Thoughts on Accountability in Homeschooling
One of the great things about homeschooling in Texas is the freedom parents who choose to educate their kids at home have. We don’t have to register with anyone if we choose not to enroll in Kindergarten. We don’t have to ask permission to pull our kids out of public school. We don’t have to be evaluated or take tests or hand in reports or samples of work to anyone. Homeschools are regarded as private schools, and like any private school, we’re pretty autonomous.
For those of us who have been indoctrinated into the public school system, it’s a bit hard to shift from the mindset that there will be some sort of testing going on to assess where your child is at the beginning of the year and again at the end of the year to see how much he’s progressed, to realizing that there really is no system for tallying accomplishments and improvements that gets handed to you when you decide to homeschool. Sure you can go look at the TEA website and get an idea of what your child would/should be learning in public school, but you have to look for it – it’s not handed to you.
On the one hand, that’s great. I think that standardized testing is a crock to begin with; though I realize and agree with the thought that there should be some kind of system in place to ensure that students in an institutionalized educational setting are getting a minimum set of skills and/or knowledge base, there has to be a better way of determining that information than the testing that schools (in Texas, at least) do periodically. It would also be nice if teachers had the autonomy to make decisions about the method of testing for their students based on their knowledge of the student’s ability without having to go through the red tape of having a 504 designation and IEP* if your child is a special-needs child. If you don’t have a special needs child, but do have one that just doesn’t perform well on written tests, letting the teacher assess the information orally or in some other format than the formal “test” would be a huge benefit to the student.
Aside from that, teachers spend half their time teaching kids how to take the test (dealing with trick questions and absolutes, etc), which means that there is less time spent on teaching the material they’re being tested on. Even on off years when there is no testing, they still do mock tests so the kids don’t forget how to deal with testing. Then there’s the level of importance that is placed on test scores. If you’re not a good test-taker, then you’re pretty much screwed, even if you know the material. I always got hung by trick questions – ones that used absolutes (always or never) or phrased things tricksy, and so I scored much lower than I would have if the question assessed my knowledge coherently.
On the other hand, there’s a certain reassurance in the testing. With it, you have a concrete starting point and yardstick with which to measure. It’s easy to look at the scores and see where your weak points are and where you’re good to go. Without it, there are no guidelines to go by, no system of checks and balances to help guide a parent/teacher or show her that she’s doing a “good enough” job in setting and reaching educational goals. There’s no one to have a conference with and ask how he’s doing and get tips and pointers on how to help shore up the weak areas. There’s no set list of skills or knowledge that must be learned “this year”. In a way, that’s bad. It means that WE (loverly husband and I… well, me) have to pour over websites and through curriculum outlines and decide what all needs to be addressed this year. WE are solely responsible for making sure that our kids are not lagging behind their peers.
Or do we?
Who’s to say that the way the institution has laid out their year and the subjects/skills the “right” way? The “best” way? Does my 1st grader really NEED to know Roman numerals this year? Or can that wait until we start studying the Roman Empire? Does my 2nd grader HAVE to study ‘whole language’ style (sight words), or can we omit that altogether and learn phonics instead? Or what if I have one child who does better with whole language and one who does better with phonics? Shouldn’t we do both in that case?
I think that’s another benefit right there – lacking the ‘paperwork’ to tell you about your child, you actually have to (get to?) focus on your child. You’re also not limited to the lowest common denominator when you’re homeschooling. In the classroom, rather than bringing the students all up, they tend to drop everyone down. That means that if your child is excelling, unless real effort is made in the classroom to tailor to that child to some extent, their potential goes untapped. At home, there’s no cap on learning.
Next year would have been our first foray into standardized testing. There’s a small part of me that would kind of like to have LittleBoyBlue tested – and I’m not ruling out buying the test-prep/mock TAKS book at Manning’s even though I am philosophically opposed to standardized testing. It’s expensive though, so I may not. And by that time, we may be on a whole different homeschooling agenda page by then. Who knows? I honestly don’t think that he would do very well on the test if he were to take it the way they give it. If I gave him the test, it would be piecemeal where we could and orally, I’m sure – my goal would actually be to assess his knowledge, not trick him up and see how well he tests.
I don’t really have a goal with this post. I’m still new enough to homeschooling that I can see the benefit in the way that institutionalized schooling operates. It must function the way that it does to meet the goals they have, and though they fall short and are in drastic need of a complete overhaul, there does have to be some form and structure there. Institutionalized schooling cannot mimic homeschooling without… well, so much is lacking to even come close. I really do feel that home should be the standard and everything else should measure up to that and not the other way around. Only when I can’t provide what my child needs should I start looking for someone else to help me provide for my child.
* As I understand it, 504 is the designation in TX for students with handicaps or learning disabilities that allows modifications and accommodations to be made in the classroom for them to help learning/functioning. IEP stands for “Individual Education Plan” and outlines to modifications and accommodations that will be made for the child that the teacher must follow. That may not be entirely accurate, but it’s close.