Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thoughts on testing

Getting back to "In Their Own Way" by Armstrong, finally! I've finished the book, but have debated writing about testing.

First I'll digress a little. Basically I feel testing required by the government schools from homeschooling parents is wrong. I'll tell you why. Homeschooling is an acceptable alternative to compulsory attendance at a government school, in Virginia, just as private or parochial school is. Private and parochial schools do not need to notify the government schools of how their students have done on a test at the end of the year. All they need to worry about is that the parents of their students are happy with the results of the year's education provided by that school. There are laws pertaining to these private/parochial schools--one of which (I believe) is that they meet for the same number of days/hours as government school. I don't know what the others are, but they certainly aren't reporting back to the govt on how they (the school) did, or how the students did individually.

My position is that we have a similar situation with homeschooling. We are (I shall repeat in case you missed it) an acceptable alternative to compulsory government school attendance. No level of education is guaranteed by the govt schools, by the way. They can't possibly tell you that each child will have an equal education, that each child will learn all the things that are being taught, etc. "Education" would have to be fully defined for that to happen, and they just can't do that. However, the Virginia home instruction statute requires parents to submit:

either (i) evidence that the child has attained a composite score in or above the fourth stanine on any nationally normed standardized achievement test or (ii) an evaluation or assessment which the division superintendent determines to indicate that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress.

This seems a reasonable request, but why is it necessary, really? As the parent, I have to be happy with my child's education and progress, just as I would if he/she were attending a private/parochial school, or I have the ability to make a choice and change the educational methods being used.

A huge problem I see is that as a homeschooling parent, I may determine, all by my lonesome, what course of study my child will follow for the school year. The superintendent may not judge the content. For argument's sake, let's say that for the next school year I will plan a course of study that will include Italian language and literature, Italian history, Ancient Roman history, art, architecture and science for the last thousand years in Italy, Italian imports and exports, system of government, geology and geography, natural resources . . . (you get the idea). Well, when time comes to show proof of progress, the school division will look for language arts and math progress, according to the grade level your child is in--another arbitrary label.

So I just don't see how the two things, my course of study, and their progress requirements, can mesh. I know my kids will progress in those two areas no matter what we study, but what if one year we concentrate more on the humanities and less on the hard sciences and math? And the next year the kids really want to dive into several years worth of math. Probably they'll still do fine on any tests I give them. But to me it's the principle of the thing. I have the right to teach what I want to. I shouldn't then have to prove anything to the government. Unfortunately the law says otherwise. But that doesn't mean it makes any sense at all.

Ok, so I never got to Armstrong's chapter on tests. That'll just have to wait for another day.

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Homeschool Help Web said...

"one of which (I believe) is that they meet for the same number of days/hours as government school. "

Depends on the state. A lot of states don't even require private schools to have a minimum number of days.

I agree with you on testing, and I'm so thankful to live in a state that doesn't require it!

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

I agree with you on testing only I think I feel even more strongly opposed to it.

One problem is that requiring families to test is an unfunded mandate. The schools can actually receive funding based on test results- homeschools can't. I don't want funding, but I don't want to be tested on a playing field that gives the advantage to institutions over me, either. Which brings me to another issue.

Who writes those nationally normed standardized achievement tests? I don't. And what goes on those tests directs what teachers teach- otherwise, what's the point? And you can bet that if forced to give our kids a test that includes fractions and simple machines, we are going to cover those things that year even if we would have preferred to use the time on something more meaningful to our kids at that time. So this is just another way for the education establishment to set the agenda in homeschools, and part of the reason I homeschool in the first place is because I don't watn them setting the agenda for my kids.

Testing makes sense for institutions educating other people's children using other people's money- as recipients of public funds they are accountable for how those funds are used. I don't get public funds. So I am not accountable to the government for how I use my own money to educate my own children.

And I am radical enough to believe that homeschooling is not an acceptable alternative to government schools.=) Government schools are an alternative to home education.;-)

Thanks for putting this in the carnival. Glad I saw it.

Silvia said...

I agree with all you wrote. And I like your govt schools opinion. :) Thanks for visiting!

lynnak said...

Good post for the carnival! All these are very familiar issues with testing. I am all for academic freedom in homeschool and charter schools and also appreciate that the state has an interest in ensuring its residents are adequately educated. Of course, the aggravating part is the state often does a very poor job of teaching the kids in its own public schools.

At the risk of being booed and hissed I suggest that the tide is turning. While there has been a lot of whining about No Child Left Behind it is having a huge positive impact on the ed. establishment. And it can even be useful for homeschool types like us. Required testing is now standards based and not norm-referenced. That means public schools are now actually being held accountable for what the kids actually learn and not how they compare.

Standards-based testing for homeschool kids can pinpoint gaps in learning as well as where a kid is doing fine or even super. It's useful information and especially helpful for parents who are just starting to teach and need some confirmation they are on the right track. Anyway, I've been writing about standards and homeschooling at if you'd like a little more detail.

Silvia said...

I read your post a few days back about standards based testing. :) I agree that it can pinpoint gaps, but I just can't stand the idea of testing. And a test won't tell you the things your child knows that isn't being tested.
Assessing what your kids know is something you'd do by talking to them daily, of course. And after hearing Dr Thomas Armstrong speak this past weekend, I'm even more opposed to testing, because of his position on the damage it can do to the child.
I suppose that if the child wants to know where they stand, it would be a bit different. But either way, I do agree that starndards-based is better than norm-referenced tests.
Thanks for visiting!