Friday, February 24, 2012

Considering Standardized Testing

Ah, spring! When a homeschooling mom's thoughts turn to standardized testing.

Or not.

In my state, we are required to administer a nationally-recognized standardized test every three years beginning in third grade. I know that some states require more, and others require less.

The homeschooling community's opinions on standardized testing vary greatly. (Quelle surprise, eh?) I know of homeschooling families who choose to test annually. These families regard the tests as general yardsticks: where within the "norm" does my child perform? A good score brings a sense of satisfaction. The child is learning what he or she should, based on a nationally-normed rubric. In essence, standardized testing proves that their home education program is successful.

For other families, the idea of standardized testing sets their teeth on edge. Their methods of education differ greatly from the national norm; why should they subject their children to a pointless exercise, needlessly upsetting the family with what is ultimately a huge waste of time? Moreover, the idea of any institutional intervention rankles.

Those who choose hybrid schools often have the decision made for them; the tests are administered annually, period. Perhaps a family that strongly objects would be given the option to decline the test. I don't know.

I'm in the middle. Since I'm required by law to have my children tested in three-year intervals, I do it. When Miss Priss was in fifth grade, I tested her then, too, just to "see." I've decided not to do the same with Tiny Girl.

I also choose to administer the test at home instead of taking my children to a testing venue. I find this produces far less anxiety and far less schedule interference. I've used two testing services: Family Learning Organization and Seton Testing Services. Both are good.

And there's a bit more to it. Since my children will undoubtedly take the ultimate in standardized tests -- the SAT -- in a few years, I think it's good for them to get a taste of standardized tests. I want them to be prepared when the time comes. Undue anxiety -- perhaps even shock -- is not the best internal atmosphere in which to approach the SAT. A little familiarity now will help later.

My public school friends, interestingly, seem to view standardized testing as a necessary evil. For some, it's a hoop to jump through. Either their child gets it or she doesn't. Others take a more serious view, going to what I see as great lengths to facilitate their child's good performance: tutoring, better than average meals during testing week, no playdates or activities during test week, etc. I was surprised when I recently learned that seventh-graders now take the SAT for early preparation. "What about the PSAT?" I asked. "Oh, we take that, too," my daughter's friend replied. Good grief.

Frankly, the public schools' penchant for testing is one of the things that turned me against public school and toward home education. When Miss Priss was in first grade, I was aghast to learn the volume of testing to which she was subjected. Some tests I knew about, such as our state's own standardized test. But others were never mentioned to parents. I guess the school kept parents on a need-to-know basis, and we didn't need to know.

Well. This is one parent who demands to know what's going on with my child.

What are your thoughts on standardized testing? Does your state require any? If so, do you comply? And for my international friends: does your country/region require testing for homeschooled children?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Tiny Girl!

Eleven years ago today, our sweet Tiny Girl joined the family. She is proof positive that God's plans are best. Miss Priss's babyhood was challenging, and I was not sure I wanted another baby. But when Miss Priss was six months old (!!!), we learned we were expecting number two. I was more shocked than thrilled.

Fast forward to now. (Actually, you really only have to fast forward to six months after we'd learned the news, but every day deepens my appreciation....) Tiny Girl is such a blessing to us all. She's fun, happy, enthusiastic (sometimes a bit loud), easygoing, and generally agreeable. My dad's nickname for her has always been Miss Merry Sunshine. As a toddler, she looked just like Cindy Lou Who, which only added to the complete package of fabulousness.

Our gracious Lord has blessed us richly, more richly than I could ever have imagined.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Unscheduled But Much-Needed Break

I decided we're taking this week off from our lessons. I didn't plan it; it sort of evolved. Last week was really busy since we had to be at the barn every day to ride the pony we had on trial. Needless to say, everything at home was catch-as-catch-can, with most things going uncaught. Yesterday was a school holiday, so we used that day to fold the mountains of laundry and do some general cleaning (before we went to the barn).

Not to mention the fact that we all have the February blahs.

After we got home from the parent meeting for Miss Priss's theatre production, I said to Himself, as I folded more clothes, "I wish we could take this whole week off. I could use the time to get things straightened out around here." He replied, "So do it."

Good advice.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: More Adventures with Bread

After trying my hand at the rustic bread in a crock project, I decided to give no-knead bread a try. I came upon the recipes by chance, while messing around on the web. I've now twice tried the light wheat recipe from No-Knead Bread and have been really pleased. The only change I made is that I used my Red Steel Beauty for all the mixing and stirring.

The mixed dough, ready to rise.

The risen dough, after 12 hours.

Tiny Girl helped stretch the dough into its rectangle.

One perfect loaf.

This recipe is quite delicious. Himself said, "It's better than store bread." This is high praise, coming from a guy who's not a bread lover. The girls and I think it's fab.

I'd like to try sprinkling the dough rectangle with cinnamon and sugar for a sweet treat. Dreamy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Ellen, Interrupted

We've been ridiculously (some might say stupidly) busy in the past week that I've neglected both my blog and my blog-reading, heretofore happy habits of mine. I've missed both. I've also neglected housework (hard to do when one is not home), friends, and a responsibility or two. So now I've settled in front of my desktop with a cup of PG Tips and some cold Zaxby's french fries, ready to roll. Folding laundry can wait.

Big News: we found a new pony for Tiny Girl! Yes, after trying eleven -- count 'em, eleven -- we found one we liked enough to bring to our barn for a ten-day trial. Max is a medium Welsh pony, a larger version of Tappy, whom Tiny Girl has sadly outgrown. Since we had only ten days to ride with him at our barn, we spent at least two hours at the barn every day this week. Max had spent a long time hanging out in the field at his place, so he was peach-colored when we got him, thanks to the local clay. A bath was beyond necessary. Thank heaven for OxyClean!

Tiny Girl, Miss Priss (see her head?), and our trainer
giving Max a much-needed bath.

Yesterday, we took him out to our nearest equestrian park to school him, just to see how he behaved "out and about," so to speak. He was great.

Tiny Girl schooling Max.

Last weekend, we had a frigid cold front move through. I cut my blooming daffodils to save them from the freeze. Fortunately, they weren't all killed, and some of my creamier varieties are blooming now.

For Valentine's Day, I baked Himself his favorite peanut butter cookies. I'm certain the girls and I ate more than he did.

One day this week, Miss Priss called me to the window to see a small flock of birds in our front yard. They were unfamiliar to us, and all our identification attempts have failed thus far.

They are about robin-sized, black with a small orangey stripe, and orange underneath their wings. Do you recognize these birds?

Miss Priss's theatre troupe is about to roll into crunch time. Their production of Wonderland! begins March 8 through March 10, and the two weeks leading up to showtime (AKA "crunch") begins February 27. She'll be in rehearsals from 4:00 until 9:00 every weeknight except Wednesday and Saturdays from noon until 5:00. AND my trip to the UK is during that same time....
The girls have been reading quite a bit in the last two weeks. Miss Priss has read Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink, Ramona Forever, by Beverly Cleary, and The First Four Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (all for the second time), and Caught in the Act, by Joan Lowery Nixon. Tiny Girl has read Ginger Pye, by Eleanor Estes, Crispin and the Cross of Lead, by Avi, and The Last Wilderness, by Erin Hunter. Both girls read Our Only May Amelia, by Jennifer L. Holm.
Thanks to our increase in outside activity, we've had to finish our schoolwork several evenings this week. I've learned this is not ideal for anyone. By evening, we are tired and want to do our own things. But it's served as a good lesson in diligence and responsibility. Even (especially?) for me.
Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Always Inventing: A Biography of Alexander Graham Bell

On its Year 5 curriculum booklist, Ambleside Online (AO) schedules a biography of Alexander Graham Bell for term two and suggests two titles. We selected Always Inventing: A Photobiography of Alexander Graham Bell, by Tom L. Matthews. This has been an excellent choice.

  • The engaging text is well written, easy to read, and easy to understand, a very important element when discussing scientific matters.
  • Photos, illustrations, and explanatory captions grace each two-page spread. More than simple (or simplistic)additions to break up the text, we've found these to be absorbing on their own. We especially appreciate artwork of Bell's various inventions, which are too difficult to envision based on written description alone.
  • Some Bell quotations, from letters and the like, are also used as design elements on several pages.

Although an older child could easily read this book on his or her own, we've enjoyed reading it together. We pause often to remark on a photo or discuss more fully a diagram. Sometimes we merely marvel over Bell's intellectual curiosity and fortitude, which never lessened his kindly nature and moral uprightness.

I highly recommend this book as part of your science or biography studies.

"The study of Nature is undoubtedly one of the most interesting of all pursuits. God has strewn our paths with wonders, and we certainly should not go through Life with our eyes shut."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Scout Camping Trip

We're off on a camping weekend with our Scout troop! The forecast calls for rain, which is just perrrrfect.

Happy weekend!