Thinking of using an evaluator to meet your state’s homeschooling evidence of progress requirement? Stephen Covey’s suggested second habit in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind,” something that can certainly help your homeschool evaluation go more smoothly next spring or summer.
That’s because there are things you can do now and throughout the year that will help you accumulate and organize the “evidence” that an evaluator needs at the end of the year to assess your child’s progress.
But the process — at least in Virginia — does not have to be onerous nor interfere with your family’s learning.
I’m writing a series about how to prepare for evaluations because I’ve gotten quite a few questions from readers, especially from new homeschoolers and those who have previously used standardized tests.
(I’ll add this caveat — if you find yourself unexpectedly seeking an evaluation at year’s end and you didn’t prepare ahead, you can probably pull together sufficient evidence of progress; it just may be a scramble for you. Or maybe not — you may have plenty of homeschooling stuff around that you can easily pull together for an evaluation. But that’s a future post).
Your evaluator can easily see progress if you have samples of your child’s work from the beginning, middle, and end of the year.
If your state has specific requirements as far as subjects or curriculum, make sure you know what they are so you save the appropriate samples.
If I am your evaluator and you are meeting Virginia’s requirements, I can review work that is or is not part of a formal curriculum. (Virginia does not prescribe a curriculum for homeschoolers, which is one of the advantages of homeschooling, since you can customize).
For example, to see a child’s progress in writing, I can certainly spot improvement whether that writing is on workbook pages, on required reports, or in a child’s letters to Granny. Older children might have written work they have done for a curriculum, classes or co-ops, or, less formally, they may have written short stories or well thought out blog posts about their interests.
To see a child’s progress in math, again, you may have the results of a placement test from the beginning and end of the year, notebooks showing completed curriculum, or projects showing acquisition of new skills and concepts.
Remember to Save and Date
Pick some baseline work from August or September to show your child’s current level, especially in math and writing.
Then, you may want to put a tickler in your calendar to remind you to save some things once a month through the coming year. Take a minute to write the date in the corner or on the backs of pages – or encourage your child to learn to date his or her work.
Photograph and Scan
If you plan to use electronic documentation, photograph or scan work samples that can be included in a private blog or online portfolio (more about that in a future post). Leaving this task until close to the evaluation date may make it a bit overwhelming during a busy time of the year. Again, you can involve your child in digitizing work – it can be fun for a kid to help select and preserve work samples.
Work Done at the Computer
If your child does most of writing at the keyboard, encourage him or her to save files and email them to you, so you can select some to include for an evaluation. Some math programs also allow you to save work samples, or you can capture screen shots. You can print these and stick them in a folder if you plan to provide paper documentation; you can add them to an e-portfolio if you plan to provide paper documentation.
Work that Doesn’t Look Like Work
Homeschoolers’ written work may or may not look like typical school work. I have gone through stacks of drawings with first and second graders, seeing their gradual inclusion of letters, words, and sentences in complex art projects. I have analyzed the arguments in the text of teens’ online debates, which originally appeared in tech forums. I have read impassioned and well-researched pleas that tweens wrote to persuade parents to allow a cell phone or a new puppy. I have enjoyed seeing the writing involved as kids created homemade board games. Kids have saved their PowerPoint presentations and computer animations or videos that include writing samples – these can definitely show evidence of progress.
Saving samples of completed curriculum throughout the year is a straight forward way of showing a child’s progress. However, parents can be on the lookout for the ephemera of a learning lifestyle and make a conscious choice to save some of that “work,” even if you are process- rather than product-oriented in your homeschooling.
I remember when two of our sons were quite young and made a Pokemon-style card game, with characters from Greek mythology featured on each card. This was not a project I had any hand in assigning (though our reading of Greek myths together was certainly the catalyst and gave them access to the cultural knowledge and content).
However, it would have been a great work sample for an evaluator, demonstrating handwriting, spelling, composition, social studies knowledge, literary allusions, and both creativity and critical thinking.
The trick would be for me to recognize the value of these cards in demonstrating my children’s literacy and then to remember to save this deck of geeky homemade Greek myth cards until evaluation time — or to photograph or scan them while it’s on my mind.
Have a Place for Work You Save
Use a specific box, basket, drawer, file, or shelf for physical work products from each child. Designate your saving place early in the year and stick work samples there throughout the year. You can select the most representative work later, but you’ll have plenty to choose from if you squirrel papers away once a month or so.
If you are using electronic documentation, decide how you will save work and back up your files. I’ll post more about techniques for e-portfolios in the future (or I can come do a talk to your homeschool group about the cool ways you can do this), but as I say on my page about evaluations, be sure that your approach to an e-portfolio meets the needs of your evaluator.
More on Evaluations
I’ll post more about other aspects of preparing for an evaluation as part of this series. Not all homeschoolers create an abundance of typical school work, and there are additional things you can do to prepare for an evaluation. It may also be true that living an authentic learning lifestyle requires little in the way of long term preparation for an eval — so relax and enjoy watching your kids learn!
Read more about my homeschool evaluation services here.