Mom-to-Mom Support/Relatively low scores on standardized tests have us disappointed

Relatively low scores on standardized tests have us disappointed

Large homeschool family together on couch


Our three youngest children are being homeschooled this year by my wife (this is our first attempt at homeschooling) through the Charter School System. Previously we have had all of our 5 children in Catholic schools as well as public, but the overall successes that we have experienced have been disappointing. Relatively low scores on the state standardized tests by most of our children over the years have proven to be disappointing to us. We are looking for a good, Catholic solution to our quest to continue homeschooling our children.

Our 3 homeschooled children are in second, third, and seventh grades. Can you offer advice to us as to how to approach homeschooling so that all 3 children will thrive, be happy (2 of the 3 children are NOT happy with this year’s homeschooling), and learn about our Catholic faith at the same time as excelling in academics? Speaking for myself and my wife, we are frustrated with the pushback that we get from our 2 children who do not like homeschooling as it is right now. Please help.

Dear Dad,

Thank you for your inquiry. As I understand, it looks as though you have only been homeschooling for 1 year. This is important to keep in mind and you will see how this plays into the discipline issue and the test score issue as we work through your concerns.

First and foremost, you have only been the primary educators of your children for one year. From the ages of your children it is apparent that someone else was at the helm of formal education (the teachers in the public system) long before you and your wife took matters into your own hands. In the years that your oldest child was schooled in the “system,” there was a lot of groundwork put down. Sometimes the groundwork that was established was not conducive to creating within your child a zeal for learning.

In the school system, due to the numbers of children that the system must accommodate, information is delivered and then that same information is reviewed to see if the students received what was given. Testing plays a primary role in the workings of the system. Testing has a place to be sure, however many teachers will tell you that the latest trend in determining the worth of teaching through a student’s test scores is about as fair and sensible as determining the worth of a parent by whether or not their child makes mistakes. Teachers who have at the heart of their instruction a desire to foster a sense of wonder, an eagerness for knowledge and an appreciation for the learning process find that the “regurgitation education” of so many school districts and especially those schools that are slaves of the “no child left behind” mentality are frustrated and angry with the current state of affairs. Good teachers are champions of children and the learning process.

My daughter is an elementary school teacher in a small rural school. The motto of their school (these words hang on a banner in the lobby) is Teaching So as to Make Our Jobs Obsolete. What does that mean? It means that they are trying to teach in order that their students will become “ready, set, learn.” Yet my daughter still talks of the frustration of test scores and unrealistic demands put upon her by disinterested third parties in government who neither understand the learning process nor appreciate the relationship between teacher and student.

So don’t worry unnecessarily about what may be lacking in your children’s present test scores. Consider the information as a bonus, a reference point if you will, that will help you and your wife identify areas that need help. Remember that though we as parents want the best and the most for our children with regard to their education, we must remember that all humans progress at different rates and excel in different ways and demonstrate different talents and gifts. This is the great glory of the Holy Spirit at work within each human. Test scores are not meant to be examined in a vacuum. If a child does poorly in reading comprehension, then it only stands to reason that they will do poorly in those areas that require that skill. Imagine watching a child learning to swing. I am sure you remember the progression. It starts slowly with them being able to crawl up onto the swing until they reach the day when they can pump their legs and keep swinging. Then there comes that day when you are across the yard, your child is swinging gleefully and then all of a sudden they take a leap and jump from the swing. They literally fly out into the air. You can’t believe their bravery and they are thrilled with themselves to the point of quickly doing the trick again and again. This is the joy of learning.

All humans learn. Even the most profoundly challenged human learns. All children learn. Children are created by an Almighty God from His great love for the creation. God has a plan, a perfect plan, for each and every person created. Our task as parents is to first instill in the child a love for the Creator. To love the Creator is to understand the creation.

Now it is time for a family caucus. Draw the children together and let them know that you are going to be homeschooling—no ifs, ands, or buts. Many times when children sense our trepidation they feed on that and confuse many issues of discipline, etc. with that confusion. My husband makes a speech: “We homeschool. It is not less school but different school yet it is school nonetheless. We will continue to homeschool as long as your mother and I feel called by the Lord to do so. If Jesus tells us differently then we will change our plan. But….for right now we are homeschooling.” This may sound harsh or too one-sided, but remember, children need to know who leads so that they can follow. If you were taking a journey into Africa and you hired a guide to lead you across the Congo, how would you feel if your guide seemed unsure of himself? I do not think you would be eager or peacefully following his advice when challenges came along.

The challenges that you are facing with regards to your children are normal and would be there no matter what type of schooling you chose. Remember that homeschooling does not make your child into another species. They are still children, and the challenges of parenting are going to be there because that is the nature of parenting.

Now it is time during your caucus to get opinions, suggestions, and comments from the floor. Give your children the opportunity to express their challenges as they see them. Listen carefully to what they are saying. Not just the words but the message behind the words. “I want to go back to public school” may actually mean “I am an adolescent and I would like to be around kids my own age who are in the same situation that I am.” Listen to the message and work to meet the needs and challenges of the message. Don’t jump ship or abandon the crew just because they do not like the journey. Find out what they think would be a suitable solution to their challenges. You have already established that you are homeschooling; don’t replow ground you have already worked through. When the children want to do that, merely remind them that this meeting is about finding solutions. We found that homeschooling co-operatives, support groups, 4-H, sports, etc. helped to ease the transition of teens or young people who desire to spend time with their peers. Pray for inspiration, and above all congratulate your children when they offer doable, workable solutions to challenges. This approach teaches them so much. In the world there are always people who get bogged down in challenges because they refuse to meet the challenge head on and work to solutions. If Jesus is calling your family to the homeschooling lifestyle, then trust that He will give you the skills necessary to meet each and every challenge.

Next, you and your wife take a critical look at the curriculum you are using. Pick it apart and retool it to meet the needs of your family and your children. Work from the knowledge that you are the educator and you have the inside advantage of knowing your children better than anyone else. Do not be afraid to make changes, redirect your efforts, and reshape the schooling as you see best fits your children. Speak frankly with one another about the goals of education. Talk about the challenges and the misconceptions that you are facing. Work together in every area to create a plan.

Pray together in front of the Blessed Sacrament. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, the Lord showered you and your wife with graces sufficient to work through the challenges. However, He did not just shower those graces at that moment. There is a wellspring of graces just waiting to be called upon. Go to the source of all Knowledge, grace and empowerment. Go to the Lord. Your desire to better your knowledge of the Catholic faith is one that I assure you is in accordance with the Lord’s will as well.

I admire you very much. You have a heart for your children and an intuitive understanding of the learning process. You want your children to be engaged in the process and eager for the knowledge. Jesus wants that too. You are your family’s St. Joseph. Rest secure in the knowledge that the Lord will empower you with the skills and tools necessary to work through this challenge. Your family is indeed blessed to have your leadership and compassion.

Sending out a prayer,
Rita Munn

About Rita Munn

Rita Munn is a veteran homeschool mother of ten. For many years she was a popular speaker at Catholic homeschooling conferences. Writing has been a passion of hers for as long as she can remember, and she loves to use her writing skills to share her homeschooling experience with other parents. Her “family journal” reflections are featured in CHC’s Educating for Eternity e-newsletter.