Friday, May 16, 2014

End of the year testing

Wow! we are finishing up our first year of homeschooling! Time really flies. I feel like I need to do a big post on what our first year was like- what met my expectations, what fell short and what was beyond my wildest dreams. But that isn't today's post, I'm not ready to go there yet.

As a homeschool family in NC, you have to have your child tested with a nationally standardized test each school year. It is one of the very few requirements we have. But here is the weird part- The results are not public knowledge. I don't even have to look at the test results if I don't want to. They aren't using them statistically if they don't know the results. They aren't evaluating my homeschool techniques. So what's the point? Why am I required to do this?

I'm not going to go into a political rant, but at the beginning of this school year it all became clear. Even though I went to school to teach, I didn't really, all the way figure this out till last year. THE END OF GRADE TESTS ARE BULLSHIT. Let me explain.
Another requirement of homeschooling is that you keep records on file- past end of year tests, an attendance sheet (yes, really), and any former public school records. I collected my daughter's school paperwork during the first week of what would've been her 7th grade year (and our first year homeschooling). I also waited until then to unenroll her. Now, at the end of her 6th grade year she felt the serious pressure of end of grade testing. Weeks of practice tests, lectures on how important it is, reviews for a month, more lectures, letters sent home, phone calls about eating breakfast during testing, more lectures. She made it through, although she was definitely stressed out from all the pressure. I got a letter over the summer, telling me my daughter passed. High five, girl, you must've done great on the eogs!!! WRONG. When I went to collect her records, I looked for her scores and they weren't in there. I ask them for them, because it is my responsibility to make sure I have the proper paperwork on file. They politely tell me "We haven't gotten the eogs from last year back yet. There was a mix up at the testing company and we won't have them until October or November." WHAT?! How do you know my daughter passed? Why did you put them through all of that stress? How do you know any of these students passed? Oh wait, I know- MONEY. Rather than state everything that was already written in this local blog, I'm just going to link it. You should read it. The public school system does not care about your children. They are dollar signs. The teachers, they (for the most part) do care about your children, but the system does not.

I was totally stressed about finding a test. I wanted to research the companies and give my money to one who is not a big evil conglomorate, but that was a much bigger feat than a homesteading homeschooling mom has time for. I ended up just going with one that fell in my lap. I have to say that I was very pleased with the experience. Am I pissed I gave my money to the testing company? Yes. Do I really think they aren't collecting data on my child? NO. Was it a positive experience? Yes. Even though I struggle with following the bullshit rules to gain a bit more of what feels like freedom, I decided to make the best of the test and use it how I see fit. I've been getting pretty good at making lemonade the past 3 years.

I chose the Woodcock Johnson test. What I liked about this test is that it is often used as a placement test, meaning that it would test her placement in different areas and not just within her grade. I also liked that it measures for learning disabilities and academic giftedness. It also evaluates her learning style, given in a one on one session and the results were available immediately and explained to you by the administrator. Being as this was her first test, I was excited to see her placement. I knew she was very advanced in English and I wanted to be sure she was being pushed and challenged with writing which she is so passionate about. I also knew my daughter struggles with Math and I wanted to know what pieces were missing, where she needed help, so that I can help her feel confident in her skills. I wanted to know if there was a reason math was so difficult and if there was a way I can help it become easier. I think I know her strengths and weaknesses and learning style but was interested to see if she tested how I saw things.

Phaedra was not stressed out about the test. I was very worried she would be after not being put in that situation for an entire year. I did explain to her that it wasn't a pass or fail thing, it was just so we know what she already knows. She did feel pressure while taking the math portion and said she had flashbacks to public school and that horrible feeling in her stomach when she knew she wasn't getting the answer right.

The best part was when I was getting the result feedback. As soon as I walked in they told me I had a writer on my hands, that she had scored off the charts in writing, meaning she was writing on a college level! This was wonderful to hear. As a parent, you want to know that your child is really really good at what they are passionate about. We always want our children to shine at what makes them happy. She is also reading at an upper high school/college level. Her comprehension being the highest of the scores. We also found out that her math has holes at the 5th grade year, the year following Ian's death, which totally makes sense. She had a really bad teacher in 6th grade and she never caught back up. I think 5th grade math is one of the hardest years (long multiplication, long division, fractions and decimals). The test administrator asked Phaedra what math curriculum we used. Phaedra panicked and didn't know what to say and told her we used Waldorf's Making Math Meaningful (which i bought but we didn't even crack open). When the administrator asked me, I told her none, and she let out a gasped "WHAT?!" and I explained that we were de-schooling and that we used real world math in sewing projects and building gates and rabbit hutches and solving logic problems, figuring out sales tax, etc, etc. That Phaedra's bad experience in math class had given her a serious dislike for math and I wanted her to love the learning process again and not be held back by mastering skills in a workbook, that there were other ways to keep her math skills brushed up and polished without formal lessons. She started laughing about Phaedra covering for Mom and my lack of curriculum. But she understood. Oopps. The worst thing happened- my child lied because she thought I would be in trouble if she didn't. She is very afraid to even tell other homeschool families that we don't have a curriculum. I explained to her that she shouldn't lie, and that I believe strongly in my decisions and I will back them up if it comes down to it. I also told her she has the right to not discuss her education with anyone she doesn't want to. "You can ask my Mom about it" is a fine answer to give.

So what did we gain from this test? Where do we go from here? Most importantly, Phaedra has some new serious confidence in her writing. I have numbers to back me up when she spends a lot of her homeschooling days focused on her reading and writing. I also think that her understanding she is a bit behind on her math skills, but that she has to just improve at her own pace without pressure, has helped her to see she can tackle it- her mind is certainly capable. She even picked out a math workbook to work on from the bookstore.


  1. Its interesting Phae doesn't want to let other families in our community know y'all don't use curriculum. Most theans are unschoolers, or generally very unschooly. I would also say Woodcock Johnson is the hippest and most useful of all the tests. And I very much appreciate that NC set testing as mandatory with zero state interests in the results. We have to infer they actually WANT parents to get exactly what you got from the process. Which is pretty cool in terms of homeschooling oversight, I think.

    Thea looks A LOT more conservative than specific members actually are. I think a lot of folks in the triangle have given up worrying about looking groovey---looking like a tribe of cool people. But the hearts in the bubbles are flecked with gold.

    Which reminds me, I've been meaning to ask you but not wanting to put it on facebook, what is your own personal bubble made of? Aside from fairy wings, which is obvious.

    1. I think that Phaedra knows that looks generally don't give away much about people- which is why I think she is very guarded about it. We also know what the "jealousy" from non homeschooling families looks like and we, no doubt, as a family, have major trust issues. I don't unschool because I have dreadlocks and I don't have dreadlocks because I unschool. I have dreadlocks because my heart and soul were going through a transformative process and in ritual I grabbed a physical means of expressing that. I unschool because I think it's truly best for my kids. I think her fear in sharing is because this is the best thing that has happened to our family and she doesn't want it to go away. I think as she sees me confidently address people about how we do things she will gain the confidence too. Right now, she is still deschooling and realizing that she is free from control. Don't forget that the public school world is full of dominance and control (more about doing what your told than learning) and it's scary to break away from that and not feel like your breaking the law. She spent 7 years in a single file line being told not to step out. No wonder she freaks when her mom tells her to dance down the hallway of learning!

      My bubble? Yes, faerie wings. Probably some tears. and recycled soap, because my bubble was something built out of nothing and repurposed pieces.

  2. Deschooling is so hard. I've come to see it as a lifelong process---which is sad. But I remember the first year of deschooling as the hardest.

    I don't know if the metaphor is working for me, here. But I said I thought fairy wings are part of your bubble because beauty seems like an important component. My bubble is made of fear, and that's what I was getting at. Seems like maybe yours is too? Probably true for all humans. Probably regardless of where we live. Which reminds me of a song Joe wrote. (Did you know he's a song writer?) He said, "After all that traveling I still have this heart." So true.

    I've recently traversed a lot of brutal tragic loss, myself. And the only thing that has helped, after many years, is counter intuitive. But the answer for me has been practicing gratitude. I bet you've found things that work for you, too? Ugh, its so hard! xo