Heads up! Beware of the “Random Assessment”

pop quiz

Image by John Spencer – EdRethink

You know the one. Your mother-in-law drops by and suggests that before you serve your son ice cream, you make him spell “ice cream.” (Literally a mom just shared this story with me in email.)

You’re at the Thanksgiving table, and your Aunt Bev springs a pop quiz on your daughter: “What’s 6 times 8, darling? Surely by fifth grade, you have covered the 8s.”

Your best friend who isn’t a homeschooler looks at your child, standing off to the side during the soccer practice break, singing loudly to herself—arms extended to the sky, and says, “Kylie isn’t comfortable with large groups of kids her own age, is she?”

Sometimes your spouse who works for an education establishment (professor, principle, junior high counselor, fifth grade teacher, AP Psych instructor) blindsides you: “Haven’t you taught Evan the essay? All the eighth graders in our district learned it by Christmas. What curriculum are you using anyway?”

These are the un-standardized tests of home education. Everyone feels free to quiz your kids, to “catch them” in their particular gap, to discover how you (the instructing parent) have come up short as a teacher. It’s uncanny how universal this intrusive practice is! It’s as though everyone feels qualified to prove to you that you aren’t doing as good a job as the brick and mortar schools.

Imagine doing this to a kid who is in school! The usual conversation is more like this:

Uncle Tom: “What’s your favorite class?”

Kid: “I don’t know.”

Uncle Tom: “You don’t have one?”

Kid: “Um, PE I guess.”

Uncle Tom: “Ha ha. Okay. I get it. You don’t love school.”

End of discussion. They then fall into talking about their favorite NFL teams.

But with homeschool kids, rather than ask: “What’s your favorite subject you are studying?” The intrusive relative or friend decides to find out if the kid is actually learning anything.

Weirdly, homeschooled kids are far more likely to answer the “favorite subject” question because they usually have one!! They usually actually really do like learning the stuff they like learning!

A few ideas to head-off the casual interloping assessor, particularly on anticipated family holidays:

1) Display all evidence of substantial projects and studies. It’s great to have the telescope in the family room, to frame child artwork and hang it on the walls, to bind and publish beautiful copywork or writing and leave it on the coffee table, to hang well drawn maps on the bulletin board, to display science experiments and complicated Lego creations on the mantel, and so on.

2) Ask the sympathetic relative to lead the way with questions about a child’s favorite stuff—don’t feel the need to pretend your kid likes medieval history if what he really loves is roller coasters. Simply let that kid rattle off all he knows about roller coasters. Trust me. It’s always impressive. Homeschool kids are amazingly detailed when they are passionate.

3) Your kids can volunteer what they are good at and know well. Prime the pump. Let them know that Grandpa Eli is skeptical about homeschooling and may randomly test them. They can subvert that tendency by offering some well told stories of their learning adventures (the time they created their own sluice for a pretend Gold Rush, the time they built their own light switch, the book of drawings of WWII tanks…).

You can’t stop the pop quizzing, but you can be ready for it. The best thing to say when the adult is over the top with specific test-type questions is: “We’re on break. No tests allowed!”

Even though this isn’t how you operate, it’s familiar language and usually shuts up the nosey.

Cross-posted on facebook.

2 Responses to “Heads up! Beware of the “Random Assessment””

  1. Hwee says:

    My son gets pop quizzes all the time from everywhere! It’s very annoying and extremely intrusive. Luckily he is able to fend these offensives off with his love and knowledge of history and literature (which are deemed as ‘approved’ subject areas).

    “We’re on break. No tests allowed!” is a great line. We’ll use it next time. Thank you for the great tip! Have a good Christmas.

  2. I. LOVE. THIS.

    This is Christmas! LOL