Did you know that I’ve been blogging since 2005? That’s a long time. There is some pretty good stuff tucked up in the archives. Unfortunately much of it is buried under mounds of “I got up and exercised. Then I took a shower. Then we ate breakfast. Then we read a book.” kind of posts. You know, back when the only people reading most bloggers’ blogs were their mothers and a couple of friends.
So, I took a little trip back through the archives this weekend, looking for those little gems tucked in between stories that only a mother could love. It took awhile, since I also got sidetracked squinting at the teeny-tiny pictures I used to post and marveling at how much my kids have changed since we began homeschooling.
I found one I think you’ll like (An old post, not a picture of my kids, though I bet you’d like some of them, too. They were really cute.) and made a few updates. It answers a question that plagues many homeschooling parents, particularly those who haven’t been homeschooling long enough to start seeing the proof in the proverbial pudding.
“How do I know that homeschooling works? How do I know that my homeschooled kid is progressing?”
Those two questions cause much concern for many would-be and newbie homeschoolers. The fact is, we all love our kids and want what’s best for them. It is certainly no parent’s desire to negatively impact our children’s lives by homeschooling. So, if a parent does decide to take the plunge, how does she know that her child is achieving his or her full academic potential and that educational goals are being met?
One simple method for assessing your child’s progress is observation. If your son can read this year and last year he couldn’t, he’s obviously 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 for any of your child’s education and he or she is progressing through them and getting the answers correct, he’s obviously understanding 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). Literally months after we began working with those words, Josh still could only consistently remember two or three of them. I thought that the child never would 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 excrutiatingly slow progress when you’re a worried new homeschooling mom, trying to measure how well a child is doing.
In her book, Choosing and Using Curriculum, Joyce Herzog explains how to make a “snapshot of progress” for each of your children. The basic ideas 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. The tasks include writing the alphabet, writing a sentence (or more for an older child), and writing an example of each math operation (addition, subtraction, etc.).
This simple, low-key evaluation helps you to see an individual measure of each child’s improvement over the course of the year and subsequent years. Alternately, you could simply make notes on a child’s abilities in various areas at the beginning and end of each school year or keep and compare work samples.
Once your child learns a word and can consistently read it, he can add it to his known words box. I was always really bad 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 with how many words the kids were able to add to their boxes. This was an excellent tool for providing visible proof that they were making progress.
Evaluation and testing
Another measure of a child’s progression is evaluation or testing. I’ve never been especially fond of this method due to the fact that 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 have to test our homeschooled children every three years, beginning at the end of third grade, using a nationally standardized test. When my kids were younger, I tried to use the same test each testing year so that I can get a clear picture of their progress.
Please keep in mind that progress isn’t always measured by stellar scores. For example, my oldest, 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 on 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.
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 previous testing.
I knew that homeschooling was working for her, based on my observations and the fact that her standardized testing scores hadn’t dropped. This was confirmed when the next standardized testing time rolled around and 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 indicate areas that you may need to go over a bit more to achieve mastery, not a measure of their intelligence.
When my kids were younger, I really liked the following tools for evaluating their reading progress:
Of the two, the best method is probably the leveled book list because you can get an idea of where your child is at simply based on the books that they’re reading. However, as a new homeschooling mom with a struggling reader, I found the reading level assessment extremely 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 this without putting pressure on your kids are to let 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 is no unnecessary pressure for your kids, but 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 progress is so gradual that it’s hard to see — like when you don’t realize how much your kids have grown until they try on those pants from last year and you see that their ankles are showing — but it’s there.
Just as you knew they were learning to walk or talk or drink from a cup, you will know that they are progressing academically. 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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