Hungary: A Taste of Testing
“Are you glad it’s over?” I asked the little one happily swinging her lunchbox by her side.
She hesitated, head tilted. “Yes, but ... I actually enjoy the testing.”
Bethany Kaczmarek administers a test to one of the nine children who participated in the annual homeschool testing week.
Taking a break from testing, Sandra Lovelace and Sindy Quinonez watch the sunset over the Danube.
This came from a child who had traveled two days from a neighboring country with her mother and three older siblings—by taxi, train, and bus—who had missed a train departure, spent hours waiting at the station for the next train, and finally arrived in Hungary for three mornings of filling in Scantron-form bubbles with No. 2 pencils.
The little girl, along with eight other homeschooled children from three families, had come to participate in an annual homeschool testing week in Hungary administered by Sandra Lovelace, director of Lifework Forum ministry. Sandra brought two assistant test administrators—homeschooling mother Bethany Kaczmarek and me—to help test the Central European children during the third week of April 2011.
Similarly to some American states, Hungary allows homeschools to operate as private schools. Several years ago, a group of families set out to homeschool on a continent where the movement is still in its initial stages. The Christian administrators of an international school offered to provide the covering the families needed. In return, the families came under the school’s supervision with the basic requirement of annual testing. The arrangement was deteriorating when Sandra became aware of the unique opportunity to facilitate the process. Over the last five years she has developed and overseen the school’s homeschool umbrella program. She administers standardized testing and portfolio reviews and meets with parents for feedback and encouragement.
“Even if there were only one family that needed to be tested, I would still come,” said Sandra.
And I understood why. As we interacted with the families, we witnessed the dedication of these homeschooling parents, were reminded of challenges faced by pioneer homeschoolers in the United States, and once again appreciated being part of the homeschool community alongside European families.
The testing sessions resembled testing sessions in the U.S. We test administrators began the day by arranging furniture to provide the best lighting, sound, and temperature conditions in the apartment we used as the testing site. Parents dropped off their children, who carried healthy snacks and quiet activities—from Dickens novels to sports magazines—for moments when they finished early.
The children’s expectations on arriving were as varied as their personalities. Some skipped in, others edged in, but once we reached the midmorning break, the balcony overlooking the city was filled with happy chatter about pets, hobbies, families, home countries, and food. At the end of each morning’s session, we led the children back to the gate to meet their parents.
We also observed differences between American and European homeschoolers. Perhaps the most obvious was that for these parents who grew up under the effects of the government’s communist ideology, the fear of encounters with the government is deep-rooted.
As Sandra encouraged the parents to explore new curriculum options that might better fit their families’ circumstances, the parents hesitated.
“I know it would be better for my daughter,” agreed one mother, “but what will happen if she doesn’t cover all the material that comes in the standardized testing? What will the supervising school say?”
Another difference emerged during casual conversations with the mothers. While homeschool groups, clubs, and events abound in the States, homeschooling families in Europe are few and far between. Support is hard to find.
One mother mentioned her daughter’s struggles with being “always the different one.” Earlier that week, she and another mother had reminisced about the previous year’s testing week, after which they had had time to visit with the other homeschoolers. Both their daughters enjoyed each other’s companionship—to the point of exhaustion.
“They went so late, that they fell asleep on the books they were reading,” the second mother laughed. “We took photos of them.”
The third mother related how much she feels the impact of controversies in the American homeschool community. “Even though we are so far away, the emails from the United States really affect us, even here.”
In many ways, American homeschoolers are not far removed from fellow homeschoolers around the world. We are often one, in vision, in challenges, in joys, in prayer.
We testers brought back much from our experience in Central Europe. Through interacting with the families, we were reminded that it takes purpose, dedication, effort, and courage to live out our convictions, and that the desire to give the next generation the best we can give is, in many ways, a universal desire.
Most importantly, we were reminded that, because of courageous parents’ vision for their children in the face of fears, challenges, and sacrifices, there is much to appreciate—even enjoy—along the homeschool journey. We saw it as we worked. The children reflected it as they tested.
I think the little one on the sidewalk grasped it well.
Undaunted by trains, Americans, or No. 2 pencils, she confidently stood at the gate of the testing site at the completion of the sessions.
And swung her lunchbox.