Sunday, May 26, 2013

Feeling Gratified

It's been a crazy couple of weeks.  We've managed to finish all our academic studies for this school year, and we also attended our local Classical Conversations 3-Day Parent Practicum where the kids got to enjoy three crazy days in GeoDrawing camp while I attended general sessions in the morning and Essentials training in the afternoon.

Even though this was our third full year of homeschooling, it was our first year of official reporting since my son was in first grade.  At the end of the year, Georgia statutes require that I write up a summary of his academic studies and progress - and as I sat down to do that, I decided I'd like to give him a standardized test just to get an idea of how he's doing compared to other kids his age.  Christian Liberty Press offers the California Achievement Test (1970 version) online for $25, so that's what we did this afternoon.

It provides immediate results, and I'm feeling very gratified about my decision to homeschool after seeing these:

SUBJECTRaw ScoreGrade EquivalentPercentile RankStanine
Reading Vocabulary852.9827
Reading Comprehension213.6938
Mathematics Computation403.4979
Mathematics Concepts & Problems433.4908
Language Auding145.5989
Language Mechanics283.0837
Language Usage & Structure185.1958
Language Spelling163.3928
Explanation of the California Achievement Test Scores
Several different numbers are listed on your California Achievement Test results. Most of these are calculated based on a norm group (the original group of students tested on which the test is standardized). Results are listed by academic area. Below are basic definitions for these test scores.

Raw Scores
Raw scores are the actual number of correct answers within a given test section, and are used to calculate the Grade Equivalent, Percentile, and Stanine results. They should not be used for any kind of comparison or statistical calculation since each test section varies in the difficulty and number of questions.

Grade Equivalent Scores
Grade equivalent scores represent the grade level (year and month separated by a decimal point) of a student's ability compared to the median score of students at the same academic level.
Scores that are above a student's grade level do not by themselves indicate proficiency to skip to the next grade level in the particular academic areas. These scores more likely show an understanding of only some of the concepts of that higher grade. Conversely, scores below a student's grade level may indicate a gap of understanding in those academic areas. Scores equal to a student's grade level are considered the minimum for grade level ability.

Percentile Scores
Percentile scores are equivalent to the percentage of students from the norm group who received lower scores than the student. For example, a student with a percentile score of 73 means that the student did better than approximately 73% of the students in the norm group. Percentile scores do not represent the number of questions answered correctly.
Percentiles are useful for comparing a student's performance over several sections of the test. However, because they are not measured on an equal scale of units, they are not suitable for most statistical calculations.

Stanine Scores
Derived from the term STAndard score from a NINE-unit scale, stanines are based on the mean of the norm group (who are given the score of 5) and a standard deviation of 2.0. Scores are determined by the amount of standard deviation from the norm group, in approximately one-half standard deviation increments.
The following table lists the meaning of each score:

9 Highest Level6 Slightly Above Average3 Well Below Average
8 High Level5 Average2 Low Level
7 Well Above Average4 Slightly Below Average1 Lowest Level
Stanine scores are useful in calculating means, correlation coefficients, and other statistics which are meaningful to test evaluators.

My son has no previous experience with standardized tests, and he doesn't get any computer time per se so I sat with him while he did the test, but I tried my best not to prompt him at all.  I did have to explain that it's a timed test, so if he's not sure how to answer a question he should move on and come back to that one later; and also that if the answer he thinks is correct isn't one of the four offered, then he needs to select another answer.  Overall he did very well - I did find some weak spots (namely, he doesn't know the value of currency even though we did touch on that this year), and I think he would have done a little better if he'd paid more attention to detail - but I'm happy about these results overall.

At the risk of sounding like an intellectual snob, both  my husband and I are pretty intelligent people, and we both did well in school (and on standardized tests) so I knew the kids would likely be smart too - but it's still gratifying to have some hard evidence to back up my assumptions! 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Common Core

I haven't given much though to the Common Core, because realistically it isn't likely to affect my children (unless major changes are made to standardized tests, and even then not really - I'm only required to have my children tested every three years beginning in third grade, and the results remain private unless we are audited for some reason).  But I've heard so many different things, both good and bad, that I started doing a little homework. 

At first, I thought Common Core was an excellent idea - without doing much research, I drank the Kool-aid and bought into the concept of national standards of excellence that would improve American students' understanding of math and language arts.  However, seeing more and more negative press, I began to wonder how sound these standards really are.  In particular, this article in the National Review scared the daylights out of me - or it would have, if I had a child in public (or private!) school. 

The final page of that article summarizes the concerns about Common Core as follows (emphasis is mine):
  • They are not internationally benchmarked. In fact, for math in particular, they are exactly contrary to the kind of national standards used in high-performing countries.
  • The two major experts on content who were on the Validation Committee reviewing the standards backed out and repudiated them when they saw what the standards actually are.
  • State legislatures and parents were cut out of the loop in evaluating the standards themselves or the cost of implementing them.
  • The Common Core standards are owned by private trade organizations, which parents cannot influence.
If that doesn't scare you, then you're far readier than I am to cede control of your children's education to anyone who touts him- or herself as an "expert".  I'm incredibly thankful to be homeschooling my children and able to pursue the kind of Classical curriculum that I know will give them an enviable education in the long run!

I've found the link for the white paper referenced in the article, and I plan to read it this evening (assuming I survive our first swim team practice, the last PSR class of the school year, and the kids' Taekwondo belt test with enough brain cells intact) so I can become even more knowledgeable.  It's frightening how smoothly Common Core was sold to the American public, and I hope it's not too late for them to see they've gotten a raw deal!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

We made The Mary Sue!

For those of you who might not be as geeky as I am, The Mary Sue is an amazing website that bills itself as "A Guide To Girl Geek Culture".  It's choc full of things that warm my geek-girl heart on a daily basis, and when they asked for readers to submit pictures from Free Comic Book Day, I sent in the pictures I posted in the last entry - and we made the cut!

Click here to share my pride, and see my kids' picture on The Mary Sue!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programing...which is to say, I need to stop wasting time on the internet and go school my children.  We're on track to wrap up the school year by the last week of May, and I don't want to get behind!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May the 4th be with you!

What better way to spend a rainy Saturday than at our local comic book store?  I like to share my geekiness with the kids by taking them to Free Comic Book Day every year!

This year, it was even better because it fell on May the 4th - Star Wars Day - so there were plenty of people in Star Wars costumes at the shop.  David loves all things Star Wars, and Sophie knows a lot about it just by spending so much time around her brother's obsession, so they were more than happy to pose for pictures with the characters we encountered.

We picked up our free comics and a few other things, then had lunch with some friends - and now we're home reading the free comics!  David chose a Star Wars/Avatar double comic, plus ones featuring Spongebob and the Smurfs; Sophie picked a Tinkerbell comic, one with the Tick and a third with the Incredible Hulk.  I'm a proud geek mommy today (and every day - but I love seeing my kids enjoy geeky things too)!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Slacker Me

...and this is exactly why I'm a terrible blogger.  I get busy and the idea of blogging just slips my mind!  Oh well, it's not like I'm trying to make a living out of this or anything, it's just a form of expression for me.

It's been a busy week, but then it's nearly always a busy week around this house!  Tuesday night R & I got to see an early preview of Iron Man 3.  It was great fun!  Best of all, our friend J. offered to babysit for us (for free!) so we didn't spend much money at all, though we did grab dinner afterwards.  It was a lovely mid-week date night.

This weekend I'm hoping to make it to the Renaissance Festival, though it's looking like it might rain.  We'll also be frantically practicing piano - the kids have a recital next week, and they're not quite ready.  I'm also starting obedience school on Sunday evening with Duchess, our six-month-old Great Dane puppy. She deserves an entry of her own, she's quite an interesting story!

If anyone should happen to be reading this, I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Angst (repost from old blog)

I have tried this blogging thing before, but never with much success.  This time I'm going at it with a new attitude - it's a place for me to write about all the things that are important to me, not just homeschooling or geekery or any other single subject.  Anyhow, this is a repost of an entry I wrote last year on my old blog - it sums up how I feel about Classical Conversations, and perceived persecution of a sort from my local Catholic homeschool community.

I was going to write about our summer curriculum today, but I feel the need to get back to why I started this blog. I'm part of a local Catholic homeschool yahoo group; even though I haven't met many of the women on the boards, I get the posts in digest form in my email every day.  Even though I personally know at least seven Catholic families in our area who participate in Classical Conversations, the moderators of the board are convinced that the organization is somehow anti-Catholic and will not allow us to post announcements about CC or attend the local Catholic homeschool conference as a vendor.  (Seriously - we offered to pay for a table last year so we could present our materials to the Catholic community, and they flat out refused us saying they only permit Catholic or secular vendors.)

This is incredibly frustrating to me, as I love the Roman Catholic Church and I also love CC.  I completely understand wanting to support Catholic companies such as Classically Catholic and Catholic Schoolhouse, but the truth is that CC is a wonderful organization.  I have heard that, in some parts of the country, Catholic families have been made to feel unwelcome in CC communities, but that is not a mandate from CC corporate; Leigh Bortins herself states that she welcomes all orthodox Christians, including Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox.

Classical Conversations does not teach religion. The company's motto is "To know God and make Him known," and that Christian spirit is evident in the communities - but there is no doctrinal teaching in the curriculum.  Instead, the focus is on teaching children using the classical method by focusing on history, geography, math, science, English grammar, and Latin.  There is Bible memorization - for Cycle 3, we memorized John 1:1-7 in English and Latin, and for Cycle 1, we memorized Exodus 20:1-17 (the Ten Commandments) - but there is no discussion of theology.  Even in the Challenge program, students are told that their parents are the spiritual head of the home and doctrinal questions should be discussed with them rather than decided by the tutor.

And yes, I know there is a timeline card that references the Reformation.  You know what?  That's something that really happened, and we need to discuss it with our children.  Maybe I have a different perspective on it because I was not born into a Catholic family - I began considering the Catholic faith when I was in college, and finally completed the RCIA process just six years ago when I was pregnant with Sophie - but I don't see a problem with discussing controversial topics with my children.  I can answer any questions they have with confidence and teach them how to answer their friends who may challenge them in a respectful and educated manner.

I suppose it comes down to this: I do not plan to raise my children in a Catholic bubble.  That is not why I chose to homeschool.  I feel called to homeschool because I truly believe I can provide my children with a significantly better education at home than they would get in a public school setting, and I also appreciate that they are being spared the relentless peer pressure that abounds even in private school settings.  I want my children to know there are other world views out there, and still understand the sacredness of our Catholic traditions.

I chose Classical Conversations after much research, and I stand by that decision.  I chose to become a part of a new CC community rather than starting up a Catholic Schoolhouse community or creating a Classically Catholic co-op because I have seen CC in action and I love it.  I do not believe that I am somehow violating my Catholic conscience by participating in CC.

I just wish I could make the leaders of the Yahoo group understand that.  Let Catholic families make the choice for themselves; talk to those of us in the local community who participate in CC, and don't just mandate that it's anti-Catholic and therefore should not be afforded the same privileges that Catholic and secular homeschool vendors receive

My family

To understand my crazy life, you need to meet my family - my amazing husband Rob, and our two children, David (age 6) and Sophie (age 5). I don't know how I ended up here - when I was younger, I never thought I would get married, much less end up a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom - but I'm happier than I ever imagined I would be!

We live in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA, where Rob and I moved twelve years ago from Miami, FL. I was born in the VA suburbs of Washington DC, but my family moved to Miami when I was ten so that's really home to me. Rob was born in the Panama Canal Zone, but grew up in Puerto Rico before joining the Navy and finally ending up in Miami. We love our life in Georgia - though the spring pollen is currently killing me...