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Evaluating Your Homeschool - Using the Right Measures

There are many things about your children and your homeschooling that you will want to evaluate from time to time. As with any other work in progress, it is good to step back from it occasionally to get a better view or a better perspective. How can we as homeschoolers do this in a beneficial way?

The first thing to remember is that there are many kinds of evaluation. You may want to consider annually or semi-annually the progress your child is making. Is he or she moving at the rate you expected? Do you know what rate you should expect? Be careful, because your child's progress should not be the only factor you consider. One day he or she could seem like a genius, and the next day not remember the most basic facts. This inconsistency is normal with children, so remember that your overall assessment is what counts.

Is your child able, with appropriate review, to give you the basic content you have covered in a particular area? If the answer is "Yes," you have evaluated one aspect of your child's abilities. You can be either encouraged or discouraged at different times by your child's progress, so don't make that your only criteria. I remember doing better in some grades than other, don't you? Try to look at this in the context of the overall picture.

Another popular tool of measurement is comparing your children's progress or abilities with generally accepted guidelines. As I have stated before, I believe one of the blessings of homeschooling is the freedom to be individuals. General comparisons with scope and sequences or age or grade level guidelines may help us plan more effectively. The danger, however, is that these comparisons can cause us to be overly demanding and stressed. I generally suggest that people take portions of these types of guides and follow them, but not try to accomplish every item.

The decision to follow a certain set of requirements should always be made in light of God's leading for the individual child or family. There are things I emphasized with my daughter in language arts that I did not emphasize with my son. He didn't seem to need that, and she did, or vice versa. Guides are good, but they must remain only guides, and not become taskmasters. Don't give up teaching a subject or topic that your children are motivated to learn about just because something else is in the guide.

Comparing your children to other children you actually know probably will not be fruitful or encouraging. Whether your children compare favorably or poorly, the process of comparison causes you to compete with the goals, gifts, talents or struggles that God has given another family. You will always be comparing apples to oranges. Fixing your gaze on someone else's path only pulls you off your own course. The discouragement you receive will most likely slow your progress.

At what age your child reads, how fast he or she matures how your child does in math or creative writing, etc. are all things that have an individual time table. It is just the same as when a child learns to walk or talk. While a parent may take pride in an early walker, this does not make someone else's child better than yours. Reading earlier does not necessarily mean that Johnny is smarter than Suzie. It merely means Johnny was ready to read earlier (or was forced to read earlier). In the final analysis, the goal for both children is the same: to read and comprehend. Seek to know God's timetable for your child, and adjust your plans accordingly.

Many times parents have learned this truth the hard way, by placing standards on their children that were unreasonable. They may have ended up with crying, resistant children or children who just didn't want to learn anymore. While no child wants to learn everything, there is a natural desire in children which can be encouraged through reasonable teaching methods. If you look at a textbook or topic and think, "How boring," chances are your children may not fare much better. Please take interest into consideration. This step will reap great rewards.

Remember that all homeschoolers (both parents and children) have days when they don't want to homeschool. This is normal and nothing to be alarmed about. If those days are starting to outnumber the good days, find a veteran homeschooler or friend you can talk to. Don't assume the problem is you. Often, schedules can be adjusted or even materials changed, making a great difference in how everyone feels.

Most of all, remember that feelings are not what we base decisions about homeschooling on. We homeschool because we are called to do it, not because we always feel like it, or it is always fun. This is good news because it can take an emotional burden off of you.

First-time homeschoolers, especially those whose children were previously in public or private school, need to know that things may seem trying for awhile. Many adjustments need to be made, so give yourself at least a year to get settled. After that, you can address trouble spots as they arise.

I have saved the most stressful aspect of evaluation for last. Standardized testing can strike fear into many a homeschooler. Usually, the panicky feelings begin right after Christmas. Depending on the test results, they may stop in April or May. If the test results don't seem up to snuff, these feelings of fear and inadequacy can linger all summer. How do I know? I've observed many homeschoolers go through this process year after year. I've even had a twinge or two of uncertainty myself when my children take their tests.

Is this just the lot of homeschoolers, going through anxiety year after year? I don't believe it has to be. In the previous chapter, we established the best way to handle the ups and downs of family and friends' reactions to homeschooling. This is to remember that we homeschool because God has called us to do it. We believe that it is best for our children. Does that mean we shouldn't be diligent with our schoolwork or that we can be unconcerned about test results? Of course not, but we don't have to be controlled by the fear of failing.

When we begin to require our students to do certain types of busy work or to study harder to make us feel better, we are acting out of fear. While this may be a natural response in our flesh, this is not God's desire for us.

Test results are just one piece of information about your child. If you don't think they are accurate, get another opinion. Take the results and add them to the other measures you consider, such as overall progress. The homeschooling law in Florida states it this way: "A child must make progress commensurate with his ability." Comparing your child's results to his or her own previous results may be a good way to be assured that your child is doing fine.

Don't allow yourself or your children to be robbed of the satisfaction you have earned during your homeschooling year. Put on your detective's hat, and go to work to find the evidence of progress and success. Become your child's advocate by not taking an unexpected test result as the complete picture of his or her ability. Find the facts about your child's achievement and then use the feedback you receive from testing as a planning tool.

Put test results in their place. Don't allow them to have more weight than they should. Look at all aspects of your child's year of homeschooling, find the successes and use test results to help make a plan for even greater gains in the coming year.

Excerpted with permission from Gaining Confidence to Teach by Debbie Strayer, published by Common Sense Press.

Homeschool girl reading