Norms, Ranges, and Assessing Often
by Sharon Beattie
A fellow homeschooler once told me about the day the local school board called to tell her they were investigating her homeschool. Her voice quivered even in the retelling. Thrown into a panic, she had scrambled to gather together resources and records she had compiled for each of her children. She had been asked to prove they were learning and progressing at or near grade level.
We all homeschool knowing this scenario is a possibility for any of us.
And, like this fellow homeschool mom, our natural inclination would be to become fearful of all of the possible negative outcomes. There is certainly a sense of confidence, knowing that HSLDA provides legal protection in case we, too, ever receive a call like this. But, even with legal protection, the responsibility of providing a rich educational environment and ensuring our children are learning fully rests on us – no matter our approach to homeschooling. There are some very simple, achievable steps we can take to ensure that we will be able to prove we are providing our children with more than a satisfactory education.
If you suddenly found your homeschool under investigation, would you be able to easily pull together records of your children’s learning progress? Would you know that what you provide would satisfy an educator’s idea of what is considered within the normal range of academic learning?
Whether or not we agree philosophically with grade levels, knowing the normal accepted range and addressing any possible concerns surrounding our child’s learning is crucial in an investigative situation. However, understanding a range of ability for a child’s age, providing a rich academic environment, and keeping track of our children’s learning does not, in any way, restrict our freedom to homeschool using whatever approach suits us.
Some of us balk at the idea of grade levels because we disagree with what we see as “cookie cutter” education. We know that each child is unique and learns at their own pace. However, while honouring these differences and range in children’s academic abilities, it is crucial to be aware of whether or not your child may be experiencing significant delays.
Why is this important as a homeschooler?
Knowing the range of norms for child academic development are important for two reasons: to be alerted should there be a delay that might require expert advice or attention; and, to be able to confidently answer questions asked about your child’s progress should your homeschool be challenged.
Delays can be indicators of an important issue that needs to be addressed. Consider that everyone expects their child to begin walking by the time they are around 12 months old. Variances may extend from as early as eight months to close to 18 months. However, if independent walking has not yet happened beyond a certain age, parents would naturally begin questioning why and take the child to the doctor to determine possible reasons. In obtaining a diagnosis, we don’t think of it as a label, when we are dealing with a physical issue. We think of it as a place to begin helping the child overcome the issue that is preventing them from learning to walk.
The same is true for academic learning. Awareness of expected norms for learning academic skills, like reading, ensures that you will notice if your child falls outside of the typical range so that you can help the child more deliberately, or seek professional help. In the same way, obtaining a professional diagnosis about a child’s academic delay is not a label but rather a place to begin finding strategies that will help the child overcome the issue that is keeping them from learning specific academic skills.
One of the beauties of homeschooling is the freedom to do so creatively, and with a focus on each of our children as unique learners, each with their own intrinsic timeline. We can continue to enjoy our creative freedoms, honouring the child’s individual learning style and pace, even while conscientiously and proactively ensuring they are receiving all they need to thrive and fully develop their academic abilities.