Taking your child’s education in hand is frightening, and every homeschool mom worries if her child is progressing “normally.” Starting down the educational path with first children is especially intimidating because you have no experience with which to compare progress. As you are evaluating progress based on your benchmarks, questions like, “Is this normal? Am I missing something? How would others perceive my child’s academic abilities? Will my child grow out of this?” may loom in your mind.
How can you know if those fears and doubts are grounded in truth or just in insecurity? How can you truly grow in confidence as you seek to evaluate your student?
Let’s explore some practical considerations for evaluating progress.
Evaluating Progress: How to Know If My Child is Developing Academically
Pediatrician Handouts: Next time you get a well-child check, read the information you get. It often contains milestones for cognitive and neurological development. These are most applicable for evaluating progress in the Starting Out (Pre-K – 1st grade) and Getting Excited (2nd – 4th grade) stages.
Standardized Tests: Some states require standardized testing, and some do not. It’s important to remember that standardized tests do not give you a good indication of what your child does or does not know. However, they can serve a helpful purpose when it comes to evaluating progress. Testing every two or three years gives you an idea of how your child’s progression compares to other children in their age range. Iowa and Stanford are two of the most common standardized tests.
Scope and Sequences: Major curriculum publishers include scope and sequences, or lists of the ideas, concepts, and topics that will be covered in a course or curriculum. Use this to set your benchmarks for evaluating progress every six weeks, then keep it handy throughout the year so you can review to see if your student has learned each concept satisfactorily.
Syllabus: Containing some of the same information as scope and sequences, a syllabus can help you review previous work. Some publishers and teachers write better syllabi than others, so helpfulness varies.
State or National Standards: Debate over educational standards frequently causes confusion for homeschoolers and traditional schoolers alike, but they can still give you an idea of areas your child should have knowledge in. They also will give you an idea of how your child’s education would be perceived by the world at large.
Books: The Educated Child and What Your ___ Grader Needs to Know books break down each grade into subject areas with specific topics, making it easy to identify what your child should be learning and determine whether or not there are major gaps. This is great help when evaluating progress for each school year.
Evaluating Progress: How to Know if My Student is Academically Behind
Have you covered the material yet? It’s hard for your student to get behind in something he or she has not covered yet. If you already have a plan to cover that topic, great; if not, plan now.
Have there been any major life changes in the last school year? Anything from a big move to family illness to a birth can interrupt school time and cause stress. If you have experienced any stressors, give your student a few months to decompress and then re-evaluate.
Have you been switching curriculum frequently? The perfect curriculum does not exist, and switching to find the “best” curriculum is worse than having a less-than-ideal curriculum and using it consistently. Choose a curriculum that works for your family with the fewest number of tweaks and stick with it.
Has your child just left public or private school? Some students function better in small groups or one-on-one environments than in classrooms. Wait a few months to see if your child begins flourishing under the new routine.
When evaluating progress, it can be hard to know if there are just manageable gaps or if your student is really behind. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you make a solid determination.
Is your student behind in all subjects or just one or two? Very few people excel in all of the multiple intelligences. Expect your child to have favorite and least-favorite subjects. However, if your evaluation shows that your student is behind in ALL subjects, consider seeing a specialist to rule out a general learning disability.
Is your child behind in foundational subjects? As you are evaluating progress, if you determine that your student has mastered math and language arts, then you can be confident that your student is well-prepared to fill in gaps in other areas without too much difficulty. Intervention for math and language arts is crucial in the elementary years, though, so do not delay seeking a solution if mastery is not being achieved in an age-appropriate manner.
How many grade levels behind is your student? If your evaluation determines that your child is one grade level behind, offer some supplemental activities or try a summer enrichment program to bring him or her up to grade level. If your student is two or more grades behind, think about seeing a specialist.
What to do After Evaluating Progress
If, after evaluating progress, you determine that your student truly is behind and needs extra help, here are a few suggestions for strengthening your child’s academic development.
Make accommodations. Read texts out loud to your child. Allow him or her to use manipulatives. Accept collages or lapbooks instead of research papers. Even small adaptations make learning more enjoyable and easier. Continue evaluating progress at regular intervals so you can tangibly measure their growth and confirm that gaps are closing.
Change curricula. If you have consistently used the same curriculum, look into other kinds. Find something with more visuals or more manipulatives or more read-alouds to accommodate your student’s learning style.
Consult a specialist. Some of the most common learning disorders include auditory processing disorder, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, language processing disorder, visual perceptual/visual motor deficit, ADHD, dyspraxia, and stealth dyslexia. Start by talking to your child’s pediatrician or a psychologist, neurologist, behavioral optometrist, or speech language pathologist.
Encourage your student. Explain that even adults have things they are not good at. Point out your child’s strengths.
It might sound something like this, “Spelling is just something you will have to work extra hard at. Remember all the time we spent in vision therapy? That was to help you spell better. But you know what? You are really great at remembering everything that we read out loud! You can tell me everything you hear. When I finish a project, my coworkers look it over for mistakes. Sometimes I don’t like it when they find mistakes, but that is their job. And I have to remind myself that it is nothing personal.”
Meanwhile, you can also use the process of evaluating progress as a means of encouragement as well. Let your student see the results of their hard work each time you evaluate so they can see how far they’ve come.