Whenever I see the supermarket freezers crammed with tantalizing tubs of ice cream, I am faced with a dilemma. There are so many of them. Do I buy gobs of the cheaper varieties and hope that by virtue of sheer number I find something satisfying, or do I buy one costlier flavor and walk away content with less quantity but greater quality? Nine times out of ten, it is the quality that I’m seeking.
It’s the same thing with assessment, you know. Or do you know? There is a simple way to find out. Grab a pencil, because we’re going to apply quantity and quality to the idea of assessment. Assessment moves to the forefront of our minds at the academic year-end, but this assignment is not to assess your children, this assignment is designed to assess yourself. Do not panic; in this assessment there are only two questions.
What is one thing, as a homeschooling parent-teacher, that you did well this year? Before you answer, let’s lay down some ground rules. First, you must answer the question—no hemming or hawing, no “Aw, shucks.” And “I don’t know” and “Nothing” are unacceptable responses. Second, give a single answer; identify one thing, and one thing only, that you did well. Third, be specific; and fourth, be honest. Now, if you set a goal for your home school at the beginning of the year, this question is going to be a whole lot easier to answer. What was that goal, and what was one thing you did well to help meet that goal? Even if you didn’t set a goal, you’re still in the game, because you still did something well. You may be struggling to remember it, so here are a few hints. This past year you pried open indifferent eyes to observe and behold; you prodded sluggish imaginations to wonder and ponder; you hammered a million memory pegs, then named them until the mind was numb and defined them until the tongue was dumb; you compared the like to the unlike, the similar to the different, the weird to the whacky; you asked common questions and attended uncommon conversation; you dragged out dialogue, discourse, and debate; you tussled with truth, gawked at goodness, and bumped elbows with beauty. Do you remember it now, the one thing you did well? Good; you’re ready to pick up your pencil and comply with the fifth ground rule: Write it down. This is your “Well done” moment.
Don’t put your pencil down yet; this is where the second part of your assessment begins. What is one thing, as a homeschooling parent-teacher, that you would like to improve for next year? Before you haul out your laundry list, let’s revisit our ground rules: you must answer the question with a single answer, you must be specific, and you must be honest. And one more thing. You must not respond with shame, guilt, or recrimination. As with our first question, if you set a goal for your home school at the beginning of the year, this question shouldn’t be too difficult to answer. What was that goal, and what can you do next year to better meet that goal? Even if you didn’t set a goal, chances are you don’t need any hints to answer this question, but the purpose of this assessment is not to criticize or punish. The purpose is to practice gentle assessment that edifies and disciples the parent-teacher. Once you have your answer, the one thing you would like to improve for next time, write it down. This is your goal for next year. You can put your pencil down, now. Your part in the assessment is over.
Notice that the assessment is not over. You have just completed the self-assessment portion. The next step in this assessment is to ask others to answer the same two questions, and the “others” you are going to ask are. . .(drumroll). . .your children. Allow each child to name one thing that you did well this year as the homeschooling parent-teacher. Be sure to invoke the ground rules before allowing them to answer. Write down each response but resist any temptation to retort. Move on the second question. What do your children think that you, as a homeschooling parent-teacher, could improve for next year? You may find it necessary to lean hard on the ground rules, especially the rule about single answers, and the rule about guilt and recrimination. Once they have sorted through the myriad possibilities and offered their thoughts, write down their responses.
The final step in this assessment is to ask a peer to answer the same two questions. This can be a fellow homeschooling parent, or the tutor or director of your child’s program. Write down both responses. How do they compare to your children’s responses? How do they compare to your responses? Often in this type of assessment there are echoes or patterns in the given answers that confirm your own answers, but just as often, others are able to see more in your heart than even you are aware of. Okay, pencils down. The assessment is complete.
Families new to this type of assessment may protest, “Wait a minute. How can this be a fair and accurate assessment? This fails to take into consideration all the books we read, all the assignments we completed, all the long days to cross those T’s and dot those I’s We never veered from the program guide; we checked off every box; we got it all done! What about that? Doesn’t that count for something?” It does count for something. Quite literally, it is an assessment that counts, or to put it another way, it is an assessment of quantity—one that measures the type and amount of work that was done. A quantity assessment is similar to that ice cream store with its gazillion different flavors. The question “Do I want to sample a large quantity, or do I want to sample one flavor of pure quality?” was unfair because it forced a choice. When you assess performance, you don’t have to choose between assessing for quantity and assessing for quality. This is not an either/or situation; you should be assessing for both, just be aware if you are favoring quantity over quality. A quantity assessment, while measuring the scope and accuracy of the work being done, is not as effective at assessing the individual doing the work.
A quality assessment, one that compares us to none other than the ideal found in Christ, will make us better—better parent-teachers, but also better human beings. We will never be best, but we can always be better, changing into His image from glory to glory. A true, quality assessment will help us with this transformation because it seeks purpose; it disciples the individual as it seeks to make him better; it seeks to speak the truth in love; and it seeks edification by limiting the barrage of what we could say to two simple things: what we have done well, and what we can improve. We recognize that we have done something well because we are made in the image of God. And we know that we can do better because although we are changing, we are not perfect. When our assessment is approached and received with purpose (to become better) and humility (we are not perfect), God is glorified and we are blessed.