Friday, February 5, 2010

Keeping up with the Joneses

Okay, so this week's question has been haunting me:  How do you know if your kids are keeping up with their peers?

My problem with trying to answer this question is, well, I don't care whether or not my kids are keeping up with some arbitrary standard set by the public school beauracracy.  Maybe that is because I can readily see that comparing my kids to others their age around here isn't going to tell me anything.

Connor, for instance, may be years ahead of some of his peers in math.  So what?  Is he making forward progress NOW?  Is he being challenged?  Is he growing?  That's what I need to know, not how he measures up against somebody else's 12 year old.

Or William and his reading.  Comparing him to his peers depresses us both.  No, he is most certainly not keeping up.  So what?  Is he making forward progress NOW?  Is he being challenged?  Is he growing?  That's what I need to know, not how he measures up against somebody else's 5th grader.

Comparisons are totally natural.  I get that.  It started the day they were born, and we moms discussed how much they weighed, how much they ate, how many dirty diapers they had.  It continued to whether they had their first tooth, when they started crawling, and how many words they could say.

So naturally, measuring them up against their peers is something that we really do whether the results mean anything or not.  My son is taller, your son has a firmer handshake.  My child won the spelling bee (that statement is totally unrealistic for my family), your son writes amazing poetry.  And maybe some of that comparison is healthy.  Watching another child confidently interact with adults, including a solid handshake (you know, not involving staring at both hands, trying to remember which hand to use) made me realize that this was something we needed to practice.  And that is a good thing.


Back to the math and reading examples I gave above.  Knowing that Connor is at the 99th percentile in 7th grade math tells me nothing of value.  Maybe he ended up totally lost midway through algebra (totally hypothetical here).  So, as a 7th grader, he'll score well.  As an 8th grader, he'll score well (having learned NOTHING new).  As a 9th grader, his scores might start to fall.  By that time, we've wasted 2-3 years.  What I want to be able to compare is how he is doing compared to himself.

Or William.  Knowing he is behind other 5th graders doesn't really help.  Let's say he is at a 3rd grade reading level.  Did he make a year of progress this year?  If he keeps doing that all the way through high school, it would mean he's at a 10th grade reading level upon graduation from high school.  And while there is a huge difference between a 3rd grade and a 5th grade reading level, the difference between 10th and 12th grades is nowhere near as striking.  But if every year, we get down because he is "behind," where does that leave us?  I'd rather spend each year celebrating a year's worth of progress, and not stressing about being behind anyone.  This child is not destined to record audio books, or to otherwise make a career out of reading aloud.  And while I'd love for him to be "caught up" the truth is that comparing to himself is the only measurement that truly matters.

I think that if you have figured out a good course of study, that the best thing is to try to figure out how much they are learning this year.  Not to figure out if they are keeping up with the Joneses.

All that being said, standardized tests are one way of getting a clue as to how your child compares to others.  Colorado requires me to test my kids in odd grades, starting with 3rd.  So this spring, I'll be testing three of them.  But I really think it is a waste of money, as how they are doing compared to their peers is not something I truly care about anyway.

The TOS Crew Blog is sponsoring a question of the week every Tuesday. How Do You Know if your kids are keeping up with their peers? is planned for 2/9. I plan to participate as often as possible.
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14 comments:

Deb said...

Excellent post. A good reminder of what is important. Colorado also allows you to hire an independant evaluator to come and see how everyone is doing instead of taking a standardized test. Is there a reason you are not going that route?

When I first heard about the two options, I immediately planned on taking the tests. I didn't want some anti-homeschooling government bureaucrat on a power trip in my house. However, I have since softened toward the idea, since a good friend of mine goes with the evaluator and likes it a lot better. Plus, my husband went to a CHEC Intro event last month and they seem to like the evaluator better than the tests.

What do you think? I am still undecided - the more opnions I can get, the better!

Thanks,
Deb

5intow said...

Well said. I think this was something I worried about more my first year or two of homeschooling, and as time goes on I get better at seeing my kids as individuals and not how they measure up according to the "system."

I do like having an external test now and then to give them experience with tests and to measure against themselves, but I don't stress about the results.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
~Erin

Debra said...

Deb --

I always assumed the standardized testing would just be easier. Especially since -- at least for the younger grades -- I have been using the CAT (which can be administered at home, by me, and spread out over a few days if we want).

This spring, I have to test three of mine though (7th, 5th, 3rd) and I just don't know. Connor will definitely do testing, probably something more formal. I may do an evaluator for the other two though.

Debra said...

Erin -- totally agree about getting some experience with taking tests. That part I find to be of value. I just wish I could find something that met state requirements and actually gave me some usable information.

TOSHeidi said...

Wow, our thoughts ARE very similar on this one, aren't they? Great post!

Debra said...

Heidi -- yeah, I read your post and thought I was reading a much more coherent version of mine, LOL!

Sheri said...

Uh, but what if it is the Smiths or Browns or Doodlesnappers I am comparing them to? Does this still apply? LOL -sorry couldn't help but be a tad goofy here. Seriously-I like what you wrote. No one is created to do or be the same as anyone else and altho (as you pointed out) it is natural to want to compare ourselves, kids, etc. it serves no real purpose but to upset the apple cart. Putting reachable and attainable goals on our children is good-adding the burden of trying to live up to unrealistic comparisons is another. Sounds like you have this in the right perspective.
Blessings-
Sheri

Debra said...

Oh, Sheri, you found me out... I am trying to keep up with the Doodlesnappers.

And truly, to be fair... what I wrote is more of an ideal. I certainly don't always manage to avoid succumbing to the comparison trap.

Jodi said...

Great post! And you are so right! Who cares about those Jonese?!

Laura O said...

Debra, I thought I was the only one that secretly tries to keep up with the Doodlesnappers!

Great post.

Debbie said...

I think it is so hysterical that 3 of us used the same title. I hope that did not deter others from reading them all since what we wrote is different.

Great post... and I don't try to keep up with the Smith's, Brown's or Doodlesnappers either!

Debbie said...

Oops! I missed one... there are 4 of us with a similar title.

Michelle said...

I agree. I think several of us have similar feelings on this one! Of course, I have already noticed that you and I have some similar thoughts in other areas as well, so your post did not surprise me. :)

Marie said...

This portion brought tears to my eyes:
" And while there is a huge difference between a 3rd grade and a 5th grade reading level, the difference between 10th and 12th grades is nowhere near as striking. But if every year, we get down because he is "behind," where does that leave us? I'd rather spend each year celebrating a year's worth of progress, and not stressing about being behind anyone."
My 8 yr old is dyslexic but I never had him tested so I don't know how severe it is. I get so scared at times because he's not reading good yet. BUT he is making slow progress *Big Smiles* His self confidence has been hurt at times and I can't imagine how terrible it must be for kids in PS :-(
Did you have your William tested for dyslexia? I would love to learn more about the different levels (mild, moderate, severe...whatever it's called) of dyslexia, but testing isn't possible for us (many reasons).
I do a lot of comparing with my other kids but I've learned to NEVER compare my 8yr old.
I just watched the intro on Kinderbach and I'm thinking (hoping) he'll want to do that (maybe teach his younger siblings as your son did) and maybe it'll help him some with his struggles in language processing.