How do you like your “percentile?”

No, it’s not a fancy kind of ceramic flooring.  Really it’s a type of score used on a standardized achievement test. The percentile has a few common friends like the GE, the stanine, and the SAI.  With names like that our mini-series ought to be pretty interesting! In case you missed the last post – we at Online Education for Kids are going to start our own mini-series on testing. We hope you can join us!

Well to begin – I can’t even talk about standardized tests without voicing my opinion about them. Standardized tests can be used as a very effective tool in educating children.  Yet, to me a problem arises when over-reliance or over-emphasis is placed on this or any ONE test’s results. Keep in mind that standardized testing can be limited in their reliability. It is one test taken on ONE day or a FEW days for several hours a day.  A child’s physical or mental condition could drastically affect the score. Sick? Tired? Missed breakfast? Stressed? Test Anxiety? All of these are reasons for us to remember that it is only “one” test. In determining a child’s progress or achievement we must look at every aspect of his or her life. OK, now that I have that off my chest – just what exactly is a percentile?

A percentile is probably the most commonly used score among educators for discussing results of standardized achievement tests. The percentile is often confused with a percent grade, but it is really a different creature. The percentile means “per hundred” and is a rank measurement with the average score being 50. For example, the score 76 percentile, simply means that for the 100 students used as the “standardized” or test group – your child scored higher than 76 of them.  Or to reverse it – there are 76 students in the “norm” group that scored lower than your child.  Since the average score is 50 this means that your child is somewhat above average.  Due to the fact that standardized tests are “norm referenced” they can be compared to different tests that are also “norm referenced.” So in a sense your percentile score is portable. If your child takes another norm referenced test you can compare the scores.  Just in case you’re wondering what “norm referenced” means – test makers compare student test scores to a predetermined “norm” group of students. They used this group to “test” the test as it was being created.  It is kinda like holding up a yardstick – the same yardstick – to see how every child measures up.  The uses for this are limitless – but obviously can help the child’s parents or teacher determine where weak areas are or where the child may need a bit of review.

Hope you join us next week for the next installment of the Testing mini-series!

P.S. Here I go one more time 🙂 – Again, any test is simply a tool to give educators or parents an idea of where the child is achieving compared to that yardstick.  Under no condition should a life changing decision be made based upon one test. Protect those children – they are a wonderful work in progress.

Spring will be here soon… and so will Standardized Testing!

In the next several weeks, I would like to start my own mini-series.  No, it won’t be as interesting as the ones you find on television –     I.     AM.   SURE.    But, hopefully it will be more helpful.  During the years I spent as an administrator, I was often suprised by the confusion and misunderstanding that surrounds standardized testing.  It is definitely an area that speaking “Plain English” would be useful.  Well, that’s my goal – to reveal the “secrets” of the standardized test …  wow  –  sounds really impressive.  I hope to throw in a few SAT prep pointers as well.  So, don’t go away – the mini – series is about to begin!

The New Year Review

Every January I usually set aside some time to take “inventory” of where our “little” home school is at.  I often start with examing if I am still meeting the codes or requirements for homeschooling in Georgia. There are several great web sites to help you with this.

I also use January as my month to determine what I will do for standardized testing. Our state requires testing at least every three years. I typically have them tested each year so that I can work on any deficiencies that the test may uncover. I also use the test to  help me make decisions about next year’s curriculum. I use the test as a tool in conjunction with what I see them doing daily. I try not to put too much emphasis on any one method of assessment. I know many homeschooling families that are very opposed to these tests, but I feel that I need this type of testing. At times, I am so close to “my situation” that I can’t see the “big picture” of my child’s education. The danger with standardized tests is the emphasis that is put on them and the fact that it is a measurement of a child during a very short period of time. This is exactly why the test should simply be used to give parents a better idea of the “big picture”, and not solely relied upon to make decisions.

Third, I usually try to “review” the curriculum that we are currently using. This kinda gives me a little January pick me up – if I hate the curriculum that we are using – I can decide to dump it for next year! This gives me consolation in finishing up the current year with something I dislike. I will typically ask myself these questions about the curriculum: Is it keeping the children interested? Is it meeting their educational needs? Is it too hard or too easy? Was I able to organize and manage it well? You can use these questions in conjunction with the results of their standardized tests to make decisions about the next year.

During this month – I try to get an idea of where I want to go with our curriculum for the next year – this allows me to keep my eye out for sales and discounts. Everyone loves to save money – especially me! But this also enables me to order or pick up what we need for next year a bit at a time – Definitely a budget saver!

Just remember – as a home educator you have the right to determine which curriculum you feel meets your child’s needs the best… and enjoy every precious minute you have with those children. They will be grown and gone before we know it!

Benefits of Blogging for Children… and adults!

Do your children struggle with creative writing? At our house, there is a constant on- going search for opportunities to motivate creative writing skills. About a year ago, I decided to try blogging as a creative writing MOTIVATOR. We started out by getting each of the two older girls (9,12) a blog on Homeschoolblogger.com. This is a nice starting point for children because there are restrictions in place that protect them. The two older girls responded beyond my wildest dreams. It became more than just an assignment from mom to get them writing – they loved it and it wasn’t long before they were hooked!
I watched this with interest – watching them learn not only writing skills but computer and techonolgy skills as well. It was absolutely thrilling to see them enjoy writing. My stab in the dark to motivate them to write really paid off this time! Whooohooo!
As I watched their eagerness over growing their own personal corner of internet, I began to think of joining them. I took my time though – I am typically not one to commit to something (blogging – among many other things :)) unless I know that I can do it right. I finally joined the blogging “masses” by taking a blog writing course this past fall. I am not sure what I expected from the course when I began, but I have to admit I was shocked at what I learned. In the course of 8 weeks I created a blog that I was proud of and had even built up a small audience. The teacher was wonderful and as students we had a great time encouraging one another and helping each other think through things. They are about to start another Blog Writing Course 101. They even offer a free blog Pre-Course  to whet your appetite for blogging!You may want to check it out – you never know just what you might walk away with!

Patience… please…

Just thought I would let you all know that I have been studying like crazy the last two weeks in order to take the GACE Early Childhood Education tests I and II this Saturday. I have heard that many people fail the first time – I am so scared to death. Soooo, I promise a more meaty post beginning of next week! But your thoughts and prayers would be greatly appreciated!
Until Monday!

Is it really time for school… again?

Okay – I have to admit that I look forward to vacation breaks from school just as much as the children do.  I have always looked forward to the breaks – even when I was a teacher.  I can remember feeling almost giddy after sending home all those wild first graders on the last day of school before Christmas.  I have relished every moment of this Christmas vacation. Well, today it hit me – –  time is almost up.  I know, I really don’t want to remind myself.  Yet, in the back of my mind I have purposed that in this new year we will get a new start and hopefully a better go at things.

I am proud of the distance that the children have come since September, but know that we have gotten slack in some areas.  I guess my new year’s resolution would be to improve the “slack” areas, make sure the twins really “get” their multiplication tables, help Caitlyn get over the hump in Algebra I, show Cameron how to write a research paper for the first time, and go on MORE field trips. I don’t know – maybe I shouldn’t make it such a tall order, but I have always been one for making big goals. I love January for that reason!

The new year is always a great time for a fresh start, especially when things seem to be too difficult to manage.  Homeschooling is no different. So often, by the end of fall and the beginning of the Holiday season, we feel like we are dragging to the finish line.  I am sure that many of you feel the same way. Well, take heart! Look at the new year as an opportunity – a new book with no writing – – yet!  Start over – do whatever it takes to renew your outlook and encourage yourself and the children.  In other years I have been so discouraged with how the curriculum went that I completely changed what we were doing.  If you are feeling desperate – do something drastic.  I have found that a drastic change really perks the kids up too! 

Personally – 2009 went pretty well so for us so we will just tweak our program a bit and perhaps change our schedule.  Just a little “new” makes it more exciting to the children as well. I look forward to the fresh start – and new outlook.  Wherever you are on your homeschooling  journey – take advantage of the new beginning. It may make all the difference in the world, and by the way Monday morning will be here before we know it!

Math woes… and helps!

With six children schooling at home, it never fails that I have some “issue” each week that I am researching out. I have spent over 10 years in college and still at times don’t have a single answer. Currently, I am trying to understand why children struggle with math even though they have a good foundation and seemingly fine mental acuity? What is the mystery here?

Well, I didn’t uncover any astounding new revelation, but did realize some important truths. There are so many areas that a child could find pitfalls… for math itself covers so much territory. However, most often when a child has a math struggle, it is not a struggle with everything that has to do with math, but a particular area within the subject of math. Math is also very interconnected with other subjects such as language arts – making for other possibilities for struggle. I have summarized a few of the most basic and common concerns that seem to plague the math sufferer. I have listed some of these below, but please understand that this is in no wise a complete nor comprehensive list. I am just trying to pass on a bit of what I learned this week!

The first thing that I did in my search was to ask myself some questions about my little learner. The following is based on that format and a few webites ( here’s another) that were a valuable help.  Does your child fall into any of these categories?

  1. If  your child struggles with:
  • recalling basic math facts
  • being slow in their recall of math facts
  • difficulty remembering previous math experiences
  • forgetfulness in the middle of a math problem

Then they may have a deficiency in fundamental concepts such as their addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division family facts. Each of these facts are foundation stones to build the rest of their math experiences on.

 

       2. If your child is:

  • easily distracted or unfocused while doing schoolwork
  • easily tired during math work

They may have a genuine attention problem.

        3. If your child has difficulty:

  • grasping abstract concepts
  • making connections between related math concepts

They may have a foundational math difficiency. Math skills need to be learned based on concrete (or real life – touch, taste, feel)  examples. Children who have difficulties in these areas are often missing this concrete foundation.

        4. If your child has trouble understanding math language or math vocabulary then thay may have an underlying language arts need. If a child has difficulty with lanuage arts (reading, comprehension, writing, spelling, etc.), it will be much more difficult for them to understand the rarely used math terms. 

        5. If your child has trouble with:

  • recopying problems correctly
  • reading the “hands” on a clock
  • ordering the steps on a multiple task problem
  • geometric shapes and translations
  • anxiety when given a large paper pencil assignment

They may have an underlying spatial difficulty. This will affect how they are able to order steps, and understand objects in space and depth.

Though I haven’t completely formulated my “plan of attack” on this week’s issue, these questions really helped me to see some areas that we do have weaknesses in.  I plan on sitting down and making a ordered plan on how we will address and hopefully improve our math skills deficiencies. Don’t despair – though you may have found yourself or your child in some of the descriptions above, you can work through it.  Once you pinpoint the area – and know what the underlying problem is – work on that problem. I hope that this may give some of you much needed hope that most math difficulties are able to be overcome!

When is Wear Brown Shoes Day?…

As a homeschool mother, I am constantly on the lookout for online teaching resources. I love teaching my children using the good old paper and pencil method, but technology is amazing and to get rave reviews from the kids… gotta have it. They would much rather have me incorporate some unbelievable websites into their daily lessons than to write a paper or do a worksheet. So, to keep the natives happy, I frequently try to find websites that correspond to our recent studies. In my search for “awesome” resources I often come across information that really stands out, and others that are interesting… but only ocassionally useful. On my most recent search, I found many websites that were definitely “keepers” and more than a few that ranked in the “interesting… but only ocasionally useful” zone. One of these was a website that told you all of the holdiays for each current date. For example, I learned that December 4th was Wear Brown Shoes Day. Interesting, but not highly useful. Yet, if I was searching for a really odd holiday (for some unknown reason) that sure would be the place to go.
My biggest question is how do we locate and find the really great websites that are truly useful? It is at times a difficult quest to complete. There are several websites that list good websites for educational purposes. This is a great place to start – someone else has already done some of the footwork for you. A few that I like to use are Homeschool.com’s top 100, Good Sites for Kids, Homeschool Top Sites, and even some blogs that review and suggest websites that are useful for homeschoolers. I hope this helps you add “awesome” technology to your homeschool day. Your kids will love you for it!

Giving thanks…

In this wonderful age of technology and speed – it is a nice change to take a moment and let it all slow down around you. Life is full of treasures and blessings – if we can only see them. Today, the children and I are writing down all of the wonderful things that make us thankful. Of course, they had many varied responses such as – my dolly, mommy and daddy, being able to homeschool, and even my hotwheels cars. I was so suprised when my daughter said she was thankful for her computer school. I never would have thought that the children would be thankful for “school.” But in reality, they should be. All I see and hear is the comlaining and grim faces. So, I am thrilled that I discovered a little secret about them – they do like school!

Take a minute this thanksgiving and ask your children what they are thankful for – you just may be suprised!

A few praise pointers…

In my days as a private school administrator, I cannot guess how many times I heard parents tell me that their child was gifted and they thought once enrolled, the child would simply need to be advanced a grade. It is funny, but most of those children were just good, healthy, “normal”, yet wonderful children. However, in the eyes of those parents they were so much more.
It is only natural for parents to feel that their proecious little one is a “child progeny.” I am personally thrilled when parents think their children are special (in a healthy way, of course). There are so many children who live life with no encouragement or praise from their parents. Parents who cherish their children and give them healthy praise are rare, and definitely give their children an edge by doing so. Many research studies support the fact that children who are encouraged are more confident and determined than other children who are not encouraged or praised.
Yet, praising children is more than just a pat on the back and the obligatory “Nice job!” Many child psychologists say we need to praise our children, but if it isn’t SPECIFIC praise then it may be harmful. That’s interesting isn’t it? So, praise and encourage your children, but identify the specific behavior that they are doing so well. It is the effort that matters most – not the innate gifts that we have such as intelligence, strength, or beauty. Isn’t it true for all of us, “It isn’t what we are given that matters, but what we do with what we have been given.” Give it a try – praise your children for the effort that they put forth, a good attitude that they displayed, or even good personal discipline that they exemplified, and that will encourage them to keep at it.
But wait – can there be too much of a good thing? These same psychologists seem to think so. I guess that would compare to chocolate… I love chocolate and could (probably) eat it all day long. Yet a complete diet of chocolate is not good for me. In the same sense praising a child too much can lead to serious problems. Research has shown that children who were excessively praised were less confident and less determined to face difficult challenges.
In our personal lives we are often very busy – yet we try to be as involved in our children’s lives and education as possible. This moment by moment influence is truly one of the core reasons why we homeschool. Yet, in the midst of all of that, it is common to lose sight of the “big picture.” Whether they are doing handwiriting, spelling, or even their online schoolwork there are always opportunites to encourage them, especially in areas that they have had struggles!
This little study into praise has made me more determined – and I encourage you – to be a proactive parent and to foster admirable qualities in my chidren. I plan on doing this by first, praising them and encouraging them; second, being there for them; third, spending quality time with them; and finally, by letting them know just how special they are to me!
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