My daughter, Michelle, is the scholar in our family. I taught her to read when she was five. In addition to working with her on phonics and having her read to me, I would read to her just before bedtime. When her time was up at the end of a chapter, she would usually petition me to keep reading. "Please, Daddy, just one more chapter." My reply would be, "It's the other kids' time now. If you want, you can take the book into your room and read ahead there." So she started doing that, and figured out that she could read fun things on her own. Now we have to tell her to put her book down and do the rest of her work.
At the end of sixth grade, her standardized test showed her at grade level equivalency of 13.0 for the battery total score. That doesn't mean she knew everything a high school graduate knows. It just means that in what she was tested on, she did as well as a graduate would.
At the end of seventh grade, she wanted to take the broader standardized test. We didn't know what areas would be covered, so she didn't study any differently than she would have for the more compact version. After the test, we learned that it contained the added subjects of study skills, science, and social studies. In every subject on the test, she scored at a grade level equivalency of 13.0, which is the maximum the test could measure.
My son, Kirk, is at the other end of the learning spectrum. He has trouble maintaining concentration because he can't filter out distractions as well as most children his age. His eyes struggle for dominance as he reads and sometimes he perceives letters and words flipped around. So although he is good at math, science, and grammar, and has a wonderful ear for music and natural talent for realistic drawings, he has had real struggles reading. This has been reflected in his standardized test scores. He barely made the 15th percentile on the standardized tests for several of his school years.
Let me explain what the 15th percentile is all about. Here in Oregon, home schooled students are required to score at the 15th percentile or better on annual standardized tests, or they face the threat of being forced out of their home school into an institutional school. If this standard were applied to public schools, by definition, one in seven students would flunk. Here's how it would work. At the end of each school year, ESD officials would take the lowest achieving students and move them to another school for the next year, in hopes that they would do better there. For home schoolers, there are some additional rules about probation if students score below the 15th percentile. But, this is the basic picture confronting home school students here in Oregon.
My wife and I have worked very hard on Kirk's education. I have spent weeks of accrued vacation time accompanying our son to reading classes and a specialized therapy program. My wife has spent countless hours working with him, also.
Kirk has never been labeled as learning disabled. Instead, I have explained to him that we all have strengths and non-strengths. He knows that he is good in music, art, and math. He knows that he has to work harder than other students do in reading. He can accept that with a healthy attitude. In a public school, he would have ended up in a slow-learners track, labeled by others. But more importantly, he would have internalized that label.
We have worked with our son based on our close knowledge of his strengths, weaknesses, and interests. We know his personal avenues of learning as no one outside our family possibly could. We capitalize on this knowledge.
He recently bought a handheld computer. He was highly motivated to read the accompanying manuals so he could learn everything about his computer. I didn't read them for him. Similarly, I bought him a space battle game for our computer. He loves that game and spends hours studying the thick manual, asking us for help on difficult words.
Kirk is gradually developing skills to compensate for his weaknesses. Last year he scored at the 43rd percentile level on his battery total score. That's just 6 months behind his peers.
The point is, my wife and I can do a better job of educating our children for future success in life than anyone outside our family could. We know our children's strengths, weaknesses, and interests better than anyone else does. You do not have to worry that we will somehow be negligent about how well our children are doing academically. We don't feel accountable to a mere annual test. We are accountable to make sure our children are well equipped to succeed in life. And we are typical home schoolers. This commitment to our children is what motivates parents to home school in the first place.
Now why is this bill so important? It is because the current law actually interferes with the education of students like Kirk.
First, the 15th percentile rule enforces an arbitrary, and unfairly stringent, short-term standard. We had to expend considerable resources and effort to just keep Kirk above the 15th percentile flunking cutoff point -- resources that would have been better spent in the less stressful long-term program which we were simultaneously trying to maintain. But as it was, the short-term threat regularly displaced the longer-term goal. This was damaging to Kirk's progress.
Second, the current law takes children out of their home schools, away from their families, and into an environment which cannot match the one to one tutoring they were receiving at home. No public school could have done anywhere near as good a job as Kirk's mother and I have done on his education. And we did it without his getting the long term emotional and motivational scars other children get by being placed in slow-learner tracks. Forcing home schooled children away from their families and into institutions is a sure way to inflict damage on them.
Please support HB 3013, for the sake of all our home schooled "Kirks."
June 2000 Postscript:
Kirk continues to improve. His 1999 test score put him four months ahead of his peers. His 2000 test battery total score is a year and a half above grade level. What a tragic mistake it would have been if Kirk had been forced out of his successful home schooling environment in the early years and labeled as below average just because of a defective law.