Thursday, October 29, 2020

Wait, Do I Have to Do Report Cards?

 "So do you give tests? Do you ever fail your kids? Do you have to do report cards? Do you give straight As?"

Non-homeschool parents love these questions. I'm not entirely sure why. Sometimes I think they are truly wondering, "how do you know if they get it?" Sometimes I think it's that they're trying to fit homeschool into the "regular school" mold. Sometimes they wonder if I need to report to someone, and who is in "charge" of our learning. And sometimes, the person has a little gleam in their eye like they've caught me out and want to know if I'll ever "fail" my own kids.

We'll get to that in a minute. First, let's talk about what you "have" to do.

In my state? Nothing. I am not required to keep a portfolio of work or show records to anyone, although I do have the option to involve my district if I'd like to. Some states require more. It should go without staying that you need to start with your state requirements.

But let's say you're in my shoes, where you don't have to do any sort of record keeping. Should you?

I've been homeschooling for six years now, and I've been all over the map. Sometimes the old public school teacher in me kicks in and I get very anxious about gathering data. One year I panicked that the state was going to require record keeping and I'd be caught, so I needed to be prepared. Sometimes I revel in the freedom from having to gather data. And mostly, I land in the middle. I keep work, store it for a while, then move it into a big bin and stop looking at it. This year, I think I've finally settled on the right balance for me.

How did I get there?

Well, first I thought about the point of tests and the point of report cards. Why does a teacher give a test? To see if the students can independently apply the material, which shows they understand it. Why do teachers do report cards? To share their information with the parents.

Ok, first, I know some adults my age have had some pretty sadistic teachers over the years who seemed to revel in failing students, but for most teachers, failing students isn't a good thing. It means that you didn't do your job. A good teacher takes a failing test and looks at what they need to do to make sure the student understands the concept. I give the girls weekly spelling tests. If they bomb the test, we don't move on. We look at where the mistakes were, we practice, and we try it again. Same thing with math. If you don't understand subtraction with regrouping, we need to go back. That's why I use the tests that come in our curriculum. My goal is for the girls to score about a 90%. If not, we need to figure out why before we move on. 

So I have these tests, and I have this done work, but if I do reports, I'm really just telling myself, right? So what's the point? Just keep the work, just in case, but I know when the girls are ready to move on, so why make more work for myself?

I thought that for a while. But then I realized that kids grow fast, we cover a lot every year, and all the years were beginning to blend together. I couldn't remember, and a big stack of done work wasn't as helpful as I hoped it would be. 

My current system:

  • I separate out chapter and unit ending work. Math tests, spelling tests, final drafts of writing, science tests, and other culminating projects.
  • I have one file for daily work each girl has done over the quarter or trimester, and one file for final work. 
  • I created a record book that tracks:
    • the test scores and what, if anything, needed extra work or a retest
    • the days we've spent in school 
    • extra classes (co-op, art, Outschool)
    • books the girls have read on their own
    • read alouds we do as a family
    • concepts covered in each subject
    • a snapshot of handwriting from the end of each quarter
    • monthly anecdotal notes (Reagan really hates this particular writing unit. Madison is in love with this science concept. Madison isn't connecting with her current literature book. Reagan is flying through multiplication tables).
    • A quarterly write up where I look back at their growth. 
This book (and this system) is a work in progress. I actually just decided that I'd rather work in trimesters, rather than quarters, since I think 12 weeks shows more growth than 9. I hadn't been doing science tests, but I recently decided to start. I hadn't been keeping handwriting samples, but then I noticed how much Madison had improved and I really wanted to see it laid out.

Homeschooling is freeing. You get to find out what works for you, what you can use, and what will let your kids know that they're learning. The freedom can be wonderful, or it can be scary, but remember that it's a process. Like everything else, you may settle into several systems before you find the one that's perfect for what you need.

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