15 Problems with Testing Unschoolers and Homeschoolers

 

img280Excerpted from Unschooling To University, by Judy Arnall

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15 problems with testing unschoolers and homeschoolers

Testing is the most common form of assessment in schools. Yet it is problematic in un- schooling  and homeschooling because of the unique content and delivery method of education in the home and not a classroom.

1.          Unschooling learning is neither compartmentalized nor linear— the very forms in which tests are designed to measure; exams test the wrong outcomes

The Concordia University (Chang, 2011) study measured not what the 12 unschooled children learned, rather what they didn’t learn that the government thought they should be learning. We could say the test was measuring different objectives.

Unschoolers don’t follow subjects or a school year. There are too many areas in science and social studies, history, geography, languages, and art to test children. Unschoolers who choose an area to learn about don’t go looking for a test in that area to measure their learning achievement. There is no point. As well, it would be unfair to subject unschoolers to grade-level exams as they may not have chosen to learn about any of the topics tested on the exam. Learning is constant, across all disciplines. Only school chops learning into subject areas, periods, and school years.

Mothers worry if their children are taking enough vitamins for health; governments are concerned about whether the children are learning. Mothers don’t measure the vitamin A in their child’s body every week to see whether it has been absorbed, nor should teachers have to give tests every month to test learning. Parents know that over the period of a month, their child will eat a variety of good foods that with give him the nutrients his body needs. Similarly, parents know their child learns. The trajectory of educational progress is often more like that of a butterfly, rather than that of a bullet. It is neither straight nor linear. It has plateaus and hills and valleys that depend on the child’s development, age, interests, and personality.

Many times, learning is invisible. Learning takes place even when there is no output or measurable proof; when children do not write exams, make a product, or write an essay, there is no output to prove the learning. But it does not mean learning has not taken place. That is why recorded parental observation should be considered a valid, and valuable, assessment tool, as it is often the only one parents have outside of the learner’s self-assessment.

2.          Assessment changes the learning

When assessments enter the picture, the nature of play changes. As soon as outcomes are targeted, the play becomes directed and is no longer free or spontaneous. If children know they will be tested, they will focus on the material they will be tested on instead of enjoying the learning for its own sake. They learn to allocate their time and energy. They don’t “waste time” learning what will not be on the test. Nothing kills the enjoyment of reading a good novel faster than knowing you will have to write a book report on it!

Children cannot explore new subjects or delve deep into subjects because measurable outcomes must usually be met under significant time constraints. Marks do have their place, but should they determine curriculum, or should curriculum determine the marks? Many teachers complain that “teaching to the test” takes a lot of time and places unnecessary constraints on true learning, in that it curbs meandering and discourages natural curiosity. I agree.

Even option courses have grades. Why? The purpose of options is to stimulate a child’s interest in an area. It’s a low-stakes way to try out something new. If a child knew he wouldn’t be marked, he might take more risks in learning and strive to meet new chal- lenges.

Unschooling promotes true learning that is free of the bondage of marks.

3.          Testing takes a lot of time and is stressful

Testing in schools is expensive and time-consuming. It takes time away from actual teaching, which is the main function of schools.

4.          Testing becomes the content and may not be the best way to learn

How do teachers know that they’ve nailed it? They read children’s faces. When they don’t have that feedback, in online learning, for example, they give a lot of assignments to provide the necessary assessment component. My son took a Grade 10 Physical Education class online. It consisted of 50 hours of writing assignments and only 75 hours of recorded physical activity! Clearly, the school did not trust the children to do the physical activity and they needed a way of evaluating them, so they assigned them 10 quizzes, three essays, two projects, and mandatory marked written discussion. The writing component of the online class was far more difficult than it would have been in a physical class. This does not make sense. Teachers and parents know that kids are learning when they are engaged and enthusiastic.

5.          Tests assess teaching ability at the learner’s expense

Teaching and learning is like throwing and catching a ball. Teachers know when a child catches it by the excitement on their faces. But it is hard for teachers when they throw  a ball and a child does not even try to catch it. In school, the responsibility for learning must be on both: the teacher ball-thrower and the student ball-catcher.

In unschooling, it is only the learner’s responsibility.

6.          Tests often don’t tell where areas of weakness are

A single number or letter mark does not tell a story when a teacher assesses a student; many biases can positively or negatively influence a test score, such as misunderstanding the meaning of a question.

Most institutions or programs will not allow a student to review their marked tests to see where they need to improve to move on to the next level of learning. This is wrong. All test-takers should be allowed to view their mistakes and at the very least, be shown the correct answers to show them where they went wrong. A grade of 80% is great—but it doesn’t tell them how to correct the 20 percent of the questions they got wrong.

There is great value, however, in using tests for self-assessment. If a child wants to start a math program and needs to determine his level, a test is a great tool. The resulting mark is insignificant; it’s importance is as an indicator of the optimal starting level for the student.

7.          Tests are often geared to future students, not current ones

Standardized achievement tests allow schools to plan improved delivery and content for the next year’s crop of students, rather than current students. Consequently, the test results may not correctly evaluate learning.

8.          Tests often measure the ability to take tests, instead of measuring the learning

When my children began taking tests at 12 years of age, they needed instruction on how to mark the bubbles and not get lost on the bubble sheet. They needed guidance on how to gauge and budget the time allotted for the test and how to reduce pre-test anxiety. Often, test questions are formulated so poorly that the learner cannot decipher what is being asked. The problem is the test, not the learner’s knowledge.

Unschooled children are not used to tests and may do poorly even when they know the content, simply because they are not schooled in the testing procedure. One of my sons had a bad experience that illustrates this. Going into an exam, he was not told to reset his calculator before the teacher cleared it, essentially sabotaging his configurations. His math test answers were incorrect because his graphing calculator was in radon mode instead of degree mode. Obviously, the test results did not accurately reflect his knowledge.

9.          Testing must cover a beginning and an end

Learning doesn’t end or begin. It doesn’t start in September and end in June. It goes “off track” naturally. My children learned the most during the summer months, when they had access to a broader range of books and videos from the library. During the “school year” we were busy running to outside activities, groups, and play dates, and we often didn’t have much time to read a book in a hammock. So, if the kids had been tested  in September, they would have shown a great increase in knowledge since June. By the same token, June testing would show less progress. As well, there are dry spells when kids don’t appear to learn much academically, and that is okay—after a dry spell comes a tsunami of provable academic learning! Testing cannot possibly capture the ebbs and flows of meandering learning.

As well, testing has time limits. Very few events in real life are timed. The stress of a timed event can impact the learner and prevent her from successfully outputting her knowledge, resulting in an artificially low mark.

10.     Academic testing only measures the learning during a particular chunk of time immediately prior to testing

Testing does not measure knowledge retention a few years after testing—that is to say, it is not an indicator of true, intrinsic learning. If leaving-school achievement tests were given to adults two years out of school, they would almost certainly fail them, unless they were actively working in the field!

11.     Tests teach values

Test questions are very school-biased and give a child the impression that school is “normal” and homeschooling is, therefore, “abnormal.” His learning experience and that of his homeschooled peers is not reflected in the questions. My daughter took a Grade 3 Math exam and figured out, at age eight, that over 70 percent of the questions featured “boy” scenarios. What does that tell her about math and girls? Because parents rarely see the test that are given to their children, these biased embedded values are rarely caught.

12.     Testing measures subject matter content only

Testing does not measure the fundamental soft skills essential for success in life: initiative, honesty, creativity, problem-solving, or interpersonal communication skills. Children may be highly gifted in intelligence areas such as music, art, dance, drama, sports, movement, and other personal skills that cannot be measured by testing. Heavy emphasis on test results in core subjects tells children who excel in art, humanities, and sports that their intelligence is inferior.

13.     High-stakes testing promotes cheating

When my kids went to university, their exams were weighted at anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of the final course mark. When I asked why so high, the explanation was that cheating in course assignments was rampant, and that it in an exam environment, it was easier for administration to control cheating.

14.     Grades can damage self-worth and self-confidence

Grading compares a child to others, rather than evaluating her own progress. Grades hurt self-esteem, especially in children with special needs and learning disabilities that have many alternative aptitudes, intelligences, and abilities. As Thomas Armstrong and Howard Gardner note, there are at least eight ways to be intelligent. School tests only measure two: linguistic (English) and logical (Math) abilities.

15.     Learning can be assessed through many forms other than testing

Assessment of portfolios, projects, photographs, physical evidence, observations, and self-reflection are valid to prove learning. However, this form of evaluation can make it difficult to compare one student to another—a required element in our environment of mass delivery, standardized curriculum, and conveyor-belt education. Bias is embedded.

One teacher may reward an essay with an A—another might evaluate it quite differently. The best assessment, always, is the learner’s self-assessment.

Do we test for social, emotional and physical health?

There are four dimensions to a  child’s  development:  social,  emotional,  physical, and cognitive. As a society, we do not regularly or mandatory test a child’s physical, emotional, or social health to ensure that taxpayers are getting a reasonable return on the funding of parenting programs, health care delivery, or even child benefit payments. We leave it up to the parents to monitor child’s health in those three dimensions and ensure satisfactory progress from six to 18 years of age. To demand that parents subject their children to a “well-child” check-up every year in exchange for continuing to receive their child tax benefit would be considered undue interference in the private realm of parenting. We have to trust that parents are not giving their children ACES. So why are we so concerned with testing a child’s cognitive health every year? Are they learning? Are they keeping up with their cohorts? And why is it important that they keep up  with their cohorts in learning? What is wrong with personalized learning that allows comparison only in relation to a child’s own progress?

As in healthcare, government regulation and interference in unschooling should be non-existent.

Trust parents

In 99.9 percent of homeschooling families, parents have their children’s best interests at heart and their well-being firmly entrenched as their first priority. We have to trust that parents know their child best in all four areas of development and give them the ultimate say over their child’s education and cognitive development, in the same way we trust them with their child’s emotional, social, and physical development.

No marks until high school or beyond

Test-taking is a life skill and we all need to learn it. We take tests for driver’s licenses, yoga teaching qualifications, swimming and karate levels, and post-secondary admittance. But do we need to start when kids are six years old? No. At that age, they don’t need to endure the stress that testing causes; they will learn test-taking skills when they need to. The first tests some of my children wrote were the non-mandatory Grade 6 government achievement tests in Math and English. Some of them did not write a test until Grades 9, 10, or even 12, in some subjects. They caught on quickly when they needed to. High school is plenty of time to learn and polish their test-taking skills.

Grades were also unknown to our children until high school. Believing that self- evaluation was the best form of assessment, we asked our children from time to time, “What was interesting about that? What did you learn from…?” We did not record their responses. We asked questions to start them down another line of thought. Our record keeping consisted of keeping track of the resources we offered to the children,

not what they produced with them. Much of the time, they didn’t produce anything that looked “schooly.” How do you write, in educational jargon, that the kids put on a puppet play over their bunkbeds? When they produced something interesting, we took lots of photos and videos. Those are things I still treasure today, and always will.

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Screen Time Research: Who To Believe?

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Many parents worry about screen time, especially after reading the latest study that involves children their children’s ages. However, how does one sort through the myths from the facts? It is becoming increasingly difficult.

Screen time addiction was not listed in the DSM-V (the main diagnosis manual for the medical community) because the health community can’t determine what amount of screen time or type of screen time constitutes addiction or harm. The evidence is not yet conclusive and until we have long term good meta-analysis evidence, no one can state how much is harmful. Opinions are all over the place because they are based on random studies, many of which are poorly done. What is a parent to do?  Until we have good evidence, moderation is the best practice.

What we do know, is that children in stable families, with low ACE scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are less likely to be susceptible to any the 10 addictions, including screen time, no matter how much screen time they have.  Families should aim for a balance of screen and real-time interaction with the priority on face-to-face relationships. For more information, this website is based on the research of 49 neuroscientists across North America.

The Brain Core Story

Here is a graphic I presented in one of my parenting groups recently. Addiction is at greater propensity when children experience toxic stress during childhood.  Toxic stress stems from the 10 ACES listed in orange. Research can’t provide good evidence yet which genes are activated by toxic stress, especially those children with addictions that run in the family. Screen time is deemed to be closest to the characteristics in a gambling addiction, but it still has unique qualities.

The brain science of addiction

Best practices for parents?  Build close relationships with your children. Avoid toxic stress in the family.  Enjoy screen time in moderation.

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? | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling Explained on CTV Newsclip

This CTV Canadian newsclip positively portrays successful unschooling by profiling two families each with young children and teenagers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UbUSAX6BdE

 

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Unschooling and Brain Development/Learning Stages

In this webinar, we will discuss how brain development and learning stages fit with unschooling and self-directed education.

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Unschooling 101

This article was first published in Tipping Points, the magazine of Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Read full article here

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Unschooling To University – BT Television Interview

Bestselling author, Judy Arnall, discusses her new book, Unschooling To University, which follows 30 unschooled children to university and colleges.

Watch Interview Here

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? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling To University – CTV Interview

Bestselling Author, Judy Arnall, discusses her new book, Unschooling To University on CTV Television

Watch Interview

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? | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling Research: Podcast with Ben Greenfield

Listen to the Podcast with Ben Greenfield

Ben is a fitness expert at BenGreenfieldFitness

 

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What is Unschooling? Global Homeschooling Summit 2019 Session

Watch the Global Homeschooling Summit Session with Judy Arnall

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“Educated” is a Story of Resilience from ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences), and is Not Representative of Home Education

As the author of “Unschooling To University,” I read “Educated” with interest and know that the author, Tara Westover, is very much like many other unschoolers who ditch the school system and learn outside of it. Hundreds of thousands of children get educated this way in a self-directed methodology without using curriculum, teachers, classes or textbooks.  Many are self-taught using the resources they seek out or stumble over. Unschooled, educated children go on to successful careers after graduating post-secondary programs or become entrepreneurs. Learners do not need school.

Tara, however, was different than many unschoolers in that she was a victim of at least 5 ACES, (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and was the daughter of a man suffering from mental illness that severely impacted the health of the family system. She was physically abused by her brother, witnessed untreated mental illness, and was neglected by a mother that allowed emotional and physical abuse to continue. She was criticized and rejected by her family and community for leaving the church. Her unusual lack of access to information would also be considered neglect as well as her lack of family protection for her physical safety. Most young children do not get pieces of steel thrown at them by their father.

Her dysfunctional family environment intentionally impacted her access to knowledge. She grew up without books, radio, TV, internet, visitors, travel or the myriad of experiences that typical parents offer their children today whether homeschooling, unschooling or institutional schooling. She was deliberately kept isolated.

Research of brain science shows that children growing up with at least 3 ACES hinders a healthy upbringing and can cause toxic stress chemicals such as Cortisol and long term production of adrenelyn that can impair the brain’s healthy development and may produce lifelong health implications. The 10 ACES are: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, witnessing abuse, witnessing untreated mental illness, witnessing addiction, parental absence, acrimonious parental separation or divorce, constant criticism or rejection, and neglect of food, shelter and basic needs. Adults who grew up with at least 3 ACES may have brain impairment that can cause adult onset of addictions, depression and lifelong health implications such as heart problems, diabetes, anxiety and many auto-immune diseases. Tara managed to steer through the residual effects of living with ACES, with the help of her personality and spirited temperament. Some of Tara’s siblings, with different personalities, and temperament, didn’t fare as well.

This book is a shining example of resilience in spite of one’s horrific upbringing but is not an example of typical home education. Most unschoolers and homeschoolers (whether faith-based or not) have healthy functional families and do a remarkable job providing their children with access to information, love, safety and education.  This fact is why alternative education methods such as unschooling and homeschooling have not ever, nor will be considered an ACE by the medical or psychology community.

I hope Tara is happy and has now found peace.

To understand more about brain development and the stages of learning, visit part 4 of Unschooling To University, available at many bookstores near you. Chapter 16, Brain Basics, has information of the effect of ACES on learning and development.

 

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