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THE OVERLOOKED TOOL

by Res Peters

Consider the crowbar. Simple, effective, reliable. From time immemorial, this unsophisticated tool has proven powerful to move the most reluctant of obstacles. Yet its inelegant simplicity renders it unused. Rusting at the bottom of the toolbox, it remains buried under the digital wonders of our age.

Google, online courses, and palm pilots with their high tech efficiency and capacity have become conspicuous tools of home education. From reference resources, to instruction, to scheduling, each has taken its place in usurping the traditional tools of the home educator's trade. The instant feedback of these "cutting edge" devices has relegated flash cards and chalk to the bottom of the box. And languishing beneath them all, pushed aside in the busyness of this electronic age is the #2 pencil with the nationally standardized test. Yet this crowbar of education, when properly applied, can be the leverage to separate skeptics from their misperceptions and win us advocates in the seats of power that ensure our right to teach our children at home.

In-law, neighbor, judge, legislator. Each takes his place as critic or ally. Each has the ability to steal your right to home educate, both personally and collectively. How he interprets what he views through his window into your family will have everything to do with how he wields the power he holds. Personally, because a family member or friend is the most likely one to report you to Child Protective Services. Collectively, because the misperceptions of a policy maker causes him to legislate our rights away. No matter how skeptical he may be of the methodology you employ, your individual test score can become the "report card" that overrides any accusation made before the judge. And our collective test scores deafen the cries of those interests who oppose us in the seats of power.

Beyond the protection of our freedom and "bragging rights" for Grandma, test scores open a variety of doors for a child's future. College admittance, scholarships, and academic honors are predominantly based upon nationally standardized test scores. And for most students, practice makes nearly perfect, and at the very least, improves test scores over time.

Idaho Coalition of Home Educators (ICHE) makes available this opportunity every March in twenty locations across the state. In a formalized, yet relaxed environment, the Iowa Tests are offered at cost to ICHE members. A nationally-normed, rather than state-normed test, these scores are reflective of how our students compare with those throughout the nation as is the case with the SAT and ACT college entrance examinations. Individual test results are private, mailed directly to parents. And those students with qualifying scores receive a further accolade, designation as Summa Cum Laude Scholars and nomination to Who's Who Among American High School Students. Testing registration is open May 1 to August 1. Registration forms are sent to ICHE members in April, or can be printed off the website at www.iche-idaho.org.

In addition to private individual scores, composite results comparing Idaho home educated students to public school students are placed on graphs which are used to help policy makers understand the excellence of home education. With our students typically scoring on the 83rd percentile, this data speaks for itself among in-laws and lawmakers alike.

But what about the student who scores well below the norm? ICHE offers testing to students of all abilities. For this student it is important to document progress. The first year's score is a baseline from which to make gains. Showing slow gains over a period of time is a very convincing profile for this student and validates the methodology and home environment in which the progress is occurring. According to Dr. Brian Ray, president, National Home School Research Institute, the research is indicating that special needs students taught at home are making more progress in reading and math. It is not surprising that those students are involved in "academic engaged time" 59% of the time versus 22% of the time for special needs public school students.

Testing of homeshooled students in Idaho is completely voluntary as it should be. According to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, the states who compel home educated students to take the state assessment will jeopardize their federal funding for education:

"Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect a home school, whether or not a home school is treated as a home school or a private school under State law, nor shall any student schooled at home be required to participate in any assessment referenced in this Act." [Part E, Subpart Section 9506(b)].

Additionally, the private ICHE testing can be used to satisfy the state dual enrollment requirements for sports qualification.

Although this crowbar is an effective tool in moving that skeptic to respect, let us not confuse education with testing. Education does not lie in test scores, but in the whole body of knowledge with which we surround our children both formally and informally every day. The exemplary scores are simply a result of that rich learning environment and discourse in which our children are engaged, not the artificial outcome of teaching to a test.

Has that crowbar slipped to the bottom of your toolbox, overlooked and rusting? Determine to dig out your most powerful tool this year to move your most obstinate critic to ardent advocate, for your child's sake and for the sake of us all.

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