Measuring Progress: A Practical Guide to Home Education – Getting Started (Part 8)

Once beginning home educators develop a workable household division of labour, establish a working schedule and a work place as well as find a suitable curriculum, the big question becomes: where and how will you lead the children, as their most influential leaders?

We addressed that question in an earlier version of this series and came to the conclusion that the best place to lead them was to the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God who ultimately has, not only the authority, but a clear vision of the future we can only see dimly.

But this leads to yet another question which is: how will you know that you are accomplishing the task and how well are you doing it? This is usually where questions on testing and standards come in.

Anybody who has given testing some serious thought will realize that it is one of life’s guarantees. Hardly a day goes by that we are not tested in some way.

Testing, as in determining if the children have understood the concept, is fine, but one must remember that this also is a school based practice. Consider that in a classroom there are a large number of students and usually but one teacher. Even a super teacher can only do a superficial assessment of any individual student’s accomplishments.

That is why there are tests designed to give the teacher an idea of how well the information presented has been understood. The problem is, even if a student can repeat a concept, it does not mean he or she understands it and knows how to apply it in real life.

Also to be considered is the question of whether a good mark indicates a good understanding or simply good memorization and/or test writing skills.

My personal experience in the classroom has shown that when the identical test is given a few days later, there is usually a reduction in grades. Clearly, good memorizers can easily become good forgetters. So, in my opinion, test marks are not a really good indicator of competency or proficiency.

A student learning at home is not in a classroom and does not have to share the attention of the teacher with a couple dozen other students.

Likewise, the “teacher” in a home education does not have to spread her efforts among a classroom full of students.

Therefore, testing is not necessary in a home education as the parent can directly observe whether the child has mastered the concept or not.

Of even greater concern for most parents still overcoming their school based thinking is the whole question of meeting standards. Are the children where they are supposed to be? Are they ahead or behind; better or worse than the average? This issue becomes a non-issue when a simple question is asked: ahead or behind or better or worse than what?

Neither governments, schools, nor teachers can clearly define or demonstrate what standards are for education, aside from expecting everyone to do the same thing at the same time.

Standards are a myth! When considering that over seven billion people are living on earth today and that no two are the same, each having unique fingerprints, how can one even suggest that there is a standard?

Chasing after an average is also futile, as that is entirely dependent on the group being “averaged”! Your children are unique, meaning their “average” and the “standard” to which they are educated is entirely dependent on who they are, where they are, how they learn and what they are capable of.

A much better goal than reaching undefined “standards” or some evasive “average” is what comes naturally for parents. Set high, yet reasonable expectations for your children. Not perfection, of course, but an expectation that things will be done well and on time.

Not only is that more realistic than “standards” or “averages,” but it is something that fits the individual uniqueness of each child. Better yet, don’t compare your child to others at all, as there is no one like him or her, remember?

Remembering that since the government’s claim to having authority in education is self-proclaimed and not God-given, government has to treat students as products of their system. In that light, standards make sense, but only when viewed through the lens of conformity. God’s created diversity insists on us all being different.

Incidentally, the only way anybody can make a difference in this world is if they are different. Let’s celebrate the differences and never mind averages or standards. Also consider that if we are all the same, we are much easier to control, which may be the ambition of government, but certainly not of God.

There is no pass, no fail, no behind, no ahead, no above, or below in home education. Only progress in due time. Encouraging students to be the best that they can is all that is required of us by God. Certainly, that is sufficient.

Who Says… We Need Tests?

Part of the series Who says…
Written by Léo Gaumont, published on 2015-01-19.

Test writing is a skill worth learning while testing is only necessary to ascertain proficiency, not an end in and of itself.

Building on a foundation that God is, that He created the universe and that He ultimately is responsible for our children’s being, should provide ample substance upon which to build our faith. This lengthy series will identify the secular thinking that has eroded that faith.

Bible Reference: Acts 15:10

One of the scariest words in the English language has to be “test”! Although it may not throw everyone into a bad mood, testing is not likely to be on many people’s list of things they like to do. Why do we need to test at all? How is testing done? What does testing prove? All good questions that need answers.

The test is a natural part of programming and it is a way to determine proficiency but when should testing actually be a part of training and teaching? If we follow a schedule of subjects in a particular grade where a multitude of children of approximately the same age are doing the same thing at the same time in a prescribed way with “standardized” expectations, a test is required to measure the mastery of the program. One teacher in a class of a couple dozen children does not have the privilege of looking over every student’s shoulder and to ask them what they have learned, like home educating parents do. A one-size-fits-all approach to teaching has to have a way to evaluate what has been learned, but this has no place in a home education. Parents not only instinctively know if their child has met with the program requirements, but they also demand excellence in the first place. Home educated students don’t need to be tested when they are simply expected to learn the concept as completely as reasonably possible within an environment of trust and honesty.

We tend to think of tests as multiple choice, true or false, or short answer questions, but life tests us in much different ways. Life does not grade us as 50, 75 or 90 percent, but as pass or fail. Learn your lesson and carry on. Paper test may give us a bit of an idea as to who better knows the concepts, but is this dependable? Does the higher mark indicate a better grasp of the subject or that the student is simply a better test writer? If there is anything I learned in my twenty five years as a high school teacher, it is that the student that achieved the highest mark would most likely not be the one who I would hire. Rather, I would hire the student who was smart enough to deliver the passing mark of 50% while fully aware that the testing was all part of a game that could be won with minimal effort. The higher achievers were usually very good at doing what they were told but usually could not repeat their results the next day.

Testing is a part of the real world. Whether we are seeking a driver’s license, certification or to prove proficiency, testing will be the vehicle through which these things will be accomplished. How to write tests is, therefore, an important skill that students must learn, but it need not be the final evaluation tool for every lesson.

Who says we have to write tests? Unfortunately, the world we live in does, but it need not be implemented until later, when it is taught as a necessary skill to advance to the next level. There is plenty of time to teach this at the conclusion of the home education program. Drop the need to test. Your children will love you for it!

Which Side Do We Take?

Part of the series Feedback
Written by Léo Gaumont, published on 2014-01-20.

A question was asked about the need for government testing in light of two quoted scripture references.

We do not claim to have all the right answers but based on our present understanding of the scriptures, we will do our best to bring a little clarity to your queries.

Bible Reference: Mark 12:17

Since we deal with a very large number of people coming with diverse understandings with respect to the interpretation and application of scripture, we are careful to word things such that we leave room for this diversity without appearing too offensive or defensive. Therefore, please understand that it is not that we advocate a noncompliance with government as much as a compliance with biblical directives. When it comes to the welfare of our children, we must determine whether God or government sets the agenda.

If we believe government has the authority regarding the education of our children, then we would be wise to adhere to the state’s standards and to comply with it’s desire to test the children in ascertaining whether or not this standard is being met. One should, however, question what the purpose of testing would be if there are no consequences for failing to meet the state’s criteria.

If, on the other hand, we believe that we bear a responsibility under God’s authority respecting the education of our children, then we are free to determine whether or not testing is in the best interest of the child. Considering that the state’s programming is based on a secular humanistic philosophy and that all testing produced by the government will be evaluating a child based on this foundational perspective, should lead us to seriously question the objective behind the need for testing. If our aim is to simply train the mind, as any program (think of the word in light of computers!) is meant to do, testing may make sense. If our aim is to direct a child to recognize God and His purposes and to advance His Kingdom, then testing becomes unnecessary as God will see to it that the child is properly prepared in keeping with the abilities and callings. No man made instrument is capable of doing this.

Therefore, refusing to allow our children to be tested is not an act of defiance against the government, as much as an exercise of the God given parental authority we have. For the most part, government understands this and makes no effort to force the issue as clearly seen in the existing home education regulations. What direction the government will choose to take in the upcoming, new Home Education Regulations, remains to be seen. Whether mandatory testing is included or not, our response should still be determined by our knowledge and understanding of the truth in God’s word with respect to the training of our children and the faith we exercise through it.

Hope this clarifies things for you.