My older children take chapter and lesson tests regularly, and if they get below 80% they fail. In other words, if they get 79% or less they will redo the material, and I will reteach whatever is necessary.
I’ve seen this concept raise eyebrows and meet with disapproval. But is it really crazy? Am I really demanding too much?
Long ago some homeschool writer, whose name I forget, gave me this idea and it does make sense. Why are we homeschooling? To teach our children. Obviously, if they do not understand the material well enough to get 80% on a test, they have not learned it. It doesn’t mean they are dumb, and it needn’t affect their self-esteem if we treat it right. It just means that somewhere in the teaching/learning/studying/test-taking process something went wrong, and that we’re going to figure out what and fix it. Being able to take the time to master the material is one of the beauties of homeschooling. Our children can learn a topic until they really know it; they do not have to be dragged along, lost, as the rest of the class moves on.
Thus the 80% rule is not crazy, but is actually one of the advantages of homeschooling.
Now, in some subjects I am stricter about this than in others. For example, in geography, if you forget the location of a river or the main export of a country, that’s not a good thing…but it probably won’t matter much as you study the rest of the world. In history, if you forget who led a certain battle, you’ll still be able to learn about the next hundred years. In Bible, if you forget the names of Leah’s children, you’ll still be able to follow the rest of the stories and learn about God’s goodness to us. Although they are important, details can be forgotten if nothing in the rest of the course builds on them.
But in math, foreign language, science, or grammar, if students don’t understand the concepts in chapter one, they will be handicapped the entire year and probably longer. In such subjects, each chapter builds on the previous one. In chapter 2 students are often expected to know and use information learned in chapter 1, and so on. By allowing a 50% pass in such tests, a mom can set her children up for failure in subsequent chapters. Actually, even an 80% can lead to trouble, so I generally consider any grade under 90% in these subjects a red flag…especially if the errors show a lack of understanding of the subject matter.
So, if this is such a good idea, why do I do it only with my older children? First of all, we try to avoid chapter tests in elementary school. Using narration and other methods, I do my best to keep track of what my young children know just by watching their daily work. If we meet any problem areas, then I simply tweak what we’re doing. But as children move on, I can no longer keep up with everything they are learning, and I need to begin using tests as a tool to help us achieve mastery. Depending on your children, yourself, and your homeschool dynamic, you may wish to begin test taking in grade 4, or you may want to wait until high school. (Although, since test-taking is a skill in itself, it’s worth learning how to do it well and I don’t recommend omitting it altogether for older teens.)
To us, chapter tests are not punishments or personal threats, nor are they final. (Hey, even the SAT can be rewritten!) Instead, tests are a tool to help us ensure that learning happens.
Of course, a few practical issues will arise, and I will address those next Monday.
For more homeschool inspiration, please visit the Carnival of Homeschooling.