Interesting news about test scores and homeschool politics in the state of Arkansas (where we currently live) is below. All highlighting within the article is my emphasis. My notes fall between broken sections of the article (in different font):
The Arkansas Home Scholar Online
HOMESCHOOL TESTING FRONT PAGE NEWSPAPER STORY
Mike Beebe has said that he is not going to pick a fight with the home schoolers, but considering the story in Tuesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette you would think the fight has already begun. However, I wouldn’t blame Governor-elect Beebe for this particular slap at home schoolers.
On Monday the issue of home school testing was discussed at a meeting of the State Board of Education. What would normally have been a “ho-hum” approval of a stack of various reports from several departments within the State Department of Education turned into a long discussion about the number of Arkansas home schoolers who reportedly did not take the state-mandated Iowa Test of Basic Skills in 2006.
In among a stack of routine reports was a report from the state home school office indicating that about 3 out of 10 Arkansas home schoolers failed to take the state-mandated test. This represents about 2,000 students. Cynthia Howell, a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, covered the meeting and her story about the home school report and the Board’s discussion of it appeared on the front page of Tuesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
When questioned by the Board, State Education Director Dr. Ken James listed four or five legitimate reasons that home schoolers may not have taken the test. In addition, he pointed out that his office did not have adequate funding or enough staff to manage the increased number of home schoolers that are required to test and that they hoped to do better in 2007. However, most people who don’t know any better are likely to read the newspaper story and come away with a negative opinion of home schoolers.
Before anyone jumps to conclusions about the evil homeschoolers trying to skip out of testing… let me assure you, there are MANY more issues here that the state is not bringing up (for obvious reasons). Here’s our inside and HONEST story about our testing adventure in 2006:
We moved to Arkansas after school began in 2005. Coming from a state (Texas) that had no testing laws due to the fact that it is a PARENT’S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO EDUCATE THEIR OWN CHILDREN, I was very upset when I was forced to sign forms for the school district so that I could legally homeschool in Arkansas. I felt that this violated my privacy and God-given rights. Never-the-less, being the law-abiding and upright citizen that I am (as most homeschoolers are), I drove down to the superintendent’s office and filled out my paperwork as soon as we got settled in our apartment. I was surprised that I never got any follow-up paperwork in the mail. If I had not been involved in homeschool groups that were receiving correspondence, I would NEVER HAVE KNOWN ABOUT THE TEST DATES. After a homeschool friend notified me that her letter for choosing a testing site had already been delivered to her, I CALLED the homeschooling office. I was assured that forms would be mailed to me. None came. My friend notified me that the date for her county had been changed and another letter had come to her. Since I still had not received word, I was not sure if my dates had been moved as well. Beginning to get concerned, (only weeks away from the testing date) I CALLED AGAIN. The nice man working for the state got my email address and allowed me to set up a testing site via email and apologized for the LACK OF ORGANIZATION.
A lot of my issues with the testing accusations in this article are not just from my dealings with the superintendent’s office or even the Arkansas Home School Testing Office, however. To be fair, some of the blame may lie with the testing publishers themselves. After my child took the required tests, I was told that my results would arrive in the mail in six to eight weeks. Mind you, this was early April! I was hoping to get a look at them before ordering curriculum for the following school year. After months went by, I contacted the homeschool office for the state and was put off again. “Tests will arrive in June” they said. June came and went. In July, I called again. A few of my friends had their scores back already. They weren’t sure what happened to my child’s scores. Not only that, but there were many other parents who’s children’s scores were missing as well. I was told that my name would be put on a “list that the publisher and grader of the tests were – checking in to”. After this, I found out that ALL of the tests had been graded improperly. Because the test was a “complete battery”, the scores for math, reading, grammar, science and social studies should have been on the score sheets. Arkansas or the testing company had returned scores to MOST parents (I had not gotten mine yet) that only included grades for Math and Reading. All of the scores were then scheduled by the state to be re-calculated and re-sent to parents. I called again to make sure they knew that I still had not gotten my first set of test scores so they wouldn’t forget to send the second set. By now, I’m sure they were sick of hearing from me. August came, and I began calling weekly after hearing my friends had gotten their second set of scores. Finally, in the last week of August (after public schools had already returned to full-time classes), my scores came (the second set). Some time during September, I got the first set of test scores with an improper address (forwarded to me by my apartment complex manager).
All in all, you could summarize my first testing experience in Arkansas as exasperating. If anyone else had the same experiences I did, I don’t blame them for “skipping” the tests (assuming that any of them actually did).
2. While there may be a small number of home schoolers who refuse to take the state-mandated test, most home schoolers are doing a great job, otherwise how could home school students have outperformed their public school counterparts on standardized test every year for 21 years in a row?
Ok, now if you want to get down to the real nitty-gritty… here’s the proof in the pudding of homeschool testing: THE SCORES. Homeschooling WORKS. This is why the lawmakers, school board officials, and public school advocates are trying to hard to enact laws and regulations… more testing, harder testing…. smaller and higher hoops to jump through. THEY are afraid homeschooling is going to continue to grow and funding is going to drop for their precious public schools. This, folks, is the REAL issue. Money and power for public school bureaucrats.
3. The State Board of Education and the Department of Education needs to concentrate on improving public education. Over half of our public school graduates who go to college have to take remedial classes and entire public school districts are in academic distress. Why focus so much attention on such a small number of students who receive no public funding?
FEAR, I guess. Jealousy? Doesn’t make logical sense to anyone willing to really look at the issue and read between the lines, does it?
4. Ten school districts across the state have failed to meet even minimum state standards for the past two years. They face state sanctions if they don’t improve. Since we have entire school districts that are failing, why would the State Board of Education spend so much time trying to fix what may prove to be a mostly imaginary home school problem.
What You Can Do:
1. Pray for the success of home schooling in Arkansas.
2. Make a generous donation to the Education Alliance. We are working to protect your right to home school and your donations keep us in the fight. Click here to donate or mail a check to the Education Alliance at 414 South Pulaski, Suite 9, Little Rock, AR 72201.
3. Be prepared to call your state legislators and ask them to support home schooling.
4. Be prepared to come to the State Capitol to make your voice heard if bad home school legislation is introduced.
5. Forward this e-mail and encourage your friends and ask them to do the same.
Definitely pass this on to all of your Arkansas homeschooling buddies and anyone interested in the gritty facts behind tainted homeschooling media attention. See below for the liberal slant of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (notice that ugly title… just who’s SHORT here?):
Here is the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Story:
HOME-SCHOOLERS SHORT ON TAKING IOWA SKILLS EXAM
STUDENTS RISK TRUANCY VIOLATION
By Cynthia Howell
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Seven out of every 10 Arkansas home-schooled students in grades three through nine took at least a part of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills last spring as required by state law.
That leaves more than 2,000 test-eligible students unaccounted for in state records and potentially truant – unless they were tested by an agency outside the state, were exempted from standardized testing because of a handicap, moved out of state, enrolled midyear in a public or private school or couldn’t take a test because there weren’t enough tests for everyone last spring, state education officials said.
WOW. That’s a long list of reasons why a person might be exempt. Funny how they don’t do the research first before they accuse homeschoolers of being dirty handed and in danger of truancy violation. Maybe they should find out the specifics and do some research before printing an article in the paper!?
Arkansas Education Commissioner Ken James told the state Board of Education on Monday that officials are taking steps to refine the administration of the standardized tests to home-schoolers, but the home-schooling system in general doesn’t legally provide for much state oversight.
“In terms of monitoring, there is very little monitoring,” James said in response to questions from board members.
“We don’t have a whole home-school unit. We have a very small operation. We contract out with one of the local education cooperatives [to administer the testing], and we are adding two support staff members to that cooperative to get better control of it. But we don’t collect a lot of data, and that’s really how this whole thing was designed.”
As for who is responsible for finding registered homeschooled students who apparently didn’t take the state required test, James said that’s the role of superintendents.
“It does happen,” James said at a break in the meeting. “It happens in places where the superintendents are pretty aggressive and stay on top of it. That’s not a criticism of the rest of them, but it also gets to the point that a prosecuting attorney must weigh, ‘Do I gear up and go after this with the other things I’m dealing with in terms of cases?’ What are the priorities? Local superintendents have to push the local prosecuting attorneys.”
Looks like they admit they are short-handed and not in control… maybe that is why my superintendent’s office never sent me any paperwork to begin with. I agree that they need more staffing… if they want to continue to monitor homeschoolers – which in and of itself is not necessary…. see state laws in Texas and Oklahoma for example. Colleges eventually test students for entry, so why should the state feel responsible to test homeschooled kids when they are not the ones who are responsible for their education? HomeSCHOOL is the parent’s responsibility… and who better to be responsible than the people who love the child most?!
I felt sorry for the guy who had to take all my phone calls when the ball kept getting dropped. It didn’t seem fair to work those people so hard. I want everyone to know ‘on the record’ that of all the people I’ve been in contact with (including the superintendent of my district and the state homeschooling oversight employees), they have all been very polite and have tried to be helpful. I certainly do NOT have a beef with anyone personally, but rather how the media, lawmakers, and school board officials are treating homeschoolers in general. I don’t see that in a FREE country, your children should be parented in any way, shape or form BY THE STATE. Government interference and strict regulations are destruction of my rights as an American, a parent, and a person.
After more than two decades of growing by hundreds of students nearly every year, the number of Arkansas’ homeschooled students fell slightly in the last year, 2005-06, to 13,814 students.
“There is a slight dip this year, but it is too early to read anything into it,” said Julie Johnson Thompson, a spokesman for the Education Department. “It could be a fluctuation or it could be the beginning of a new trend.” The number decreased by 159 students from the previous year’s count of 13,973.
If you go by my opinion, I’d say people left because they wanted to homeschool in freedom in many of the homeschool-friendly neighboring states. The housing market is over-inflated here as well (especially when the annual income average here is so low and the taxes are so high). Arkansas is the second highest taxed state population in America. I know that if I had the choice to move from here, I would. It has nothing to do with the nice people and lovely scenery… it has everything to do with surviving financially – especially in a ONE income family – like most homeschoolers are.
Home schools are defined in Arkansas Code Annotated 6-15-501 through 6-15-508 as schools primarily conducted by parents or legal guardians for their own children. Home schooling has been legally recognized in Arkansas since the early 1980s. Parents notify the state and their local public school district of their intentions to home-school, as well as follow state requirements for the state testing of their children.
I find it interesting that they say homeschooling has only been legal since 1980. I am sure there were scores of pioneers homeschooling their children here for many, many years – long before the term “homeschooling” was coined.
Refusal by a home-schooling family to abide by the reporting and testing requirements can result in the application of the state’s school truancy law in which parents can be fined for failing to send their children to school.
In the 2005-06 school year, there were 7,056 home-schooled students in grades three through nine who, like their public school counterparts, were required to take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
At least 5,028 home-schooled students took at least a portion of the battery of Iowa tests at the 42 testing centers and 22 alternate sites in March, Bill Ballard, state coordinator of home-school testing, said Monday.
The number of students tested, he said, doesn’t include special education home-schooled students whose individual education plans preclude testing or students who arranged to receive their Iowa test from an outside agency such as Bob Jones University in South Carolina.
WAIT JUST A MINUTE! So… you have 7,056 homeschoolers in grades 3-9 that need to test. 5,028 turn up for testing. They say that 2,028 students are “in truancy violation” for not testing… yet they list a bunch of reasons WHY those students MAY OR MAY NOT be exempt from testing (even though they have not researched if any of the students were exempt), and THEN they say that the NUMBER OF STUDENTS TESTED (5,028) DOES NOT INCLUDE special education homeschoolers or those who arranged to take the test from an outside agency.
There you have it. The number of homeschoolers tested is not legitimate! I know of entire co-ops of students who opted to test through outside agencies! Those are large groups that would be added to the list of those who followed the law and tested like they were supposed to! All of the sudden, this article seems to be complete fiction, rather than unbiased fact.
The home-schooling tests are scored by the same company that scores the public school tests. The results are mailed to the parents of the home-schooled children, Ballard said. The state receives only a grade-by-grade summary and no individual results.
Ballard and the Arkansas Home School Testing Office are based at the Arch Ford Education Services Cooperative in Plumerville. That home-schooling office, which just expanded to a staff of three, has grown into the position of administering the test for the state’s 14 other cooperatives and the three Pulaski County school districts.
Like I said, they are understaffed!
Until recently, the tests were given only in three grades and took one day, he said. Starting last year, seven grades were given the whole battery of Iowa tests, taking each student three days to complete.
“If a superintendent calls and asks for the record for his students – who tested and who didn’t – our position is to let them know,” Ballard said. “So far there haven’t been many to do that, but we would let them know.”
With the exception of third- and fourth-graders, homeschooled students who took the Iowa tests earned higher composite scores than their public school peers.
Sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-graders in home schools scored at the 58th percentile, which was six to nine percentile points higher than public school students. Fifth-grade homeschooled test-takers scored at the 63rd percentile compared with the 58th percentile for the public school students.
On the other hand, public school third-graders scored at the 62nd percentile, one point better than the home-schooled students. Both home-schooled and public school fourth-graders scored at the 61st percentile.
The 50th percentile is considered the national average on the Iowa test, which compares the performance of Arkansas students to a national sample of students who took the same test. A total of 342,284 public school students in kindergarten through ninth grade took the Iowa test last spring.
Home-schoolers are not required to take the Arkansas Benchmark and End-of-Course tests that public school students take. Those Arkansas tests are frequently given greater weight in the public schools because the results are used to determine whether a student needs an individual academic improvement plan and whether a school has met state achievement goals and can avoid sanctions prescribed in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Private school students are not required to take any of the exams mandated by state law for public school students, nor do parents have to notify the state of their child’s enrollment in a private school.
Amazingly, third and fourth graders for the first time in 21 years actually were a point behind on average than the public schoolers (but of course, this average is not really a final average since there are many homeschool tests that have not been shared with the state – due to homeschoolers using outside testing agencies such as Bob Jones). It took them 21 years to finally get a class of homeschool students who scored as low as the public schoolers. And I wonder if my son’s scores were included in the mix (since it took them until September to mail the first set of results to me and he scored in the 98th – national percentile for 3rd Grade).
Dr. Ben Mays, a state Education Board member from Clinton, asked James on Monday about making comparisons between public and home-schooled students’ test scores.
“If a large portion of the home-school students don’t show up to take the test, we can’t give much validity to the results,” Mays said.
What a joke. Again, this is a slap at homeschoolers and a lack of taking any responsibility for the poor management of the testing job the state has taken on. Rather than admit that their testing management was a flop, they say that homeschoolers are slackers (too lazy to show up) or criminals (refuse to test). Rather than find out what happened to the people who didn’t test and review the records to see if they had other arrangements or were exempt, they offer fabricated numbers to the press in hopes of gathering public distaste. Believe me… there is an agenda here.
State board member Mary-Jane Rebick of Little Rock asked that the board hold a work session in the near future on issues related to home schooling.
Twenty years ago, in 1985-86, the number of Arkansas homeschooled children was 572. Ten years ago, the number had jumped to 5,755, and five years later it was up to 11,871. If the current number of home-schoolers comprised a public school district, that district would be among the state’s 10 largest systems, bigger last year than each of the North Little Rock, Conway or Fayetteville school districts.
Arkansas has a sparse population. If you really look at the facts in the above paragraph you will understand that homeschooling is not a fringe group. In this state, homeschooling makes up a group of children that would rival a very large school district (in the top 10 as far as population goes). Even so, when the test scores come in and are compared, the officials are forced to come up with fluff for the press to explain away the consistent underperformance of public school kids when tested against homeschool children. Even without the extra 2,000 children testing… an adequate sample has been obtained to show that there is no reason for concern for the children who are being educated outside of the public school system.
Every Arkansas county and every public school district reported some home school students. Pulaski County reported the largest number, 1,730. That was followed by Benton County with 1,403, and Washington County with 1,007. Within Pulaski County, there were 990 home school students living in the Pulaski County Special School District, 596 living in the Little Rock School District and 144 in the North Little Rock district.
The Education Alliance
414 S. Pulaski St.
Little Rock, AR 72201
Phone: (501) 978-5503
Visit Our Website!
I hope that if you read this article, you will see that sometimes what you read in the newspaper or see on CNN is not exactly truth. Dig deeper and listen to both sides. Hopefully the rise in homeschooling numbers indicates that there really is a large number of imaginative and ‘independent thinkers’ out there in the America who desire to educate their kids to think for themselves. Test scores can’t tell you everything, but they can give you a limited glimpse of the truth for comparison purposes. The problem is that some people don’t want to make comparisons because their accusations and assumptions are incorrect – and the test scores SHOW it.
Buzz Words: standardized testing, Arkansas, opinion, learning, students, homeschool, homeschooling, education, publishers, parenting, children, testing, teacher, academic, politics, test scores, evaluation, America, elementary, subjects, teaching, problems, public school, government, school, controversy, lawmakers