Monday, April 9, 2007


Jo has never had a full battery, comprehensive-type assessment. Each winter, I have her complete a STAR assessment, available through our co-op. It's one of those computer tests that generates questions of increasing difficulty, halting the test when the child gets X number incorrect. At the end of the quiz, it spits out your typical school system-type results: percentile, grade level, etc.

Personally, I find that whole genre of tests very misleading, so I place very limited faith in them. Why? Because I myself was exceptionally good at standardized testing. I flew through reading and writing tests--rightly so, as that kind of thing comes easy to me. But I also flew through--and generally scored quite well on--the math portions of our annual tests. If our school system had cared enough to test logic as an area of learning, they would have discovered why--when confronted with four possible answers to a given math problem, I quickly learned that two would be completely ludicrous. The two remaining would be very, very similar. All I had to do was plug the two numbers back into the problem to get the right answer. In effect, I just solved for X from the time I was in second grade. Bingo! The odds of my doing well were vastly improved.

This usually served me well. My SAT score was much higher than it should have rightfully been, which was a pleasant bonus when college shopping. But in the fifth grade, it caused a near-disaster. Our Iowa Basic scores were used to place us in math classes that year. When I was assigned to my group, I knew I was in trouble. Three of the math "smartiest" kids in the class came over to our cluster. Uh-oh. Sure enough, I was out-mathed at every turn. My teacher got wise by about the fourth week and reassigned me, but not before I it had been deeply imprinted on me that I was not the sharpest tack in the box when it came to numbers.

I tell you this to explain where dh and I were in our thought process concerning testing for our always-been-homeschooled kids. While our state requires that public school students take an entire week out of their schedules to take standardized test, we are exempt from such as homeschoolers. That leaves the old stand-bys, of course. CAT, Iowa, etc. None of them generate the kind of feedback that we thought would actually be useful to our homeschool: what does she understand? What is she missing? What are her greatest strengths? What areas does she need reinforcement in? Are we hitting her learning style in general? What curriculum would best fit her needs for this subject or that one? Those answers don't fall into the range of "She's doing better than 98% of the fourth graders in WA." While that would be a nice pat on the back for me, I guess, it wouldn't help her one bit. After all, if she's does better than 98% of kids, but she's only using 58% of her talent in that area, I'm not really serving her very well, am I?

Enter the non-test assessment.

(If you're not sure about what a non-test assessment, click here to see what our state homeschool organization has to say about it.)

Jo had her first major assessment last Thursday. Can I just say "WOW"? The lady who performed Jo's assessment was far more thorough than I ever expected. Her skill at fettering out the big picture was almost flawless. And her commitment to the real education of children is inspiring.

By her account, Jo's reading level is 8th grade + ... she says she only tests four grades up because anything more than that becomes very difficult to pinpoint accurately. Remember my diatribe on Language Arts materials? Well, apparently it worked, because she recommended ending formal grammar instruction at this point and moving on to composition and writing style. She also recommended a formal etymology program, said that spelling was purely a fun pastime that should be optional for Jo and said that my daughter was extremely well-read for a nine year old. Cloud nine for a homechoolin' momma!

On the math end of things, Jo didn't shine quite so brightly. The consultant felt that her skills were "at chronological level" but were in danger of falling well behind due to my textbook based (and boring, I admit) math instruction. Jo is strongly auditory and visual. She recommended lots and lots of math games that go well beyond our current library. She also coaxed me to give Math-U-See another try. I'll let you know how that goes!

At the end of it all, I felt amazingly blessed to have been given such insight and clear direction in to the fruits of our homeschooling. Jo is clearly learning, growing and blossoming in ways that she never could in an institutionalized school environment. This non-test assessment was something like a weight check on your healthy, happy six-month old. You know that they're doing well, but you want to see what the doctor thinks. Thursday, I got to see what the doctor thought. And it was very, very good!