Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Homeschooling and Standardized Testing

We have recently begun our 8th year homeschooling. I look back, and I wonder how it has flown by so fast. If you had asked us when the Kid was in 1st grade (or 2nd grade or 3rd grade) if we would still be doing this, our answer would have been a resounding NO. We fully intended to send the Kid (and her sister) eventually to real school. Our plan had been to send her in middle school so she could be adequately prepared for high school, but reassessing every year to determine if would continue for another year.

We are a family of testers. We may not agree with all the tests in this world or the questions and biases they present, but we recognize that they are necessary evils. They exist in our world, and they are a part of our country's educational system. They are a way for colleges and schools and governments to objectify the thousands of students learning every day. They provide data that compare our children to others, enabling elite colleges to have an easy YES/NO for their applicants. Do these tests tell anyone how unique our daughters are? No. Do they say anything about their talents and God-given gifts? No. Do they measure even a fraction of the light and compassion in their spirits? Absolutely not. But they exist, and schools require them. The End. 

Our Kid is not the world's greatest test taker. She has anxiety. Anytime she is required to do anything on a time limit or 'by a clock,' she freaks. She melts down. She is unable to function. Her stress levels have improved over the years, but only because we have worked with her extensively. We do multiple practice tests with her and talk about how the time limits are designed to work. We have taught her stress-management - everything from yoga to fun reading to 20 jumping jacks as mental and physical breaks to help her refocus.

Our cover school requires its students to take the Stanford Achievement Test every other year starting in 3rd grade. The students are proctored live in an online classroom. The test is taken online, in our homes, and is untimed - completely opposite from how the local public school students take the same test. Stress is minimized as much as it can be. The goal is for our children to succeed and to do the very best that they can.

In addition to how the schools use the standardized test scores, we use them as a personal grade book. My husband and I use the test as a gauge that we have taught our children what they need to know. Math is math. 2+2 is 4. There is no why. It just is. Knowing that most 3rd graders know this fact and that our child has proven via test that she knows this, as well, reinforces to my husband and I that our children are meeting (and hopefully exceeding) the knowledge base of the local schools. Bottom line? We are academic snobs and want our children to have the absolute best education possible. Acing standardized tests tells us that we have taught them how to take a test as well as the underlying required facts. Is this the way we should think? I don't know, but we do. If our children do not excel on the tests, we use this as a reflection of our teaching. If they don't know something (especially in science or social studies), then odds are we have not taught that material. We then use this information to guide our curriculum choices and learning for the next year.

Is this ideal? I don't know. It works for us, and it has for 8 years. Hopefully, it'll continue to work, and our Girls will be able to attend the colleges of their choice, knowing that they have been properly prepared for the testing to face them in the future.

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