My Homeschool Review Experiences

I have now been through three reviews with three different reviewers in my school district.  One of my other posts talks about how I approach the reviews.  In this one, I’ll talk about the attitudes of my reviewers.
There is no way to request the same reviewer.  The school district sends out a list of locations (various branches around the county of the public library) and times, then parents pick a half-hour time slot for each child.  This fall, the process was actually quite improved by the fact that we could sign up online and see what slots were available, and also reschedule there if necessary.  In the past, the parents had to email the times they wanted to and hope that it matched an available slot.  However, still you just sign up for a time and there are about 6 reviewers, so you get whichever reviewer becomes available around your appointment time.
Fall 2015: This was my first ever homeschool review for my 5th grader.  It took place during the first time slot on the first day of reviews.  My kids did not come with me.  My reviewer was an older man, accompanied by an older women who was training to be a reviewer.  She made it clear that any notes she might take would be about the process, not about me or my child.  The man commented several times about how much he appreciated the organization of my portfolio and how I wouldn’t believe some of the stuff they see from other parents.  He did look closely at everything I had brought and made some random comments about certain math topics, history activities, whatever. In hindsight, I feel this was the most thorough review I had, probably since they knew it was my first time and the guy was trying to show off for his trainee.  They were surprised that my son (again, a 5th grader) keeps his own reading log.  They were shocked that he could type a written assignment and asked me how he learned to type.  At the end of the review, they asked me if I am teaching him how to do spreadsheets and presentations.  I am not sure how they leaped from “wow, he can type?” to “could he do our bookkeeping?”.  Maybe it was supposed to be a joke.
Spring 2016: This review was rescheduled to another day and location because, without much prior notice, the library meeting room suddenly had to be used for the primary election.  So, it took place at a different library branch that we had never been to before and it was a bit strange.  The meeting room at this branch was in the basement of the library, separated from every other part of the library.  This time my kids came to the review with me.  The reviewer was an older woman.  She literally just flipped through the portfolio without looking at anything except for one packet we had done for a field trip to a National Park.  She commented that she should go visit there, too.  She commented that she appreciated my organization and talked about the mess some parents bring in.  When she glanced through my planner, she extremely impressed that my son is learning German.  I told her my kids are growing up bilingual and we are heading to Germany in a few weeks.  Then, she spent a good 5 minutes telling us how she wanted to travel there and all the stuff she wanted to see.  At the end of the review, she (jokingly?) asked what I was teaching my not-quite-2-year-old.
Fall 2016:  This review took place at our usual library site.  This time, I had the same reviewer who had been training the previous year.  She again praised my organization.  As she flipped through the portfolio, she couldn’t even contain herself over the awesomeness of our home education.  She scrawled random keywords all over the review checklist: Latin root words, theatre, write his own music for his U-tube [sic] channel.  I did have to stop her when she raved about division of integers being an Algebra 1 topic. According to our math programs pre-test, that was a skill my son needed before he could start his pre-algebra book.  But I guess I’ll take the reviewer thinking I am going way above grade-level rather than being chastised for not being rigorous enough.  After going through my portfolio, the reviewer took kind of a lackluster look at my planner because she was already thoroughy convinced that my son was getting a fabulous education at home.
So, in my small case-study of homeschool reviews, they are not a big deal.  The reviewers seem to be retired teachers who are looking for typical schoolish things.  They just want to put check marks on their list and hopefully get through all the reviews early and go to lunch or home.  Each time a review comes up, I secretly hope that I get a confrontational reviewer just to make it interesting.

The Dangers of Adaptive Testing — Resilient Homeschool

Adaptive tests like the Smarter Balanced Assessment and iReady are inappropriate and contraindicated for a rigorous college preparatory program. There are two main reasons I’ve heard why parents and educators like the idea of testing. The first is as an assessment of what a child knows. The second is to prepare the child for testing […]

via The Dangers of Adaptive Testing — Resilient Homeschool

Getting out of the Schooling Mindset: Grades

One of my preconceived notions about homeschooling was that there is no “test security”.  If parents give tests and grades, how does anyone know that kid actually completed the tests alone?  Wouldn’t the parent just give the kid an A on everything?

I realized that grades in school are meaningless, too.  Parent complain if their kid isn’t getting the parentally-approved grade.  How many coaches, parents, and kids have “reminded” a teacher of the academic eligibility rules to play a sport?  So, when report card time rolls around, how many teachers just nudge up a kid’s grade a little (or maybe more) to avoid another phone call?  Is that really fair to another kid whose grades are not being patrolled by various adults.  And let’s not even get into the variations between the assignments graded by different teachers teaching the same class and who gives extra credit and for what.

In my home education endeavor, I give a few tests.  We have a weekly spelling test, a math test at the end of a topic, a science test at the end of a unit.  I check them, but I don’t record a grade.  I want to see that the important details stuck.  If there are mistakes, we go over them and fix them, just like we do with all work.  The school district review people like to see test, so that’s what we give them.

I guess if I do high school at home, we are going to have to keep grades for a transcript, but we’ll cross that road when we get there.



Getting out of the Schooling Mindset: The Schedule

I started my home educating plan with what I knew: school.  I started by making a weekly schedule that allowed so many hours to each subject.  The school system gives suggested weekly amounts of time for the “specials”: music, art, and gym.  Ironically, they don’t tell you how much time to spend on the academic subjects. I sat down to figure that out from my son’s previous elementary years and a couple of homeschooling advice books.  There was quite a range and none of it seem to fit neatly into my plan of 8am to 2pm school days.

Well, the hourly schedule was never used.  It went out of the window the first day of our school year because I had to take the car in for service.  So, I packed up the kids and took the planned work with us on the road to the car place.  The schedule would have failed on a few more days that week because we had activities in the morning.

Instead of a schedule, I write all of the work for the day on the dry-erase board.  As things get done, they get wiped off.  Are we spending the “right” amount of time on everything?  I keep a log of the “specials” to show that we spend about an hour on music, art, and gym each week.  As for the other subjects, I realized that it is absurd to put a time requirement on them.  Who is to say how long it takes to read a science section or complete a math worksheet?  How much language arts does it take to fill an hour and do I subtract the bathroom breaks and other interruptions?  So, instead, I make up assignments for the week and post them everyday.  I’d say 90% of the time, everything gets done on the day that it is assigned.  Sometimes, we need more time on a particular activity (or life gets in the way) and then, I adjust the plan for the next day.  I only plan one week ahead.

I still struggle with the thoughts of doubt.  Are we doing “enough”?  It is really hard to tell because in the last couple of years, I rarely saw the work that happened at school.  In kindergarten and 1st grade, a million useless pieces of paper came home every Thursday.  But then, it dwindled to near nothingness.  So, with homeschooling, I can see the work.  I file everything neatly into binders and take photographs of the art projects.  When I doubt myself, I can see the paper trail.