Does your student’s special needs prevent him from testing well? You
won’t want to miss this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat, as HSLDA
special needs consultant Faith Berens breaks down the options and offers her expert
guidance for evaluating your child with special needs.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Faith Berens. She’s a
homeschooling mom, educational therapist, and one of HSLDA’s special needs
consultants. Faith, it’s great to have you with us today!
Faith Berens: Thank you, Mike, it’s a privilege to be
First things first [0:31]
Mike: Well Faith, let’s say a parent has just started
homeschooling their child who has special needs. What are the first steps they should
take with regard to grading and evaluating?
Faith: Sure. Well first, I really encourage parents to reflect on
what their child can do before just focusing on what they can’t do. And
childhood and homeschooling truly are a journey, but in order to know where
you’re going, we really have to know where we’re starting from. So
parents need to determine their child’s present levels of functioning or
performance—in not only academic areas, but also think about social, spiritual,
emotional, and behavioral areas as well. If a child’s been in a school setting
and parents have pulled them out to homeschool, they may want to use information from
the school’s test reports, report cards, or former IEP. But certainly,
parent-teachers may want to do their own informal assessment, such as ready-made
skill checklists, there’s commercially available checklists, and things
available online, or placement tests that are provided by curriculum publishers.
It can also be helpful for parent-teachers to use a general scope and sequence
checklist, such as those found in Rebekah Rook’s book, or Cathy Duffy’s.
This can help parents to identify and track concepts, skills, and topics that the
child has been introduced to, or ones that may be developing, and which ones have
already been mastered.
Alternative assessment ideas [1:59]
Mike: Faith, what types of assessments are used to record and
evaluate the progress of students with special needs?
Faith: Most children with special needs will probably have
already had lots of assessments of various kinds from professionals—perhaps a
speech and language therapist, or medical checklist, or even a psycho-educational or
neuro-psych testing that’s been done.
Those certainly have their place, and we can glean good information from them, but
those are just snapshots of children’s progress and ability. However,
parent-teacher observation and anecdotal notes are really valid, and they’re
practical ways of assessing.
Mike: Well Faith, can you share some ideas for alternative
assessments and grading options for homeschool families?
Faith: Absolutely. Portfolio assessment, work samples, using
rubrics, and allowing the student to do oral presentations or demonstrations can be
really meaningful and powerful authentic ways for the student to demonstrate their
knowledge and skills that they’ve gained or mastered.
Also, using rubrics rather than letter grades, which can often seem obscure and
subjective, are a wonderful alternative to traditional letter grades. And a rubric is
basically a rating scale with set criteria such as 1 being the worst and 5 being the
best. So the rubric is explained and supplied to the student up front before a task
or assignment is given, and then the student knows what he or she will be evaluated
on, and what to aim for.
Testing accommodations for your child [3:32]
Mike: Faith, what are the biggest challenges when it comes to
grading and evaluating a student with special needs, and how can parents overcome
Faith: Some of the biggest challenges that we hear from parents
is that their students don’t test well. Many of them have test anxiety, and
it’s hard for them to also get out what they know, and they’re
inconsistent in performance. They might know something one day and in one place, but
then the next day it’s as if they’ve never seen it before, or they are
not able to retrieve it in a different context.
And when we think of assessment, we often think of quizzes [and] end-of-unit
checkpoints, and most often, we’ll think of standardized testing, such as the
Iowa or Stanford or CAT test. And certainly those have their place—and in many
states they’re required. But I think a great way to get around these challenges
for children with special needs [is] for parents to offer testing accommodations that
are appropriate and needed, such as maybe enlarged fonts, extended time, or use of a
keyboard or dictation, which can allow the student not only to access the test
material, but also demonstrate what they’ve learned.
Another thing for parents to keep in mind is the use of dynamic assessment. And
what that means is it basically blends teaching and assessing into a singular
activity. So think of the “assess, teach, and then assess” cycle. This
works really well with homeschooling, because the parent is working closely with the
child and they’re assessing on the run, and then they’re teaching, and
then they’re reassessing and checking how the student is making progress.
Tracking your child’s progress [5:12]
Mike: Well Faith, what are the best ways to document and evaluate
the progress of a student with special needs over the course of a year?
Faith: Well, nobody knows their children better than parents. I
encourage parents to keep a journal or notebook for their children and write
important observations down as they notice new skills emerging, or even areas of
difficulty. Parents may find Joyce Herzog’s book, Learning in Spite of
Labels, very beneficial. Also, please know that parents can rent from our
special needs department the Brigance Inventory of Basic Skills, and we also have an
early development assessment kit. These can be really helpful for tracking their
child’s progress from year to year.
Mike: Faith, do you have a couple of top picks for resources to
help parents grade and evaluate their student’s progress?
Faith: Absolutely! I’m all about resources. First and
foremost, I’d like to direct listeners to our very own HSLDA Early Years, Struggling Learner, and
High School consultant
pages. We have testing tabs and articles on progress monitoring, portfolios and
recordkeeping, as well as transcripts. Also, I highly recommend Judith Monday’s
new book, Teaching a Child with Special Needs and Home and at School. She
has an entire section on evaluating students, rubrics, and accommodations for
testing, and ways to adapt testing for students with special needs. Also, check out
Debra Bell’s books and resources at www.DebraBell.com.
The following books are oldies, but definitely goodies. And they’re just as
sound and relevant today as they were when they were written. So parents should be
sure to check out Evaluating for Excellence by Theresa Moon, Lesha
Myers’ book, Making the Grade—both of those can be found on
Amazon—and Sharon Hesley’s book, Homeschooling Children with Special
Needs, which we carry in our HSLDA online bookstore. Lastly, [I] highly
recommend Loretta Heuer’s book The Homeschooler’s Guide to Portfolios
Mike: What a great help those lists are!
More than a label [7:22]
Mike: Faith, what are the most important things that parents
should remember about testing and evaluating their students with special needs?
Faith: Well firstly, parents know their children better than
anyone, so their evaluations are definitely valid. I encourage families to keep good
records, observations, checklists, and formal evaluations, and any progress reports
from special therapists that they may be working with. Remember that standardized
testing, such as academic achievement testing and even cognitive IQ tests, are simply
snapshots of the child on a certain day, and under a very specific type of
circumstances. In regards to this cognitive IQ test result, parents need to realize
that the last decade of brain research and neuroscience has shown that our learning
potential is not fixed. All brains can change. We can all grow and learn new things.
So they need to take those IQ scores with a grain of salt and remember that their
children are way more than a score or a label or a diagnosis. And I encourage them to
utilize authentic assessment, such as the rubrics and checklists and oral
narrations—the things we talked about earlier this week—because those are
great ways to really evaluate how the student is making progress.
Parents should consider keeping a portfolio of work as an alternative assessment,
in addition to any standardized academic achievement testing they may do at the end
of the year. And lastly, please remember that the HSLDA team of educational
consultants are here to help with grading and evaluating questions or concerns.
Mike: Faith, it’s really been a blessing to have you with
us this week. Thank you for joining us and shedding some light on a subject that many
people don’t know much about. So until next time, I’m Mike Smith.