Testing and Record-Keeping in a Minimally Regulated State, by Cheryl

 

What do you do when nothing (or little) is required of you?

The Oklahoma State Constitution provides protection for the right of parents to homeschool their children. The Attorney General qualified that right by stating “so long as the private instruction is supplied in good faith and equivalent in fact to that afforded by the State.” “Equivalency” has never been established. The compulsory school age is over 5 and under 18, and 180 days of instruction must be completed in a year. The following subjects must be taught: math, writing, reading, citizenship, U.S. Constitution, health, science, P.E., safety, and conservation. Although this is all required, we report to no one. No one looks at our attendance chart or our grade records. (For a full evaluation of the laws affecting homeschools in Oklahoma, visit the OCHEC website* or HSLDA’s page on Oklahoma Regulations.)

*The OCHEC website includes a withdrawal form for children who have been in public school previously.

If your child has never been enrolled in public school, as of the publishing of this article, there is nothing you must do in this state.

With no one to report to,and no required records to maintain, there is great freedom — but should you really do nothing? Should you just forego record keeping all together? In my opinion, no. Why?

1. It is good to keep some sort of record to track your child’s progress. It is also fun to go back and compare their work from previous years to see how they have grown. In addition, laws can change or you could face a move to a more highly-regulated state. It is good to be in the habit of keeping some records.

Lilly at the microscoper

3. If your child is interested in attending college, you will need records of work at the high school level that fulfills the admission requirements for the school. By keeping records throughout the child’s school career, it will be a less daunting task when you reach high school.

Aidan doing Math

I keep three types of records for our school. The first is simply to keep all work completed in a year. We date our work and everything goes in one box at the end of the year. The second is a photographic record of the kids on field trips and working at home. The third is one standardized test at the end of each year. (I have played around with several online and paper planners for maintaining records. For elementary school–for me and the way we run our homeschool–they are not a good fit. When we reach middle school or logic stage work, I plan to add an online planner to our record keeping.)

making a lapbook

Why do I test if it is not required? For my peace of mind. That is the only reason. I start testing when my kids are at a first grade level or above in reading and math. I order my tests through Seton Testing. The tests are inexpensive, and the company has provided quick service every year we have used them. Scores are posted to your online account for a quick turnaround time.

I have used the CAT/E or CAT Survey for 1st and 2nd grade and the CogAT for 3rd and will use it again for 4th/5th grade testing. I like these tests because they only test math, reading, and language abilities, not science or social studies. Since we follow the classical method as laid out in The Well-Trained Mind, we do four-year history and science cycles. What we study does not line up with what is taught in most public and private schools in the lower elementary (or grammar) stage. I just want to see how my kids are doing in the basics of math and language.

I do not test for the “grade” my child is in, or the “grade” they would be in if enrolled in public school. I select the test for the level at which my child works. My son took the first grade CAT/E when in “kindergarten” because he was working on first grade math and reading. This year he has made a huge leap and we will test at a 5th grade level (last year we did 3rd). My daughter is in kindergarten, working at a kindergarten level, so we will not test this year. Next year we will start with a first grade test. You will not gain any information about your child’s growth and development if you test too far below or above their level. (This advice is meant only for states where testing is NOT mandated; if testing is required, follow the regulations for your state.)

One side benefit of testing when it is not required: If anyone were to question the education of my children, I have tests that show they are at or above the level of their peers. Another side benefit is that they have practice taking standardized tests in a low-stress environment. My hope is that they will be very comfortable with testing by the time they start taking college admissions tests.

When nothing is required of you, you must be more self-motivated. You must set the standards you want for yourself and your children.

 

CherylcherylCheryl 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.

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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.

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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!

 

Cherylcheryl–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.

When Homeschooling Isn't Going Well: 101 Questions to Ask Yourself, by Sheryl

 

We’ve all had those awful homeschooling moments. The ones where you look around at your kids and realize that everyone is going through the motions, but their education isn’t where you want it to be. Tears are flowing, projects are left unfinished, grades drop, and your visions of the perfect homeschool vanish.

When my crew is in the thick of homeschooling, it is easy to just put our “noses to the grindstone” and do the next thing. I focus on getting work done but rarely question the work itself. This has come to some disastrous results. At one point, I suddenly realized that I had been reteaching my daughter how to count to 10 for years. Something was wrong. I had to put everything on hold while I spent time in agonizing self-reflection to pinpoint how to proceed with getting her learning disability diagnosed and altering all of our lessons to reflect reality. It was a harsh change from my dream of what school would look like, and it was apparent that something needed to change. But what?

Self-examination is required if we are to look critically and find the source of the problem, but true self-examination is difficult. It requires us to analyze every aspect of our approach, including our methods, assumptions, and biases. It requires deep honesty and a courageous willingness to challenge our own beliefs.

Nobody likes to have their assumptions challenged, and we certainly don’t want to have our self-assessment reveal that we are contributing in any way to our children’s struggles. It is easy to avoid doing this work, but challenging our assumptions, objectives, and yes, even homeschooling itself, will push us to become better.

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Get a pen and notepad or download our assessment form. We are going to mercilessly examine your school. For each question below, you will look at the following areas.
You will need five columns.

1. The original question

2. What are your assumptions?

3. In what do you base that belief?

4. Should you challenge this belief? If so, how?

5. To do.

Okay, ready?

The basics: Academic Reassessment

    • Are you on track to complete the school year?
    • Look at each subject independently. Are your kids struggling or mastering material?
    • What methods are working best?
    • What causes the most tears?
    • What creates the most joy?
    • How do the kids feel about school in general? Are they excited, content, anxious?
    • What one subject do you most feel that you need to tweak to fit your homeschool?
    • What is holding you back?
    • What do you really not want to change?
    • What materials did you pay too much for?
    • Look at each outside activity independently. Is it a good fit for your child?
    • Are there any signs of learning disabilities? What are they?
    • What subject are you not spending enough time on?
    • What subject are you spending too much time on?
    • What should you drop entirely?
    • Do you know your children’s learning styles? Do your lessons reflect this?
    • Is your record keeping system working well for you?
    • Are you pushing or challenging your students?
    • Are your children exploring on their own?

Leave room for imperfection. Not all students are capable of straight As, and purchased materials don’t come with charts that factor in exactly how to handle that month of drastic illness you suffered. It is okay to not be perfectly in sync with where you want to be, but strive to find a balance point.

Home Reassessment

    • In general, how is your home running?
    • How many days are you out of the house?  Do you feel okay with that number?
    • What one area are you struggling most in? (cooking, cleaning, laundry, time management, outside activities)
    • Are you delegating well?
    • Are your school supplies well organized and easy to reach?
    • Is there clutter that is distracting you or the kids from schoolwork?
    • How well is your routine working for you?
    • What time of day is best for your students? Worst?
    • What doesn’t work well for you as the teacher? As Mom?
    • Do you find yourself scrambling right before lessons to find the supplies you need?

If your time management is out of order, take a moment to do a bit of backwards planning and see where your time hogs are. This will help you to determine exactly what to keep, what to drop, and where to buckle down and simply work faster.

Relationship Reassessment

    • Is there a specific subject, topic, or time of day that seems to create the worst attitudes?
    • Are you feeling distant from any of your children?
    • How well do your children interact with one another?
    • Is your child’s relationship with your spouse positive?
    • Are there discipline issues that you need to focus on?
    • Are the kids healthy?
    • Would you describe your children as happy?
    • Are there any physical or emotional impairments that should be considered?
    • What is the role of religion in your home? Is this helping your relationships?
    • Are you demonstrating good manners and consideration?
    • Do your children have friends who are a good influence?
    • What are you doing to help your children to build strong friendships with others?
    • Are special projects and field trips helping or hurting your relationships?

Self Reassessment

How is your own attitude? Our kids feed off of our energy, and our attitude can set the mood for the entire family’s day, week or even year. Remember, be completely honest with yourself while doing this assessment. Our kids learn more from what they see us do than what they hear us say.

    • Are you healthy?
    • Would you describe yourself as happy? Would others?
    • Are your daily actions demonstrating what you believe to be true?
    • Are you available to help with lessons when needed?
    • Does being needed frustrate you?
    • Are there changes that should be made in your diet or exercise routine?
    • What are you most afraid of? Is that fear impacting your life right now?
    • What methods or materials are you using simply because they are easy?
    • What are you neglecting?
    • What one thing should you stop doing?
    • Is there one subject that you can delegate?
    • What distracts you?
    • Are you hovering or empowering?
    • How comfortable are you with the amount of preparation you need to do?
    • What are you doing really well?

The hard part: Goal Reassessment

These may seem like fluff questions, but they are really at the heart of the matter.

    • Why are you homeschooling?
    • What is it that you want to achieve at the end of your child’s school career?
    • Is your child on track for college entry?
    • What should your child know by the end of this year? Be realistic and specific.
    • What teaching philosophy do you believe in most? Do your lessons reflect this?
    • If you could pick only one priority, what would you teach your kids?
    • Are you accountable to anyone?
    • What is the most important change you need to make?
    • Is homeschooling right for your children?

Just do it

This is where the rubber meets the road. You now have a list of things that you would like to improve. Things that can help revitalize yourself, your home, your school, and your kids. It’s a long list. It is challenging, and it may involve some pretty major changes.

At this point you must remember that the purpose of re-assessment isn’t to point out all  your failures or inadequacies; it is to find the areas where you can make positive changes. None of us feel like we are “doing it right.” We are all concerned that our child isn’t progressing perfectly in one subject or another, and we all have areas in which we need to improve. No one is capable of making giant changes all at once. Choose just a few areas that you feel will be the most beneficial to your kids’ school experience and focus on only that.

Reassessment is just the first step in the process.  Are you ready to find out what changes you need to make?  Download the assessment form and get started.

 

Sherysheryll–Sheryl is living her dream in the house on Liberty Hill where she is a full time wife, mother, and teacher. She is passionate about turning children’s natural curiosity into activities that will inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Learn more about her adventures at libertyhillhouse.com