The Envelope, Please

Every year at this time, thousands of homeschool parents anxiously open their children’s academic achievement test results.  There it is – an entire year of blood, sweat, tears, prayers, field trips, science experiments, mathematical acrobatics, writing assignments, character development, and more – all boiled down to a few numbers on a report sheet.  

For many of us, it’s a point of temptation.  Will we judge our work by God’s standards or by the world’s?  Will we become prideful that our child scores one standard deviation above average in math, and forget to evaluate what really matters? We must remember that our adversary is a liar – the father of all lies – and he will be there whispering lies to us as we open our annual test scores.

How do we combat these lies?  Of course, it is the truth that sets us free from Satan’s snares of deception.  Being grounded both in God’s word and in the facts of reality will go a long way to keep us from the pitfall of pride and out of the dangers of discouragement.  That being said, here are a few truths to keep in mind.

1.  Keep a biblical perspective.  Remind yourself of why you are homeschooling your child.  God’s call to make Christian disciples of your children is likely your primary motivation for homeschooling.  A standardized academic achievement test is not going to be the best measure of your child’s progress toward Christlikeness.  As CHEWV’s testing coordinator points out, “Acceptable progress to God is not the same as ‘acceptable progress’ according to the West Virginia code.  So, parents should separate out the two standards.”  I think it was George Barna who said we tend to produce what we measure – so we must be careful to not let any test score become the dominant measure of our success.

2.  Understand the scores.  Jesus spoke a lot about understanding, as did the writer of Proverbs.  While we are cautioned to not let our own limited understanding of things undermine our trust in God, we are also told that understanding will guard us.  Here are some key points about test scores to understand.

  • Percentiles.  Test scores are reported in percentiles, not percent correct.  When your child takes a nationally-normed, standardized achievement test such as the IOWA, his score is compared to other children (called the norm group) who took the test.  If he scores better than 40 percent of the students in the norm group, then he receives a 40 percentile score on the test.  A 60 percentile score means the student scored better than 60 percent of the norm group students, and so on. The percentile rankings are then grouped into stanines.
  • Range of Average.  The scores are distributed over a bell curve graph, with the vast majority of students in the average range of the 23rd to the 76th percentiles.  It’s important to keep this in mind when making judgments about our children’s scores.  The new standard of the “fourth stanine” includes scores at the 23rd percentile and above, so it now includes all scores in the average range of the bell curve distribution.  If a child falls below the average range, think of it as a call to discover more about your child’s learning style and capacity.  As parents, we not only want to ensure that our children achieve their full potential, we are personally willing to make that happen.
  • A child is considered to have made acceptable progress when “the mean of the child’s test results…is within or above the  fourth stanine or, if below, shows improvement from the previous year’s results.”  If a child does score below the fourth stanine, steady annual improvement will bring him to “acceptable progress” ranges.  The required remediation helps make that possible!

3.  Know the law.  Remembering that it is truth that sets us free, a clear and right understanding of the West Virginia homeschool law, clearly separated from educational considerations, is important for all homeschool parents.  Otherwise a homeschooler might easily be intimidated by an overzealous attendance officer, or misled by a well-intentioned friend.  The entire West Virginia homeschool law can be accessed through the CHEWV website.  A few essentials relating to test scores are given below.

First, scoring below the fourth stanine in any single subject is insignificant for county purposes.  There have been instances where a county board has “given grief” to a family because one or two of their individual subject scores were below the standard, but by law it is only the mean of five scores that matters.  If you test through CHEWV, the mean score will be calculated for you and reported with the test results.

Second, even if the mean score is below the fourth stanine, as long as the child shows improvement from the previous year’s test results, acceptable academic progress is still achieved.

Third, for those students scoring a mean below the fourth stanine but not showing improvement, the law states, “the person or persons providing home instruction shall initiate a remedial program to foster acceptable progress.”  Remediation is covering the material that your child did not master the first time. As we all should want to help our children improve from year to year, this should not feel unreasonable.  Some possible remediation options include “summer school” at home (using supplemental materials through the summer to work through problem areas), supplementing the following year’s instruction with some special materials (video tutorial, etc.), or pursuing personal tutoring.  CHEWV can also recommend certified teachers who are willing to advise parents who have struggling learners.

If a parent suspects that a child may have learning difficulties, the county will tell the parents of “the services available to assist in the assessment of the child’s eligibility for special education services” if the parent requests it.  Conversely, private assessments are available throughout the state.

Fourth, if the child scores below the fourth stanine without improvement for a second consecutive year, the law requires the person providing the instruction to “submit to the county superintendent additional evidence that appropriate instruction is being provided.”  The law does not specify exactly what the additional evidence is, but possibilities might include a portfolio review or additional information about the curriculum being used.  It may also include documentation from special needs assessments.

One last item:  Assessment results must be sent to the county superintendent by June 30th for all students in 3rd, 5th, 8th and 11th grades. Although only five scores are used to satisfy WV code, your child’s test scores will include much more.  The full score reports can help identify areas of weakness and academic success.  One first-year homeschooling parent I know used the information to determine that her son was weak in map skills – “No wonder,” she said, “I had never thought to include maps in what we covered.”  This was an easy fix.

Once, our son’s math score was lower than expected.  We looked closer and determined this was mainly because he missed 7 out of 9 subtraction problems.  We knew that he knew how to do subtraction as evidenced by his bookwork and math quiz scores through the year.  We also knew that he could be a little absent-minded at times.  After adding two and two and deciding that he must have been a bit careless when taking the test, we looked at ways to address carelessness rather than implementing a vigorous program in remedial math.

So, do benefit from testing, but clearly separate that from the education that God requires. Give to Caesar what is Caesars’ and give to God what is God’s.  “…Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and discern what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”