Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Testing, Testing

To comply with homeschool law here in Oregon, you must let your local Education Service District know that you intend to homeschool your child in the year that your child is 7 in the fall. Prior to 7 years old, attending school is not mandatory, regardless of the habitual sending off of children to school at 5, or, often, younger for preschool with worries that a child, upon hitting 5 and going off to kindergarten, will not know how to stand in line like the other kindergartners.

At any rate, after notifying the local ESD, the next requirement to stay within the law (which, as an aside, many choose not to do), is to test. Now, if your child has issues, ranging from ADHD or test anxiety to being autistic or, say, blind, you don't have to test your child. Instead, you develop something similar to a school's IDP and you report on your child's progress on that plan instead. You and your child need some supervision for this, of course, someone to objectively say your child is working on the set goals. This can range from an occupational therapist to a teacher to a fellow homeschooler.

Say, though, that you choose to test rather than go through the alternative hoop. In this case, you have to have your child tested, using a nationally accredited test, such as the CAT, as opposed to the test being used to test your neighbor's children in school, ahem, in her third graded, fifth grade, eighth grade and tenth grade years. To pass, your child must score at least above the 15th percentile. If she doesn't, then she has to retest the next year to show progress. If there is no progress, your child might be required to attend school. Davan, who would be in sixth grade were she in public school, has now been tested twice.

We are unschoolers. Not only do we not follow any curriculum, all encompassing or pieced together, but I do not assign her any work at all. Davan spends her days, after chores, basically filling her time as she likes. This isn't to say that there isn't any enrichment, because that would be far from true. We have a house filled with books on rotation from the library, both in traditional and audio form, monthly delivery of much anticipated magazines, games to play. There is a well stocked art supply cabinet, a laptop used for writing exclusively in Davan's room, a computer with internet access in the dinning room, adults with whom to have conversations, friends to play with, museums that are regularly visited, pets in need of care, children at the local preschool to be read to once a month, book groups, Do Jump classes and lots of being out in nature.

This worries a lot of people. How will she learn? She's not doing any worksheets. (Okay, sometimes she does do workbooks because sometimes she gets into them.) There are no math books. (Well, that's not totally true, there are books with math in them and even actual text books around, although those are mostly calculus...but nothing one would think of as her math book.) You don't give her lists of words to memorize the spelling and meaning of. (Reading a lot, of course doesn't count.) Reports aren't assigned. (But are still written, amazingly enough to me. Just this month I've been treated to a report, complete with diagrams, on how to increase bike commuting while decreasing cars on the road and another, to be copied and distributed to neighbors on UNICEF to prepare them for her Halloween plans.) This means no education!

Let me let you in on a little secret of mine. While I'm against testing on principle (homeschool parents know how their kids are doing most of the time, it's really non of the government's business, and homeschoolers do notoriously well, so why bother?), I kind of like seeing Davan's test results. They don't surprise me, really, but it's nice to have them for ammunition against the doubters.

We never prepare. Before the first test, I did show Davan how a separate question sheet with bubble answers works. It wasn't a difficult concept. Before the one just this summer, I asked if she wanted a test prep book. She did, but only had two days with it before we had to test, so she just read the part in the beginning addressed to parents. Still, she's done very well each time.

She scored in the 92nd percentile in third grade and in the 99th percentile for fifth grade just this summer. Overall and in many of the individual sections, she scored "above high school level." In mathematical computation, she was at grade level with 49th percentile, her low score. My mom was so thrilled to learn this that she took Davan's results, scanned them in and sent them out to all her friends and our family.

Having told Davan before that the test doesn't really mean anything to help calm her nerves and because I really believe it, I've managed to keep a more even keel about it. It can't be helped that I'm pleased, though. It's nice to have vindication about our chosen course when not all have thought it the best.

So, yeah, let's do away with testing. But, let's also do away with the people who feel the need to quiz homeschooled children about their facts and people who don't really think they'll learn. If we can't do away with all that, then let's keep showing them what sorts of results unschooling can get. Without teaching to the test, thank you very much.

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