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While I’ve been considering homeschooling the girls since J was a baby, the time is approaching when I have to make the decision to be officially homeschooling or enroll her in public or private kindergarten. And although I have one year left, school assignment here is done a bit sooner than that. So if I want to have any opportunity to select her school, I have to decide soon. And if we’re going to consider private school, I’m already getting to the end of the line for next year.

I originally considered homeschooling because of the negative reputation of Florida public schools. I didn’t do much research on public schools, it’s just a general opinion expressed to me by others that made me consider that I had choices. I researched homeschooling requirements and talked to lots of homeschoolers whose children were excited about learning (some all year long). In these families, everything was made into an opportunity to practice and learn- even especially trips to the store, errands, & chores.

I want my girls to continue to love learning as much as they do now. I want them to ask questions, to wonder about everything. I also consider the social implications of schools where kids “learn” that learning is boring, it’s not cool to be smart, and what you wear and fitting in can become more important than owning your opinion and thoughts. I want my girls to have a chance to be who they are for a while, and learn to really like themselves before they are told by a bully they should be different. There are many more wants, and most are related to free-thinking and non-conformity.

In a conversation with a local homeschool mom, we talked about what she liked best with homeschooling and the curriculum she chose to use. She mentioned the format for testing:

To really see what the kids know without any pressure or judgment, each test is taken more than once. (wow!)

The first time is practice so the child can see what they don’t understand and can go back to learn the material covered in the lesson they may have missed. Then they take the “real” test, and the parent can then bring even more assistance to the learning process, if needed. But because they have had time to identify and correct any deficiency, there is no test anxiety. They don’t worry about the test. They realize it’s just a gauge to help them learn.

In my homeschool world, we don’t have tests. Of course, right now, we’re not official. But I really hadn’t intended to use written testing as a measuring tool, since I’m not required to follow a set curriculum or format. In my world, it’s kind of easy to see if the kids understand what we’re learning just by asking them questions about it as we go along. (i.e. While K learns to count objects, and we’re counting aloud, if she misses a number, it’s pretty obvious.)

It was during my processing of that conversation about testing that I was able to find words for something I hadn’t been able to articulate in the past. I don’t like the judgment associated with testing in most schools. The tests really don’t help student learn.

I’m sure testing was originally put in place to show the teacher what each child had learned (and missed) from the material covered in the lesson. It only makes sense that you’d need the kids to write it down when there are 20+ students in a class with one teacher. I can’t think of another effective way to be sure everyone learned the lessons.

And if the point of testing is to see who understands the material, it would seem a logical next step to go back and help students learn what they missed. Can today’s public school teachers help when students don’t understand & don’t ace the test? In our local schools, there isn’t time to delay the whole class from moving on to the next topic (they might not cover all the FCAT topics.) And what would the rest of the class do during the time taken to review material for only a few students?

I remember clearly in my school growing up, when test results came back, it was a “Good job!” (usually with a smiley face or sticker) to have learned the material being taught. So what did it mean when we didn’t learn all the material? No one probably ever wrote “Bad job :-(” on top of a poor test result, but it wasn’t necessary. It was clear from early on that you were “good” if you learned and “bad” if you didn’t. We all “knew” kids with poor test results didn’t work hard enough; they weren’t smart enough, and they were not “good.” And we knew this whether we had high or low test scores.

And what does it mean when the measure of learning, the tool that ought to be helping both student and teacher, is then assigned a “grade” and transferred to a report card for each child? Then we’re saying, Your learning is excellent; Yours is good; You are average; You are below average, You are failing. Who is really failing?

To use something that should be only a tool to promote better learning as a method of comparison and judgment, definitely affects how kids feel about themselves and others.

I don’t want my kids’ self-esteem to be tied to a number or test result. I’d rather my girls get a good view of themselves before letter grades and judgment is tied to their learning progress- especially when learning should be, and can be, really fun.

Hmmm. Sounds like I’m more committed to homeschooling than I felt when I started writing today.

Do you homeschool? Why/why not? What do YOU think of testing?

Note:  I’m not one of those parents who think kids need to be sheltered from all things that make them uncomfortable- like losing at games, trying new things, etc. In fact, I play The Lady-Bug Game all out. I don’t allow J to cheat and although she generally beats me by half the board- it’s fair and square. Her cousin and I have each won a few times, but J still enjoys playing, because it’s a fun game. She continues to play because she has support, one-on-one from me, in learning that sometimes she’ll win and sometimes not. Losing is a skill parents can help kids learn. But we’re not tracking wins and losses– there is no overall tally. And we are clear that our pride comes from her acceptance and good sportsmanship more than the game result.

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