It’s spring, and homeschoolers’ thoughts in Virginia turn to providing evidence of progress. The short version of this is that you can either use standardized testing, a letter of evaluation from a teacher or person with a masters degree, or an assessment such as a report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance learning program, or home education correspondence school.
For information about my homeschool evaluation services, please see this page on my website and fill out the contact form there to get my information packet. To get more of the flavor of why I offer evaluations, continue reading this post.
As one of those people with a masters degree, I’ve been offering evaluations to homeschoolers for a few years. I’ve always enjoyed doing evaluations, but right now I’ve taken time off from college teaching, and I’m not currently doing radio, so after years of sort of begging families not to spread the word, I’m opening up my schedule to do additional homeschool evaluations.
My evaluation process is a good alternative to testing for parents who want a different or more holistic approach to evidence of progress. I meet with children and their parents, and we go through a portfolio of their learning over the past year. Parents can report children’s educational activities and achievement, and kids can demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and interests.
I’m able to work well both with families who use curriculum and those who focus on living a learning lifestyle–and those who blend approaches. Drawing children out to talk about their projects and passions is one of my favorite parts of doing evaluations, and these conversations help me provide a detailed letter describing kids’ academic growth. I often think of myself as a translator–helping families translate their learning experiences into the language that school divisions understand.
Whom do I evaluate for? All kinds of families. My one caveat to prospective families is that what I am called to do is assess evidence of progress. That means, parents have to provide evidence. I don’t do rubber stamping–I’m really looking at the evidence of progress. That said, I seem to have a knack for helping parents think about how to find and organize that evidence.
There are several ways this creates some tension for me. For one thing, I’m well aware that there is no evidence that homeschoolers in states like Virginia do any better than those in states without end-of-year requirements. I’ve lived in one of those states, and I found there, as I find in Virginia, that homeschooling is a fairly self-selecting form of education. People who take first-hand responsibility for their children’s education tend to truly take responsibility. Homeschoolers are constantly on the lookout for their own version of progress in their children, and the feedback loop between “parent” and “teacher,” is, well, on the short side — as is the one between the kid and his or her parent. Therefore, I’m not convinced that a statute requiring evidence of progress does more than homeschoolers would do anyway. I’m also frankly of the opinion that parents are the ones who are most knowledgeable about their children’s strengths and weaknesses.
That said, providing evidence of progress is the law in Virginia and has been since before I began homeschooling here. While I don’t think it’s necessary in terms of education, providing evidence of progress is necessary for families who seek to comply with the Virginia home educate statute. Debate can ensue as to whether it can or does serve as an authentic safeguard for homeschooled children or whether it is just an exercise. In the midst of that, I understand the intent of the statute, and I make every effort to ethically document evidence of children’s progress.
Even though homeschoolers can do just fine on standardized tests (and frequently do very well), I’m well aware of how testing affects some children and can interfere with the home education process. There is nothing like trying to make a kid learn a concept like “dividing decimals” because it’s “on the test,” when this particular child really just isn’t there yet. Frankly, this is why a number of parents opt for home education in the first place; they want to take advantage of being exquisitely in tune with their child’s readiness for certain skills and studies.
Therefore, some parents want to use alternatives to testing, like working with an evaluator to provide evidence of progress.
One of the cool things I’ve discovered since doing homeschool evaluations over the past several years is that parents and children seem to genuinely enjoy the process and really like having the letter of evaluation as a snapshot of their learning. In my mind, this doesn’t justify the state requirement, but I’m happy there is additional value in beyond meeting the legal obligation.
On my part, I get an up close view of homeschooling, over and over. Last season, I enjoyed seeing a young reader demonstrate her newly-acquired reading skill, a middle school age artist discuss her illustrated history time line (it might be a mile long!), a budding electronics engineer trouble shoot his robot’s programming, and a confident builder point out the simple machines at work in a truly true tree house. I renewed my acquaintance with Fibonacci and Pythagorus and Mobius strips. I met cats and grandmothers and chickens and neighbors. All in all, I got a pretty uplifting view of homeschooling, on the couch with the baby by the book reader and over the shoulder of the fledgling game programmers.