Monday, February 18, 2013

Academic Benchmarks

Success in school, let me count the ways! Report cards, honors classes, dean's lists, gifted-and-talented programs, academic rankings - these are all part of the arsenal of ways to figure out exactly how your child fits into the traditional academic understanding of "good student" or "smart kid".

As a homeschooling family, we do not have these things unless I, the teacher/principal/administrator, creates the standards. Or unless we join an umbrella school or a homeschool school.

I was perusing facebook (ah, facebook! My friend and my enemy) thinking about these things. A couple of friends had posted about their child's school achievements - admission to honors classes, doings in gifted and talented programs, and such - and I felt that moment of panic:

I don't have that!

I can't say those things. Or I could, and it does not mean the same thing ("My oldest son is first in his class...of one!"). I don't have an outside, third party to verify my children's academic successes, their intelligence, their place among their peers. A GPA and class ranking tells you something tangible. I did not say it was good, but it is tangible. A way to worry about how to do better or a way to sit back with relief and think, "yeah, he is doing great"!

 It is homeschooling without a safety net. At least it feels like it. I revel in it, yet it terrifies me at times. Are they really learning? Are our studies academically challenging? Does my 15-year-old write like a 5th grader? What if the grammar lessons I was feeling so good about are putting my kids two years behind their peers?

I love homeschool. I might not have started that way 10 years ago, but I have learned to love the freedom we have. I love the ability to focus on each child and their needs and abilities. I love going at their pace. I love exploring things off the beaten path. 
But that very freedom turns on me at times, leaving me up at night, wondering if I have torpedoed my children's chances to get into Harvard (not that I really want them to go there). 

One of the glories of homeschooling is that our children are not pigeon-holed. They do not live or die academically by what a set of tests says or by how well they fit into a classroom of 30 others.
But as homeschool educators, it can sometimes be scary to educate without boundries.

Two years ago, I enrolled my children for their first standardized achievement test. I thought, at the grades of 7,5, and 3, this would be a good time to see how they were doing in their set grade levels. Plus I felt they should have some exposure to standardized testing (since it is all the rage anymore). They took the proctored test in a room full of other homeschooled students. They felt pretty good about it. 

I remember the day the results envelope came. My hands were shaking. I felt like I would throw up. I mean, the results would not really label my kids to me, they would put a label on ME, at least to myself. Was I failing my kids? I mean, we do a classical curriculum, so it is not in synch with what their public-school counterparts are doing.

Was I a failure?

I finally got the nerve to open the envelope. They had done well. Better than well! I passed! I mean, they passed

I learned a good lesson that day and through that experience - not to worry so much. I usually remember it. 
Except when I am on facebook.


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