How Do I Know My Homeschooled Kid Is Progressing?

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A big worry for many homeschooling parents is how to assess their child’s progress. They want to know how to see that homeschooling is working and get some assurance that their child is progressing.

We love our kids and want what’s best for them, so we like reassurance that we’re not negatively impacting our children’s lives, academically or socially, by homeschooling. So, when you decide to take the plunge and start homeschooling, how do you know that your child is achieving his full academic potential? How do you know that he’s meeting educational goals and milestones?

There are several ways to assess your homeschooler’s progress easily.

Observation

Observing your child is a straightforward method for assessing his progress. If your son can read this year and last year he couldn’t, he’s progressing. When you correct your daughter’s math worksheet, and all the long division problems are correct (hallelujah!), you know that she’s getting it. If you’re using workbooks and he’s completing them and getting the answers right, he understands the material.

But, what if the progress is harder to see? What if it’s really slow?

I can so relate to hard-to-see progress. Josh is severely dyslexic. Those early years of learning to read were hard. I remember having a set of 10 or 20 sight word cards that we’d go over every day (in addition to phonics instruction). Months after we began working with those words, Josh still could only consistently remember two or three of them. I despaired that he would ever learn to read.

It took three years to see consistent, measurable progress – and online dyslexia treatment with Lexercise – to reach reading fluency. Three years is excruciatingly slow progress when you’re a worried new homeschooling mom, trying to measure how well your child is doing.

Tips for Observing Progress

In her book, Choosing and Using Curriculum, Joyce Herzog explains how to make a “snapshot of progress” for each of your children. The basic idea is that at both the beginning and end of each school year, you ask your child to perform seven tasks with varying degrees of difficulty. These include writing the alphabet, writing a sentence (or more for an older child), and writing an example of each math operation (addition, subtraction, etc.) that he feels confident he can perform correctly.

This simple, low-key evaluation helps you see a measure of each child’s improvement over the course of the year. Even when the progress is slow. Alternately, you could just make notes of your observations of your student’s abilities in various areas at the beginning and end of each school year or keep and compare work samples.

Joyce also suggests, in the Scaredy Cat Reading program, keeping a known words box. All About Spelling does something similar with the mastered word cards.

Once your child learns a word and can consistently read it, he adds it to his known words box. I was always terrible about keeping my kid’s boxes updated. But sometimes that was a good thing because when I did remember to update it, I was always pleasantly surprised at how many words they added to their boxes. The known words box is an excellent tool for providing visible proof of progress.

Evaluation and Testing

Evaluation and testing are both common means for measuring a child’s progress. I’m not especially fond of this method because some kids simply don’t test well. My oldest was always one of those “stressed testers.” There are just some things that a standardized test can’t measure.

In our state, we homeschooled kids have to take a standardized test every three years, beginning at the end of third grade. I like using the same exam each testing year. That helps provide a clear picture of their progress.

You can’t always measure progress by stellar test scores. For example, my daughter, as I mentioned, never tested well, even during the two years that she was in public school. However, I observed her progress at home. She was reading at a first grade level when we started homeschooling and was on third grade level by the end of the first year (her second grade year). I could see the progress, but the next year her standardized test scores were still low.

How to Use Tests as a Tool

What I looked at was not how high or how low the scores were, but how they compared with previous testing. The scores were about the same percentile, and this was two years later. I knew that if she weren’t making progress, the test scores would have been lower because she was being tested on skills that were two grade levels higher than her the previous test.

I knew that homeschooling was working for her, based on my observations and the fact that her standardized testing scores hadn’t dropped. She confirmed my observation when the next standardized testing time rolled around. She was at or above grade level in every area!

You can also use the tests within the workbooks that you’re using to objectively evaluate your child’s progress. Don’t stress your child over tests, though. Make it clear to your kids that tests are just a tool to provide feedback for you. They show you areas that you may need to go over a bit more to achieve mastery. Standardized tests are not a measure of your students’ intelligence.

Checking Reading Progress

When my kids were younger, I really liked the following tools for evaluating their reading progress:

Of the two, the best method I like the leveled book list best because it shows you where your child is by just looking at the books that they’re reading. However, as a new homeschooling mom with a struggling reader, the reading level assessment was incredibly reassuring.

Narration and Explanation

Two other helpful tools for measuring progress are narration and explanation. If a child can tell you about (narration) or teach you (explanation) what he’s learned, it’s clear that he understands the material. Some fun ways of doing using these techniques without putting pressure on your kids include letting them:

  • be the teacher for a day (and you be the student)
  • help teach the material to a younger sibling
  • create a test to give you, your spouse, or the grandparents (and let him grade it)
  • create a presentation to give for Dad, grandparents, or friends

Keep it fun and low-key so that there isn’t any unnecessary pressure for your kids. Instead, it’s just a fun opportunity to show what they’ve learned.

The bottom line is that, when you homeschool, you’re with your kids all day, every day. You see their progress. Sometimes the improvement is so gradual that it’s hard to see. It’s kind of like when you don’t realize how much your kids have grown until they try on those pants from last year and their ankles are showing. The improvement is hard to see, but it’s there.

Just as you knew they were learning to walk or talk or drink from a cup, you will see that they are making academic progress. You become attuned to your kids” strengths and weaknesses. Homeschooling does work, and you will know.

What are some of your tried-and-true methods for measuring progress in your homeschool?

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2 Comments

  1. Those are all great ideas. Thanks so much for sharing. I struggle sometimes, with wondering if I’m not objective enough. We don’t do many tests, here, mostly just spelling, but I’m pretty sure they are progressing…I think….Lol

  2. We did a light, VERY light month of schooling in November/December. We did no formal math but my son came out finally understanding how to use a number line correctly, had some addition facts memorized, read his first book solo (finally believed me when I told him that he really could read) and demonstrated that he had become much better at playing independently. When we started back up again in January a lot of things were easier academically. So, yes, by observation.

    We also began homeschooling due to behaviors, both at school and home. Our evenings improved almost immediately – fewer corrections needed, less raised voices, nicer play among kids. This aspect of home schooling is just as important to us as the academics. It still is not where we want it to be, but it is vastly better.

    It is hard not to worry about his level of achievements, especially with a cousin his own age and our other son in public school, and always knowing what other kids his age are learning. However, I’m pretty sure none are hearing the story about Uther Pendragon and the history of Britain, nor touring commercial greenhouses and answering questions about plants, nor learning about the geography and history of the Great Lakes, nor having a Poem of The Day.

    There really is no comparing what he is learning and what the kids in public school are learning. Not even sure a test could capture it all. I like the idea of a ‘test at the beginning and end of the year. That would atleast give you a comparison of set skills.

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