Ways to manage your child's progress and learning

As she prepares to home-school her son, Reva wonders how she will measure her son's progress and grades.

Photo: DegasMM/iStockphoto

Last week was all about grades.

First, the annual review of schools across Canada was released, and then the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) sent home report cards.

All of these rankings are, of course, open to criticism.

Whether it’s the statistical manipulation and weighing of the standardized tests or the one-size-fits-all format (and subjective nature) of grades, it can be difficult to know how much focus, especially in elementary school, to put on report cards.

I know and appreciate this intellectually, but that doesn’t stop me from rushing to find our school in the rankings or ripping into the brown envelope to see how my son is doing.

Parenting is such an ambiguous exercise that any hard data — whether positive or negative — becomes incredibly appealing. At last! Insight and measurement into how I’m doing as a parent!

For me, it’s also that I grew up in a home where grades were hugely important.

I quickly intuited that grades were an essential means to an end — specifically, parental freedom in the moment and long-term options when it came to schools and careers.

The downside of this emphasis on grades is that I became one of those students who studied for the test, regurgitated what the teacher wanted (regardless of what I actually thought) and, along the way, began avoiding classes or topics that would be too challenging or potentially risk my GPA.

While I want my son to understand that grades and measurements matter, I don’t want to pass this narrow focus on to him and I definitely want him to learn to enjoy the challenge that comes with navigating and conquering difficult materials.

This seems easier to do in a home-school scenario — except for the issue of grades.

I’ve seen the studies which suggest that, when it comes to grades, home-schoolers tend to do better than those in the public school system

But what isn’t clear to me, is how these comparisons are done. And more urgently, next year, how will I measure my son’s progress? Who will measure me? And by taking him out of the formal school environment, am I depriving both of us of the neutral assessment of a professional third party?

From home-schooling sites and discussions it seems that parents are tracking their children’s tests and progress using notebooks, Excel sheets or even specific online tracking programs designed for home-schoolers.

My research so far seems to suggest that how you test and grade depends on provincial requirements and the materials being used (for instance, since my current plan is to outsource math, the program I choose will be responsible for monitoring his progress).

Another option is to have your child tested by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) in grades three, six and nine, just like their public school counterparts or to use private options like the Canadian Test Centre (CTC) Educational Assessment Services.

I’m excited to hopefully create an environment that challenges my son and lets him delve into the ideas and subjects that excite him. But its hard to change decades of thinking, so the truth is, I’m also interested to see how he compares when he writes the grade three standardized tests because, yes, I will have him do that — if only to see how I’m doing as a teacher.

How are grades managed in your family? What do you think is the best way to measure progress and learning?