Evidence of Learning: If a child breathes, they learn

Assessment. Evaluation. Judgement. To a parent of a homeschooled child, it all means the same. A representative from a school is going to enter one’s home and make a judgement on the learning of their homeschooled child. It feels like being in school again and being called to the Principal’s office for some unknown matter. It is fraught with terror at worst and mild anxiety at best.  But it shouldn’t be.

In the past 15 years, since the invention of the MRI, science has gained much knowledge on how learning takes place. We now know that every person learns from the time they are born until the time they take their last breath. Everything they experience through their five senses and brain activity contributes to their knowledge and skill base. Every bit of learning causes neurons to fire neurotransmitters across the synapse (gap) between neuron axon terminals and dendrites of neighboring neurons. Neurons connect all the time and hence, learning occurs all the time. Whether it be through math workbooks or video games, neurons are constantly connecting and all children learn everything they need to be successful in life, whether they go to school or homeschool or unschool.

This video shows Learning in Action

The matter then becomes, are children learning the right things? And who decides what children learn? The parents decide in home education and the learner decides in unschooling (self-directed education). Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that parents have the right to choose their child’s education. So in the vast majority of jurisdictions, including Canada (except for Quebec) children can learn whatever their parents decide, or whatever the child decides if their parents use a delivery method called self-directed education. They do not have to follow the government dictated curriculum of topics.

This is where the problem of assessment or evaluation occurs. Standardized testing only works if the child follows the government curriculum. So standardized testing can’t be mandatory when the parent can teach the child whatever they want. The government wants to see the child “progress” which means that the child has learned more today than they did yesterday. Again, we know from brain science that all children do this. The government also wants to see “Evidence of Learning” which is usually defined as physical proof that the child is learning, since they can’t cut open their brains and actually see those neurons firing. Physical evidence of learning is what teachers assess in schools by giving marks based on it, and it’s also what governments want to see in the home. It is proof of learning such as a powerpoint presentation, exam result, written work such as workbooks, essays, or project results. It needs to represent in the physical world what learning has occurred in the invisible world of the brain. It’s not enough that a child knows something.  They have to prove that they know something. Or rather, their parents have to prove they know something. This is the most problematic part of homeschooling and even more so in unschooling when we don’t press our children for output. Perhaps the child has learned a lot but doesn’t wish to put together a powerpoint presentation of what they learned. Or perhaps their parents disagree with the whole concept of testing, and do not wish to have their child forced to write an exam.

The only purpose of “evidence of learning” is to satisfy the societal public interest that children are getting an education. It is not for the best interests of the child. So it really is unnecessary. If science tells us that all children learn and progress no matter what, then we as a society have the proof that children are learning.

In reality, parents constantly evaluate their child’s learning from birth onward. They are with their children all day, every day and know exactly what their knowledge and skills are. They see if their baby can crawl like others at 7 months, and if their child has 50 words like other children at age 2. They worry if the neighbor’s child is reading at 7 and their child hasn’t cracked the code yet. This is a normal part of parenting and studies show that parents, as opposed to the professionals, are most often the first people to suspect a learning or behaviour diversity in the child.

What constitutes evidence of learning? Choices must exceed essays and exams. For the reason above, it must always include Parental Observation in place of or addition to the following:

Parental Observation

Journal records of activities engaged in

Portfolio of work output

Descriptive reports including learner narration

Individual projects


Application of skills learned

Completion of work

Course certificates

Quizzes and exams

Chapter tests and questions

Standardized tests

In Alberta, regulation states that home education parents are required to meet with a certified teacher facilitator twice a year, on the school-supported programs, so the facilitator can talk to the child and make an evaluation on whether the child is progressing through the 22 outcomes of the Schedule (SOLO) in the Home Education Regulations. The child doesn’t need to master the 22 very broad outcomes until they leave funded education at age 20 so if some outcomes are hit and miss every year, that is fine. The facilitator then signs a report that they are satisfied, in their professional opinion, that the child is progressing. The parent and the government each get a copy of this document. Parents do not get paid for home education administration work and thus, are not required to put any effort into “presenting” evidence of learning. The facilitator is paid for the visit and must do the work of recording “evidence of learning.”

The facilitator can’t possibly evaluate all the child knows in a one hour visit twice a year, so they rely on what the parent tells them, and if they “presented an activity” to the child in order to enable learning to occur. If the parent says that the child went skiing, the facilitator then records that the child went skiing and perhaps a bit of what the parent observed that the child learned from skiing. That is pretty much all the facilitator can judge, especially when there is little physical output evidence of learning and certainly no formal measurement of progression. If the parent says the child is stopping better on hills this year, the facilitator records that. They have no evidence to make a different judgement.

Alberta Home Education Regulations “Evidence of Learning”

The parent is only required to keep at least one dated sample of work, (we kept all our “Letters To Santa”) and a general record of activities the child engaged in throughout the year, according to the Home Education Regulations and that is all the “evidence of learning” a parent is required to submit to the facilitator. A super easy way to do that is to take photos. All a parent needs to do is scroll through their phone at their twice yearly visit so the facilitator can see pictures of their child in play or activities, and that constitutes a simple record. The facilitator can then take the notes they need for their report. That is all the parent is required to do. Pictures are already dated by the phone software. If the facilitator wants a copy of the photos, they can photograph the ones they wish. Done.

The school has no right to demand to see the child’s essays (if there are any), test results (again if they exist) or any other typical schooly physical evidence of learning. The school has no right to demand that the parent fill out a report card or put together a powerpoint presentation so the school can put together a report card or presentation to give back to the parent. The school can’t put the “proof of learning” on the parent. They must make those evaluative judgments themselves. The parent has every right to say “No,” as it is not required by the regulations. All parents have to do is provide activities. This is Home Education. Not school. Parents can teach what they want. And they don’t get paid for admin work. Their job is to ensure their child gets an education, not to prove it.


About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Certified child development specialist and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices. Keynote speaker and best-selling author of "Discipline Without Distress", "Parenting With Patience", "Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers to Teens", and "Unschooling To University."
This entry was posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Democratic Parenting, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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