Monday, February 8, 2010

Part 4: A True Evaluation

How do I know my kids are keeping up with peers?
I spent quite a bit of time with Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3 on how to answer this question numerically using outside evaluation. However, I do not want to mislead you. I do not believe testing is the best approach to this question. It may put the unsure parent at ease, quiet suspicious relatives, or otherwise provide something quantitative to outsiders. Outsiders, who do not know your homeschool nor your children, understand numbers. You, however, know your child and can go much farther than a number. Today I'd like to explore a different perspective.

It is hard not to look at how our kids are doing compared to others. Standardized testing does answer the question that my children are at least as well off academically at home as those in public school. Even though academic reasons were one of the first things that pushed me into homeschooling (and I say pushed, because it wasn't my original intention), it isn't the only reason we continue to homeschool. For me, using standardized testing hardly puts a dent in the answer to how my kids are doing.

Rather than zoom in on academics, the question of how my children are doing is answered best by looking at the bigger picture. How is this child doing compared not to others, but to themselves? I sometimes like to play a "what if" game. "What if" my child went to public school? What would be their focus? How would that change how their strengths and weaknesses play out? "What if" my child attended a great private school and I worked outside of the home in order to pay for it? The impact would be much more than academics. There is always a trade off with choices. What are those trade-offs with each situation for each individual child?

For example, I have a bright child that struggles with writing. Compared to peers, whether public schooled or homeschooled, he is behind in spelling and composition. If he were in school, I highly doubt he would get the one-on-one instruction he needs in this area. A teacher with 30 students in the classroom would not be able to take the time to move beyond written output for evaluation. Furthermore, because he is great at compensating for his weaknesses, he'd likely be written off as an average or below-average student. The end result would likely be a child that both falls through the cracks and remains unchallenged. Even though he is currently still behind his peers in this area, he is much farther ahead than if he attended the local school. I fully expect that with time, writing is not going to be an issue.

My other child excels in all subjects. She'd do well academically, but at what cost? She, too, would not be challenged; schools often are not open to acceleration. What, exactly, would she be doing with all of her free time while she waited for the rest of the class? Getting into trouble? Be bored out of her mind? And upon graduation, would this child truly know how to learn and strive towards goals, having never really had to work for an A?

When I look at what my children would be as public schooled children, I have no doubt that they are better off at home academically. In addition, I believe that the academic structure of public schools would make them fall behind in a more important area - character. Let's face it, teachers often have no choice but to shoot for the middle and teach to the test. It isn't their fault, but the nature of the system. However, if a child does not have their academic needs met because they do not fall within the box, they are less likely to learn to learn in a way that works for them.

Socially, my children would have been completely different children had they not been homeschooled. The very thought that homeschooled children are at a disadvantage socially completely humors me. Because of a more flexible schedule, they get to experience more. My children have been able to build strong friendships year-to-year. In school, friendships often come and go based on who is in your class that year. They have both developed friendships outside of their age group.

My daughter was recently involved in a theater production, that a regular school schedule would not have allowed, and was the only one on the cast younger than the age of 24. Yet, she was able to become friends and make connections with all the adults in the performance. My son was deathly shy when he was younger. If he had been in school, I honestly don't think he would have managed well. Homeschooling has allowed him to grow and mature at his own pace. He is by no means shy anymore. More importantly, their friendship as brother and sister is much stronger than it would ever be if they went to school. The ability to maintain solid relationships with others is more important than academics.

My children don't see others as a grade or an age. They see them as people. I tend to chuckle when adults tell me my children are articulate. What they really mean is that they can look them in the eye and have conversation with them. A true test of how your children are doing socially is how they interact with others, not how much they know about pop culture or the latest fashions. My children may be behind in the latter compared to their peers, but they are far ahead when it comes to social skills that will matter as an adult.

To determine if my children are keeping up with their peers, I do not compare them as children, but as how I see them as future adults. Are they learning now what it takes to be a responsible adult in all areas? It is all a process, and I'm more interested in the end result than the current stats. How will they compare when they have graduated from our homeschool? Will they have learned how to learn? Will they have character? Will they be able to carry on relationships? There is no paper test nor evaluation to answer these questions. The results will not be realized for many years.

The best way for me to answer the question, "How do I know if my kids are keeping up with their peers?" is to redefine their peers. I make their peers the person they can potentially be. In the end, I care only about how they are doing against the standards that God has set out for them. This may mean an occasional examination of various areas, including academically and socially, but not to see if they are keeping up with peers. The goal isn't to keep up with peers, but rather to become the person that God would have them to be.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


homeschool101 said...

I have learned over the last few years of homeschooling, It really is not important if they are where their peers are. Truthfully, I think we have learned so much more at home then in the school system. When I pulled my daughter out of the end of the 4th grade I tested her to see what she needed work on and where she was for the coming school year. I found out that keeping her in the schools she was a grade behind in her schooling. She was at a 3rd grade level along with her classmates each one being promoted to 5th grade. Come to find out the school system spends so much time recapping the last year because of the ISTEP they dont really hit the present year or prepare for the coming year until the last 3 months of school. That was enough to stir my husband and I. What people on the outside think does not concern me because we know different.

I agree with much of what you have shared above. I hope others will not look at what outsiders are saying and get offended. What really matters is what you know and where you know your child is. As long as he/she is learning and meeting what you feel is right on schedule then turning a deaf ear to the outsiders is highly recommended. Have a great day!

Marie said...

I really enjoyed all four parts. I'm so grateful that you shared in on the TOS board. The links supplied in Part 3 have kept me busy this morning and I think I've decided on a good test for us. Thanks again!

Heidi said...

I'm glad you found it helpful, Marie!