new homeschool parents. The school systems have numerous fancy tests to check a child’s progress, but is this really the best way to evaluate a child? In the past few months the debate surrounding the reading test for Oklahoma third graders has been anything but pretty. One test was to determine if a third grader would be promoted to fourth grade.
With the adoption of Common Core in many states, the high-stakes testing is getting worse. If this is how the schools are monitoring a child’s progress, is this what homeschoolers should do, too? I do test my kids once a year when they are at or above a first grade math and reading level. I use a product that only tests language and math skills. Before we test, I have an idea of how my child will perform because I have been evaluating them all year.
The nature of homeschooling allows for constant monitoring of your child’s progress. But how do you really know? I have listed a few of the methods I use to evaluate my children in various subjects.
Reading: My children read aloud to me daily. I ask questions about what they have read. For my oldest, some days we read out of a McGuffey reader, and most days he reads his grammar lesson to me and then we discuss. If you want to check for decoding abilities, reading aloud is the best method to test. For comprehension, ask your child to narrate what they just read. (With narration, after they read they tell you what they read.) Another less intrusive testing method is emotional response. If your child is reading alone and begins to laugh at a funny book or cry at a sad one, you’ll know they are gaining comprehension. I have watched my eight-year-old laugh at many books he reads. It gives me great joy to see him react to a book!
Math: After working together on a topic, I send my oldest to work alone. After I check his work, we rework any problems he missed. We retouch on topics as we do the built-in reviews. If one type of problem is missed more than I think it should be, we go back to that topic. If a child struggles on advanced topics, it is a good bet that some more basic skill is lacking. Review and then try again.
Spelling and Grammar: These subjects are some of the easiest to test. Look at what your child writes during non-school hours. You will see what is carrying over. I also do dictation three days a week to practice spelling and punctuation. I recite sentences or paragraphs using words we have studied in spelling and punctuation we have covered in grammar. We discuss mistakes and then try another sentence or paragraph.
Science and History: Talk to your kids and listen to what they want to tell you. My son will talk my ear off about a science topic that interests him. I know what he is retaining when he talks to me or creates books about a topic. After a chapter on magnets in Physics, it has become his favorite topic. I have let him run with it.
My eight-year-old made this book for fun. I can see that we need to work on capitalization and punctuation, but his knowledge of magnets is far beyond what I expected.
I combine formal evaluation with much less formal evaluation methods. As I work with my kids daily, I learn their strengths and weaknesses. The one-on-one focus that homeschooling gives parents make the evaluation of skills simple.
Test if you want, but don’t let the pressure of the tests used in schools add stress to your homeschool. The tests should be treated as one tool of many in our education process. You will know your kids are learning. I struggled with this idea as it is a hard shift to make in one’s thinking about education, but you will see it and you will be amazed by what their minds can do!
Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.