By now, if you child took a standardized test in the spring, you should have the results back. Unlike a school test which gives either a letter grade or a percentage, standardized tests give several different grades. None of the numbers you see indicate a passing or failing grade. What do the numbers mean to you and your child if there is no pass/fail grade? You have to break down the numbers into meaningful information.
Understanding a norm-referenced test
The standardized test your child took is called a norm-referenced test. Norm-reference is a process that allows scores from all versions of a single test to be normalized into a meaningful score. For example if your child took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) test at the third grade level, and your child’s test was version B and another child in a different city took the same level test but had version A, the scores would be different. Some questions on one version may be somewhat more difficult than questions in a different version. In order to normalize (norm-reference) the scores so that they accurately reflect an even playing field, the scaled/standard score is used. Why Do Standardized Testing Programs Report Scaled Scores (Tan, et al,) explains in detail how testing companies derive scaled scores.
Your test results will include a page that shows the breakdown of each test component, and a composite score. For each part of the test, there are four scores; SS, GE, NPR, and NS. Each score has a different meaning.
SS is a standard/scaled score. This score gives the actual grade received on the test. You can use this grade to see if your child is making improvements from year to year. However, this score is only meaningful if you take the same test every year. There is a scale next to your score that shows the proficiency level of your child. Most kids test at a proficient level. Some will score above or below proficient. Use the sub-test scores to find areas where your child excels and where they need improvement.
GE is the grade equivalent score. It is shown as a decimal. This grade does not tell you the grade level for your child. For example, if your fifth-grader has a GE score of 9.2 in math, it means that a ninth-grader in the second month of the school year would be expected to get a similar score on the test your child took. If the score was 4.9, then it means that a fourth-grader in the ninth month of school would be expected to get the same score. Use the GE grade to see if your child is performing at grade level or not.
NPR is the national percentile rank. This score shows where your child ranks nationally as compared to others who took the same test. Most kids will get a score somewhere in the 50 percentile. A score of 50 percent means that 50 percent of all students who took the test scored at or below this score. A score of 25 percent means that only 25 percent of all students taking this test scored at or below this score. A score of 80 percent means that your child did better than 80 percent of all students taking the test.
NS stands for national stanine. This is a single digit number assigned to your child’s score. The higher the number–the better the score. Nine is close to a perfect score.
Still confused? The powerpoint presentation Iowa Test of Basic Skills: A quick overview of score interpretation, gives a really simple and visual explanation of how to interpret scores.
Using test scores
Test scores are useful in helping you determine where your child is academically. The sub-scores in math and English will show areas that need improvement and areas where your child does well. Use the scores to develop a curriculum for the upcoming year that is exactly tailored to your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Standardized tests are just a tool. Use them to help you find the best curriculum for your child.
Every homeschooler in Arkansas must file a Notice of Intent and a Waiver form no later than August 15, 2014. This is the final year parents can file paper forms. These are either mailed in or you can drop them off at the local Superintendent’s office. Whether to file electronically or by paper is a personal choice.
To file your paper forms, download and print out the 2014-2015 paper forms. Fill out the forms and either mail them or drop them off at the Superintendent’s office for your school district. This is the final year for paper forms. You will have to lookup the contact information for your school district in order to fill the form out.
If you filed electronically last year, you have a user name and password. Go to the login page at the Department of Education’s website. Fill in your login information, and it will take you to the rest of the form.
If you have never filed electronically before, you must register for an account at the login page. Write down your user name and password. You will need it if you have to print out the forms later on.
If you forgot your login information, you can lookup your user name or password. I tried the reset password option–now I am locked out of my account—good grief. I contacted the Department of Education about this. Looks like I’ll have to wait before I can submit my forms.
If you have questions about any of the homeschool forms or regulations, contact Lisa Crook, Program Director at the Department of Education. She will be glad to answer your questions. I have contacted her in the past, and she is great to work with. You can also contact her by mail or phone:
Arkansas Department of Education
Division of Learning Services
Four Capitol Mall, Mail Slot 3
Little Rock, AR 72201
Want to test privately this year? I am a certified test administrator for the Iowa and Stanford tests. I can administer tests for your homeschool groups or I administer tests individually. Another option would be to get a group together for testing. Here is a link to my profile. My certification comes from BJU Press.
Arkansas requires that all students in grades 3 through 9 take a norm-referenced standardized test every year. Parents can take the state provided tests at no charge, this option requires that you register for testing and you must go to the state testing site on the day and time you registered for. If you miss that test, you will have to find another option.
Arkansas also allows parents to choose which test their children take. This is the private option. Using a test administrator like myself is one option for ordering and administering a test. Another option is to use one of the testing services listed in the information packet that should be sent out by the end of February. There is a fee for private testing, no matter which test options you choose. Parents must pay for the test and many times for the test administration.
Certain students with disabilities may be exempt from testing. You should carefully read what is required in order to be exempt. Most testing sites can accommodate minor test modifications.
Once testing packets are sent out by the state, I will update this page.
Lynda Altman, author and creator of Arkansas Homeschoolers
This is just a quick post to let you know about a great freebie from the History Channel. If you have homeschool kids in middle school and high school, grab the free, Big History curriculum while supplies last. This is completely free, they do not charge for shipping.
You will receive a USB drive with the curriculum and videos on it. This curriculum coincides with the History Channel’s new series, Big History.
When History Channel did this with Ammerica, the Story of Us, I requested the DVD set. My kids and I were thrilled with it. We had a blast with all the activities.
To get your copy of Big History, just fill out the online form.
Hope this was helpful
Does Common Core impact homeschool students? This is an interesting question that I do not have a direct answer to. Arkansas has adopted the Race to the Top and Common Core standards. These standards apply to public schools across the state. As of today, they do not apply to homeschools directly, but that could change. As we have seen with the change over to electronic filing of homeschool forms, the Arkansas Department of Education has no problem changing homeschool law without going through the legislature.
New York Public Schools and Wyoming Public Schools have adopted Common Core and joined in Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. Interestingly enough, scores have dropped considerably in both states. The two states are placing the blame on inadequate teacher training for the tests and issues working with a new testing system. These are excuses. If the children were learning, they would know the subject matter on the tests, regardless of the testing format.
Educators Oppose Common Core
This is the beginning of the fall-out for Common Core. Parents who are becoming aware of the dumbing-down of public school curriculum based on Common Core, are starting to voice their objection to the standards. The standards are a one-size-fits-all set of rubrics that do not allow for individual schools to come up with programs to fit their students’ needs. This will eventually overflow into the homeschool arena. If Common Core becomes the law of the land, it stands to change or completely eliminate the ability to homeschool our children as we see fit.
Parents and educators alike in Arkansas and other states oppose Common Core as it is based on an unproven set of standards. The very same model and standards were abandoned by European Countries several years ago. Reason being—these standards do not improve student performance and they simply do not work.
Invasion of Privacy
Another hidden agenda of Common Core is student tracking. States that have adopted Common Core are tracking your kids—not only through test scores but by immunization and other medical records, IEP for special needs students, forms requiring parents to divulge income and employment for school lunch programs, and observations made by teachers and public school staff. The data being collected at the public school level is personally identifiable and there is no protection under the law for these records. They are available to all state and federal agencies.
Arkansas law states that information collected through the Notice of Intent and Waiver Forms, and data collected through mandatory testing of homeschool students can only be used for reporting in ways that are not personally identifying. But this goes against the Race to the Top and Common Core mandates that the state must abide by.
Oregon’s GOP recently adopted a resolution opposing Common Core Educational Standards. Part of the resolution states “Whereas: Common Core is being used to build a comprehensive database to measure students’ progress and gather other personal, non-academic data…” and “Whereas: Data may be obtained not only by questioning students but by the use of facial-monitoring equipment, neuro-psychological testing and senors which are strapped to their bodies and…””
The invasion of privacy associated with Common Core is real. Before Arkansas travels down a path that it cannot easily undo, let’s talk to our legislatures and educators and have Arkansas opt out of Common Core.
I should have written this sooner, as the deadline to file your Notice of Intent and Waiver forms in Arkansas is coming up on August 15. According to state law, you must have your form postmarked by midnight, August 15, in order to be in compliance with the law. Parents can hand deliver the forms to their local Superintendents office. Families new to homeschooling in Arkansas must hand deliver the forms. This year, parents can file the form online—I strongly advise against this.
I am not against the concept of electronic filing. Actually, it is a good idea. When this option first appeared, I was all for it. Finally, I thought, Arkansas is entering the 21st Century.
The parent instruction manual (32 pages) for the online filing option and the emails that are sent from the Arkansas Department of Education contain wording that gives the ADE the legal ability to approve or deny a homeschool application. Nothing in the homeschool law gives the ADE this power. The law specifically states that only the local Superintendent of Schools can deny a homeschool application if one of the following conditions are met:
1) The homeschool student must be transferring from public school to a homeschool AND one of the following:
- The student is currently under disciplinary action and that action has not been completed or the student has been expelled.
- Or, The student has chronic attendance and discipline problems and the Superintendent of Schools believes the parents are attempting to circumvent truancy laws.
- Or, there is a person living in the household who is required to register with the National Sex Offender Database. This does not apply if the person being homeschooled is the offender.
If a parent is not transferring from a public school to homeschool during the year, then the above situations do not apply (except for the sex offender criteria.) As long as a parent files by August 15 for the first semester, December 15 for the second semester or files within 30 days of moving into the state, then there is no waiting period or approval period.
Second, the law states that all new homeschoolers must hand deliver their forms to their local Superintendent of Schools. Online filing is not hand delivering. This is a change in the law and it must go through proper channels to have this changed.
Do not file online this year. Doing so gives the ADE the ability to change the law by default. Make the ADE go through proper legislative channels to change the homeschool law. Too many of us have had to fight too hard for too long to see our right to homeschool be taken from us without a legal fight. Keep the ADE within its legal guidelines. Until the wording in all communications from the ADE is changed or until they post a public notice or press release on their website stating that they are not approving homeschools and this is indeed an error in wording, I strongly advise homeschool parents to file by mail or in person. Do not file your forms electronically this year.
Freedom is a something that cannot be measured in concrete terms. For me, I am thankful that I have the freedom to homeschool my children. I am also thankful that I am now free from chemo and treatment for breast cancer. Now, I have the freedom to take back my life from the doctors and drugs and move on to a better place. My cancer is gone, and I am free to return to a normal life.
Homeschoolers understand freedom better than most Americans. For years, many brave parents fought to get the right to homeschool our children. Now, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, although requirements vary greatly from one state to the next. We enjoy our right to homeschool because case after case has ruled that the right exists under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This right is now facing a great challenge.
The Romeike family from Germany came here in 2010 seeking political asylum. They homeschooled their children while living in Germany. To make a long story short, homeschooling in Germany is basically illegal with some very strict exceptions. The Romeike family faced fines and they were in danger of the German government removing them from the home. So, the family came to the U.S. under political asylum. They were granted asylum and two months later, everything changed.
The family is currently fighting a deportation order. They lost their asylum and the Obama administration is deporting them on the grounds that homeschooling is not a fundamental right. This is where we should all be concerned. It is possible that ruling the Romeike family cannot be granted asylum because homeschooling is not a fundamental right, jeopardizes the legal status of homeschooling in the United States. If parents do not have a fundamental right to educate their children as we see fit, then we have lost everything the homeschool movement fought so very hard to gain.
This is not about whether the Romeike family should stay or not, it is about whether homeschooling is a fundamental right and as such protected under the U.S. Constitution. If the court rules it is not a fundamental right, start looking for the gradual erosion of homeschool rights throughout the United States. It all starts with a court decision and setting precedence. This case can tip the scales against homeschooling in a major way.
Can you do it all? We see examples of perfect homeschoolers. They rise by 6:00 a.m., cook breakfast for 10 kids, get all of the lessons done, clean the house and have dinner on the table at 5:30 when Dad gets home. Their children are always perfectly groomed and entered high school at age 7. But really, who lives like that? Not a single homeschooler I know is that together, and I know some very together moms.
As moms, we feel the pressure. We are expected to do it all. When it looks like we don’t accomplish everything we think we should, we call ourselves failures. Stop being so hard on yourself. One person cannot do everything.
Cancer rocked my homeschool world
Breast cancer has taught me a lot about life and homeschooling. When I received my diagnosis of stage-two breast cancer in November 2011, it rocked my world to its very foundations. I have 3 kids at home and a husband to take care of. I did not have time for breast cancer. But, I had to take time because my life depended on it.
A mastectomy, 5 months of chemo, a year of biological therapy, and ongoing reconstruction surgery has changed my homeschooling schedule. I travel once every three weeks for treatment at a cancer center that is two hours away. I spent an entire day there–when I had chemo I spent the night. This disrupted my homeschool schedule completely. But, it became a learning process.
I learned that my teenage children are very capable and I can depend on them to do household chores and to keep things running somewhat smoothly when I am not home. My oldest son is not homeschooled; he is a legal adult with a job and college to deal with. However, he took a break from college to help out while I underwent chemo—his choice, not mine.
My kids are also capable of completing lessons when I cannot teach. Side effects from chemo and the drugs used to treat the chemo side effects took me out of commission for two to three days after treatment. I still deal with debilitating bone pain and on bad days, I cannot accomplish much. We changed our homeschool schedule to allow for me to heal, and to allow for the kids to heal too. Cancer touches their lives just as much as it does mine, just in a different way.
Now, if I cannot get to every household chore, it will wait. Instead of daily lessons, we do huge semester projects that involve all of the disciplines. The kids must create something wonderful and useful. The project must be complicated enough to encompass an entire semester. So far, we have built a solar food dehydrator and are in the process of setting up an aquaponics system.
I learned not to sweat the small stuff. It is the precocious child that reads at three, and seven-year olds cannot do calculus. Ask for help when you need it. Dads need to be involved too. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect homeschool family. If your kids are learning and everyone is happy (most days,) you have an amazing homeschool. Consider yourself a success.
Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic–the 3 Rs. Sometimes it seems that we as homeschool parents focus too much on them. Granted, reading, writing and arithmetic are extremely important. Our children must learn to read and write and calculate. But what about the other things they need to learn. It seems that we spend so much time focusing on the core subjects (especially when our children are being less than cooperative) that the fun stuff seems to take a sideline. We’ve come up with a system that keeps things fun while covering the basics. In our homeschool, we do quarterly projects.
The projects do not have to be elaborate or something that will win a national science fair, but the project should be complicated enough to challenge your children and to last an entire eight weeks. Since we implemented quarterly or semester-long projects in our homeschool, the basics get covered as they are included in the project.
This school year we started with a solar food dehydrator project. The first one we made was constructed out of cardboard boxes, plastic wrap, tape and window screening. We added the tray from a broiler pan to dry the food. This went well but it certainly did not qualify for a quarterly project. The kids and my husband built it in a couple of hours. But then, the magic took over. The kids got a kick out of dry hot peppers. We use them a lot on pizza. Fresh ground dried peppers are so much more flavorful than store bought. Our cardboard version of a food dryer did not last long. Early morning dew and moisture trashed the boxes in a couple of weeks. The kids wanted something sturdier, so I went looking for plans.
That is when I found the book:
The Solar Food Dryer: How to Make and Use Your Own Low-Cost, High Performance, Sun-Powered Food Dehydrator
Our next project is definitely a semester-long undertaking. We decided to start an aquaponics project. This is where you raise fish and food in a symbiotic system. Waste from the fish is run through growing beds. Plants in the growing beds feed off of the fish waste and the clay pellets the plants grow in filter out the solid fish waste. Clean, oxygenated water is returned to the fish and the cycle starts again. So far, we have built a small system in order for us to understand all the concepts.
Again, we turn to books and the internet for help. A plethora of aquaponic videos are available on YouTube. The book we used to get started was:
Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together
After doing research the kids decided on a modified barrel system. They found an inexpensive source for food-grade 55 gallon drums and they have built several different models of bell siphons. My boys have shopped around for pumps, growing medium, PVC pipe and tubing. We are currently in the process of putting everything together and deciding where we want to put this operation. Space in our suburban backyard is very limited. Once we get it up and running, I will post pictures.
Mesh your project to your children’s interests. If your kids like crafts, try a woodworking, quilting or needlework project. Perhaps you could create something to enter into the state or county fair. The object is to create something, it could be a garden, a craft, a piece of music or a short-story. You are only limited by your imagination. Start a project this quarter and see how it brings excitement into your homeschool.
Several months ago we embarked on a homeschool science project which took on a life of its own. What started as a couple of cardboard boxes turned into a major undertaking. There were many issues with the original solar food dryer plans. So we decided to take it one step further. Now, we are building a wooden food dehydrator that has an electric backup.
Our First Solar Food Dryer
Our first solar food dryer was made from 2 cardboard boxes.
We constructed our original solar food dehydrator from a couple of cardboard boxes, plastic wrap, black paint, old screen and a rack from an old roaster. Duct tape held everything together. This food dryer presented many challenges.
It is not very sturdy. To preserve the structural integrity of the dryer, you have to bring it in every night. Otherwise, morning dew gets the cardboard wet and it becomes too weak to hold the rack. We left ours out 24/7 and found after a week, the boxes started to deteriorate. If rain threatened–we moved the dryer indoors.
Another issue was the loss of critical heat. The original plans called for screening over the top of the dryer. This allowed too much heat to escape. We replaced the screen with plastic wrap and added screen-covered vents on the sides of the box. This helped marginally.
The cardboard dryer was a great first attempt at solar food drying, but with so many critical problems we decided to look for a sturdier model.
Bigger and Better
We loved the idea of preserving our garden harvest without incurring the cost of electricity. Canning works beautifully in many situations, but dried foods take up less space. We love ground cayenne peppers on pizza and other foods. Canning cannot replace drying and vice versa.
Our new project is building a solar food dryer out of wood. While it is possible to reduce costs by using recycled products, we decided to purchase everything we did not already have. This is not an inexpensive homeschool project. To date we have invested about $250 in materials, tools and supplies.
Once the new dryer is built, it will be used outdoors as much as possible. Two incandescent light bulbs supply backup heat when it is too cold or lack of sun prevents solar drying. I will keep you up to date on our progress so check back often–especially after the weekend.
Our first project made for a wonderful solar energy experiment. It was a good lesson in recycling, as the cardboard solar dryer was made from items we had at the house. We didn’t have to buy anything to make it.
The new project becomes more involved. In addition to the obvious food preparation and storage, and solar energy; we are learning about woodworking, safe use of power tools, comparison shopping, wiring electrical circuits, following plans, math, budgeting, project management and team work.
Stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted on how this progresses–we may turn it into a video blog. Let me know what you think.