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Homeschooling: Special Needs
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Documenting Your Child's Progress Over Time

By Faith E. Berens, MEd

HSLDA believes that homeschooling may be the best way to meet most special learning needs, and we are dedicated to assisting parents in this endeavor. We suggest that parents exercise responsible homeschooling by planning and evaluating each child’s progress. No matter how severe your child’s special needs or struggles with learning may be, it is extremely important to keep accurate records demonstrating not only how you, the parent-teacher, are meeting your child’s particular special needs, but also how your child is progressing. By documenting your child’s progress each year, you are taking one of our recommended steps in protecting your homeschool.

In this article, I will introduce some informal assessments, rubrics, and checklists, and describe how you can use these valuable tools to document your child’s progress throughout the year. Resources and handouts will be provided for you to use at home.

Ongoing assessment: Documenting your child’s growth throughout the year
Effective teachers follow this model of education: They assess and diagnose their student’s learning level, plan for instruction, guide and instruct, then evaluate. This cycle should continue throughout the year. Standardized tests, placement tests, and unit tests allow you to determine mastery of particular skills and show you where your child performs in relation to a larger sample group.

There are many different and meaningful ways to document your child’s progress over time. Ongoing assessment is important, and requires more than just an end-of-unit test or an annual standardized or achievement test. As parent-teachers, we need to have methods of evaluation in place in order for us to assess how our teaching is going, to track student growth, to help our children stay motivated, and to teach our children how to self-check / reflect on their progress.

Ongoing, performance-based assessment is necessary for parents who are instructing children with special learning challenges. Particularly if you are working with a struggling learner who is several levels behind in a subject, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of giving short assessments throughout the year to determine your child’s growth in the areas of difficulty. This way you can see if your method of teaching is working for your child, or if you need to find a new method before the whole year has passed.

Here is a suggested list of the many different kinds of informal assessment tools you may utilize in order to document your child’s progress:

  • Informal assessments
  • Skills and behavior checklists
  • Rubrics
  • Anecdotal notes/records (teacher observations)
  • Interviews (such as interest surveys, reading interviews)
  • Work samples and portfolios
  • Curriculum-based assessments (tests or quizzes, chapter reviews)
  • Parent/teacher-made assessments and tests (pre- and post-tests)

Informal assessments are quick checks that parent‑teachers can take either weekly or quarterly to document a child’s growth in a particular area over time. This allows you, the parent-teacher, to see if the child is retaining the information or skills and/or if your method of instruction or intervention is being effective. One example of this type of informal assessment is the Quick Word Recognition Inventory. It can be administered to your child in 15 minutes and is best if given quarterly to show your child’s growth in word recognition/decoding skills. It will also help you determine an appropriate grade-level placement for reading instruction.

Another easy, informal reading assessment that can be done weekly is a fluency rate on oral reading. For this, the child is asked to read aloud a passage of text for one minute (timed). After one minute, the child stops reading, then the parent-teacher calculates the number of words read and records the words correct per minute. If this is done weekly, the child can chart his fluency rate and hopefully watch it increase! This technique can be done using either a familiar passage or what is called a “cold read” on material that is new to the student. Note, this should be done on material that is at the student’s instructional level for reading, not independent (easy) or frustration level. Instructional level means the child can read the text with 90–94% accuracy.

Rubrics, or rating scales, are another great way to “grade” and document progress. A rubric is simply a scoring guide or scale based on a specific set of criteria for quality work. Rubrics allow us to interpret and assign a score, such as a one, two, or three, to our child’s work. A rubric should be explained to the child before he does the performance task, writing assignment, or project so that he understands the criteria on which he will be rated. After completing the assignment the child will use the rubric to rate himself and to make needed changes to his work before submitting it to be rated by his parent-teacher. Rubrics can be very powerful tools for motivating children to work toward a high-level performance and the child can even participate in developing the rubric.

Assessment kits HSLDA members may rent
HSLDA’s Special Needs / Struggling Learner Department has BRIGANCE assessment kits available for members to rent. Parents or professionals may administer these tests to determine what skills a child has or has not mastered. These tests are also helpful in determining goals and objectives, mapping out a plan of needed instruction for the year, and tracking growth/progress from one year to the next. These tests are also widely used in private and public schools for developing individual education plans. So they are a good fit for parents who are homeschooling children with special needs, as these tests can help you in writing your child’s Student Education Plan, should you choose to do so.

One homeschooling mom, Karyn, in Illinois, wrote to our department and shared:

I am so thankful to HSLDA for providing the BRIGANCE test to members. I thoroughly tested my three daughters. I was able to pinpoint where one daughter is having learning difficulties and identify weak areas with my other two girls. I wish I had tested them years ago!

For more information about these tests and how to rent them, please go to “Testing and Consultants for Struggling Learners” and “BRIGANCE Test Rental Procedures”.

We hope to expand your success in homeschooling your struggling learner. Using informal assessments will help you keep track of your child’s growth and progress, areas of strengths and weaknesses. It will also provide verification of your child’s homeschool education and document the educational experiences and coursework. This may be important for future, postsecondary endeavors. Requirements regarding what documentation of progress you must keep vary from state to state. Even if portfolios, standardized testing, and other documentation of progress are not mandatory, they are still very valuable tools. We strongly endorse using end‑of‑the‑year achievement tests for children, so you have a record of their progress from year to year, for your own information. Be sure to check with HSLDA’s website to see what documentation is required in your state.

If you have further questions about documenting progress, HSLDA members may contact one of the special needs / struggling learner consultants at

Recommended resources
BRIGANCE Inventory of Early Development (yellow‑birth through developmental age 7) and BRIGANCE Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills (green—pre-K through 9th grade), Curriculum Associates

Evaluating for Excellence: A Handbook for Evaluating Student Progress by Teresa M. Moon: Has a suggested scope and sequence by skill/content area and grade level, as well as sample reading checklists, student education plans, and much more.

Slow and Steady Get Me Ready: The How-to Book That Grows with Your Child by June R. Oberlander: Has developmental checklists and activities for children from birth to age 5.

35 Rubrics and Checklists to Assess Reading and Writing (Grades K–2) by Adele Fiderer

3-Minute Reading Assessments series by Timothy Rasinski and Nancy Padak

The Homeschooler’s Guide to Portfolios and Transcripts by Loretta Heuer

The New Language of Toys: Teaching Communication Skills to Children with Special Needs by Sue Schwartz: Has evaluation checklists and summary sheets, as well as activities.


This article originally appeared as the November 2009 edition of HSLDA’s Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter.

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