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Hello everyone. Welcome back to The Testing Psychologist. Our topic today is yet another topic in the surprisingly long list of things we have not talked about on the podcast before. We’re talking about assessment with homeschooled kids. If you work with kids, my guess is that you have run into a number of homeschooled [00:01:00] kids. At least in our practice, the evaluations with these kids usually have several nuances and unique factors that make me glad to be talking with my guest today.
Dr. Rebecca Wald got her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Iowa, writing her dissertation on the relationship between child disability and parents’ disciplinary choices. We did not talk about that, but I would have loved to. She spent the first part of her career doing clinical research and health psychology. And then in 2013, she started a private practice, Minds in Focus, which specializes in serving the assessment and intervention needs of homeschooling families and others outside the educational mainstream.
Our conversation today was fascinating and informative. I talked with Rebecca about the ins and outs of [00:02:00] assessing homeschooled kids. We talked about the huge variety of approaches to homeschooling and the problems that can come from that sometimes. We talked about outcomes for homeschooled kids. We talked about important interview questions to ask when you are evaluating homeschooled kids that are different from a typical traditional schooled kid and we talked about recommendations after the evaluation among many other things, of course.
We also mentioned, at the end, Rebecca’s work with the American Red Cross and remote, oh, sorry, not remote. I can’t think of the word right now, folks, but she travels to areas that are in crisis and provides psychological services. And she’s quite passionate about it. We have a link in the show notes to check that out if you are at all interested in doing something similar. So, a little bit of an aside from the rest of our conversation but [00:03:00] equally, if not more important.
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New cohorts are starting in January for intermediate, I don’t know why I started with intermediate, for beginner, intermediate, and advanced folks. So whatever stage of practice you’re at, there’s a group for you. You can get more information at thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting.
Okay. Let’s jump to my conversation with Dr. Rebecca Wald.[00:04:00] Hello, Rebecca. Welcome.
Dr. Rebecca: Hi, thanks for having me. I’m pretty excited.
Dr. Sharp: I am also excited. I’m always shocked at the number of times I say this, but this is true, I cannot believe that we are almost at 400 episodes, maybe even beyond by the time this goes out, and we have not talked about assessing homeschooled kids somehow on this podcast. And so I am really curious to get into this topic. I’m very grateful that you are here. So thank you once again.
I always start with this question of why this, of all the things that you could come on a podcast and talk about or care about and put energy into in your life, why are we diving into homeschooled kid assessment?[00:05:00] Dr. Rebecca: Sure. I used to have a more traditional psychology career, and then I started homeschooling my kids in 2010 and pretty quickly realized that there are a lot of ways that homeschooling families are culturally and educationally different, in a way that makes it hard for them to feel comfortable with mainstream professionals and in a way that…I think there are frequent misunderstandings or misinterpretations. And so that was when I left my academic job and started a private practice that is aimed at supporting the assessment and therapy needs of homeschoolers.
I have been doing that work for about 10 years now. I’ve seen a lot of homeschooling families and have [00:06:00] read enough reports about homeschooled children to know that this is an area where a lot of professionals could benefit from more context and more information.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, I think you’re exactly right. The way that you phrase, it almost makes it sound like a separate area of competence. I don’t know if it’s that formal necessarily, but it’s a unique population like you said. I’ve lived it and…
Dr. Rebecca: I’ve thought from time to time about developing an actual continuing education program, and in my head, that is called providing culturally competent services to homeschoolers. So, yeah, I do think that it’s a diverse subgroup, but it has some factors in common that make it a distinct population.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. I have a lot of [00:07:00] specific questions about working with homeschooled kids, and I know we’re going to get to it, but I think this is a great way to set the stage, that for most of us who’ve worked with kids, we know working with homeschooled kids is a little different. It’s a little different and there’s a lot to know.
I want to start off with, I guess you call it background information. I think this is just a way to maybe shed some light on what we’re even talking about when we talk about homeschooled kids. At this point, that you’re aware of, do we have any idea how many school-age kids are homeschooled? Maybe we do some statistics as much as we can.
Dr. Rebecca: Let me say before the pandemic in 2019, there were 2.5 million children being homeschooled in the United [00:08:00] States. It peaked in 2021 for obvious reasons but in this past school year, 2022 to 2023, 3.1 million kids were homeschooled, and that’s 6% of school-aged children. So homeschooling is more common than Catholic school just as an index comparison.
Dr. Sharp: That’s remarkable. It’s like one of those brain teaser problems that is meant to trick you. I feel like I would have said, Catholic school is way more popular and prevalent than homeschool. Maybe others would differ, but that’s interesting to me right off the bat. 6%, it’s a big chunk.
Dr. Rebecca: Probably most people have an image in their mind when they think about a homeschooling [00:09:00] family. And it is probably a white, rural, conservative Christian. That’s the stereotype that first tends to feature in a lot of people’s mental image.
In fact, only about 60% of homeschoolers are white. There are a lot of people in cities that are homeschooling. A lot of urban parents looking for, for example, a more Afrocentric curriculum or looking for a school environment where they feel like black children aren’t going to be singled out for discipline. And about half to two-thirds of homeschoolers say that they’re homeschooling for primarily religious reasons. That is something [00:10:00] that a lot of people are not aware of that there’s a very large secular homeschooling contingent.
Dr. Sharp: This is already so fascinating to me. You nailed the stereotype, at least for me, I’m sure there are others who have a more accurate sense but that is what I think about, and maybe that’s a consequence of just where I live, but do we know more about some of the demographic factors? I also maybe would add to that stereotype, that kids who are neurodivergent in some form or fashion, or exceedingly bright and parents don’t feel like school can meet their needs. There are any number of directions that we could take that.
Dr. Rebecca: Yeah. The Washington Post published some poll data where 30% [00:11:00] of homeschooling families said that the influencing factor was that their child had special educational needs. That is higher than I have seen in other surveys. My personal experience is that you do tend to see a lot more of the ends of the spectrum. So you see more kids with learning disabilities, more kids with attention issues, and more kids who are highly to extremely gifted.
There’s excellent opportunities for special education at a lot of schools but it’s also the case that public school education is designed to shoot right down the middle and to hit the needs of the average child. And so when you have a kid whose needs are not average, there’s more opportunities for the family to [00:12:00] be frustrated and think, we might be able to do this better on our own.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, to me, that dips into the motivation question. We talked about the religious influence that seems to be a big one. This idea that maybe parents can do it better in some form or fashion or meet their kids’ needs in a more appropriate way. Are there other major motivations to homeschool that would be worth mentioning?
Dr. Rebecca: One of the most common is a desire to let kids follow their own interests and pursue topics that are exciting to them. Letting kids proceed at their own pace. Especially on the liberal side of the homeschooling spectrum, there’s a lot of discomfort with standardized testing and a perception that public schools teach the test. [00:13:00] The concerns about the school environment, bullying, school shootings, safety, a lot of LGBTQ kids wind up homeschooled if they’re in a school or a district that is not accommodating to their needs.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, those are powerful factors. It wouldn’t necessarily be top of mind but it makes a lot of sense. Got you. I know there’s so much we could get into with the format of homeschooling so let’s do our best.
I know there’s so many things we could talk about, but I think that’s one thing that I’ve run into in practice is the huge variety of formatting with homeschooling. Before we even get into that, would you agree or disagree with the statement that [00:14:00] even using the term homeschool as a broad category is accurate or is it so diverse that we need to have even different descriptors or labels?
Dr. Rebecca: I think homeschooling is fine as an umbrella term, but there’s a lot more involved, like the kid and the parents sitting together at the kitchen table with a workbook. I can talk a little bit about some common features that you tend to see across homeschooling but one of them is that most homeschooled children are doing at least some group activities or classes.
And that might mean joining together with other kids for a formal educational setting, one or two days a week, and doing the rest of their work at school. [00:15:00] It might mean that they are involved in a lot of teams and clubs and extracurricular activities. It might increasingly, mean that some portion of their education is happening online either with group classes that have an online teacher and have live class meetings or, especially since the rise of COVID, there has been a flood of all-in-one online delivered curriculums.
Their selling point is typically that the parent doesn’t have to do anything. The quality is not particularly high but there are for-profit companies with large advertising budgets. And so [00:16:00] that is often the first thing that parents encounter.
So knowing a little bit about what is out there, and what kinds of possibilities and opportunities there are, can help psychologists guide homeschooling families to appropriate choices for their kids. Often people assume, if they don’t know much about homeschooling, they assume that homeschoolers are following the school curriculum but at home, and that is not true at all.
There are many different philosophies and styles. There are people who are doing their best to provide 19th-century style classical education with [00:17:00] Latin and poetry memorization and rhetoric and things like that. There are people who follow a very child-led model where their children get to explore their own interests and the parents are going to provide resources, books, and activities but they might not do hardly anything that looks like traditional schoolwork.
Dr. Sharp: Would that be something like unschooling? I’ve heard of unschooling.
Dr. Rebecca: Unschooling is a word that’s commonly used for that. I tend to call it child-led because I find that people have a lot of feelings about the word unschooling, which can make it more difficult for them to see a family clearly.
Dr. Sharp: Right. I get that. You mentioned COVID two times. Maybe we take a little detour as we’re talking about formats and just touch on how COVID may have [00:18:00] reshaped the homeschool landscape maybe even temporarily. I’m curious, what we saw as far as the rise in homeschooled kids and then has endured and is it different now? Anything that you might be able to comment on with COVID?
Dr. Rebecca: I would say that COVID changed homeschooling as well. I was just saying that homeschooling typically involves a lot of group activity and a lot of interactiveness. Homeschool co-ops are cooperative organizations where parents take trans teaching classes. A lot of those had to close for COVID. A lot of homeschoolers had the same [00:19:00] problems with isolation and stress of trying to combine all of your new responsibilities while cooped up at home.
Some homeschool organizations were damaged by COVID-19 and are just starting to bounce back, even though there was a flood of COVID homeschoolers. The other thing is with COVID, there’s maybe more of a stratification of people who were intentional homeschoolers before COVID and then newcomers that came in that were not easily assimilated into the community because communities weren’t meeting up, who might’ve been more likely to use like all of my computer systems and we’re not maybe not so much [00:20:00] intentional homeschoolers as forced homeschoolers.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, sure. Yeah. I was just thinking back to our family’s experience at the beginning of COVID and scrambling to put together some pods or little groups and…
Dr. Rebecca: Exactly.
Dr. Sharp: That’s a fascinating dynamic. I could easily see that playing out though, that the old school homeschoolers were like, wait a minute, we know what we’re doing here. Don’t come crash this party and bring all your chaos to this thing we’ve already gotten set up. I could see there being some interesting discussions around them.
Dr. Rebecca: Well, for example, it’s often the case that the longer people have homeschooled the less their homeschooling looks like a traditional classroom education. So when you had COVID homeschoolers who were maybe planning to do it for a year, there was much more anxiety about, I want to make sure that I’m teaching the things that they’re teaching in the classroom. I want to make [00:21:00] sure that my child is going to be used to learning in the way that they will be learning when they go back to school as opposed to, I am ready to reimagine the way that my child is being educated.
Dr. Sharp: Those are major philosophical differences.
Dr. Rebecca: Although a lot of people, once they started being at home with COVID, did start reimagining, hey, what if I could do this completely differently?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I think that ties us back into the format in a way. Is it possible to break down the… At this point in time, so here we are, fall of 2023, post-COVID for the most part, what are the main formats, I suppose, of homeschooling if you had to name, I don’t know, a top three, is that even possible? Most people fall [00:22:00] into these buckets or is it truly so diverse that we can’t even do that?
Dr. Rebecca: Yeah, I think that would be hard to do. There are like styles of homeschooling but I feel like if we start in on those, that might take up most of our time. Unschooling is one of them. A lot of people identify as literature-based homeschoolers where there’s a big focus on reading classic novels and looking for work in other subjects that’s going to be based on a living book, not a textbook but a book that was written by somebody interested in that topic.
Unit studies are often driven by children’s [00:23:00] interests. If you have a child who is obsessed with baseball, for example, you might find ways to… you might read biographies of baseball players and you might do math around baseball statistics and geography, mapping out where the various stadiums are in the United States and things like that.
I already mentioned classical homeschooling. I’m going to call that a 21st-century idealized view of what 19th-century education looked like.
Dr. Sharp: Well said.
Dr. Rebecca: That’s Latin logic, rhetoric memorization, that type of thing,
Dr. Sharp: I’m going to go immediately after our interview, look at Classic Homeschooling Tech Talk, and see what’s on there. I can only imagine what I might dig up. I know there’s a niche on tech talk for classic homeschooling.
Dr. Rebecca: There must be.
Dr. Sharp: Yes, [00:24:00] but there’s a few things that I think, I made a list of common educational trends that psychologists should be aware of among homeschooling. And I think that these are going to be class methods. You’re going to see some things that are common.
It is common for people to spread their child’s work across multiple grade levels. So a child might be doing 3rd-grade math, 2nd-grade reading, and 4th-grade history. It’s common also for kids to sort of be grouped at different ages. So, a family that has kids that are like 6, 8, and 10 might be studying the American Revolution with all three of them using simpler materials for the younger ones and having more complex assignments for the older ones.
It’s [00:25:00] very common across all types of homeschooling to do a lot of reading out loud. So this is one thing that can be a real strength when children with reading problems are homeschooled. We’re all familiar with, like, until 3rd grade, you’re learning to read, and after third grade, you’re reading to learn, right? That’s the saying.
But you’ll often have families that are reading long and complex works out loud to older children. And so those children tend to have large vocabularies, even if they can’t read. Or they’re able to take in higher level, say, social studies or science materials because those are being read aloud to them instead of being dependent on their reading level. So I will often say I read out loud to my children until the last book I read out loud to [00:26:00] my daughter was Pride and Prejudice. Even though she’s an excellent reader, we kept reading aloud much later in the educational process than normally happens. That’s a nice feature.
Homeschoolers tend, it’s very common to delay academics and to be mostly play-based with young children. So over the last 20 years, the age at which children are expected to read has gotten lower and lower, and in homeschooling families, much more common for people to say, I’m only going to be casually doing reading activities until my child is 6 or 7.
Common for reading instruction, like when it does happen, phonics-based curriculums are by far the most common homeschool curriculums. [00:27:00] So the whole reading wars and whole language stuff never happened in the homeschooling world. So that’s another thing that’s a benefit for kids with dyslexia. Is there going to get very sound phonics-based reading just as a matter, of course, from most programs that are out there?
Very common for families to do school formal schoolwork, which is, they usually say, do school? Families to do school for only two hours a day per child because when you’re not trying to wrangle 20 children or 25 or 30 children to all do the same thing, it takes a lot less time to get through schoolwork.
Dr. Sharp: Right. This is all great. [00:28:00] I like these trends. I think about the moving quickly or quicker through the curriculum. Does that apply for kids of all cognitive abilities in homeschool? It seems like it would be true to me across cognitive abilities, but I’m curious if we have any idea about that.
Dr. Rebecca: I think people are often going like, they’re going to work at the pace that makes sense for their child. It’s common for homeschoolers to teach to mastery. So, whereas in school, it might be we’re doing fractions for eight weeks and then we’re moving on to something else. In a homeschooling family, it would be much more likely that they would stay on fractions until their kid understood fractions which might be a shorter or longer time. But again, the targeted [00:29:00] one-on-one instruction is going to be more efficient for kids of any ability level.
Dr. Sharp: That makes sense. This so the stuff is so fascinating. My son right now is in accelerated math. He just started middle school. So he’s in 8th grade math and they’re doing algebra, which feels like a big leap and we’re wrestling with this homework because it feels like they maybe moved a little fast. He’s good at math, and he’s still like, I don’t understand what is being taught right now. I’m like, well, didn’t you learn this? And it’s like, yeah, but it was really fast. And so I’m just thinking, how nice that would be to just spend more time on the concept and go to mastery before pushing forward.
Dr. Rebecca: Sure. And now that my son has started high school and I am [00:30:00] in that position of helping a kid with homework instead of doing the teaching myself, it’s a real advantage to be the one that taught it. So you know what was taught and how.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, I bet.
Dr. Rebecca: And you’re going through it along with them, as opposed to looking at something that got sent home from school and saying, I don’t know how to do that.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Like, trying to reverse engineer the teaching method. Anyway, it’s that classic thing. This is not how we did it when I learned it.
Dr. Rebecca: Indeed.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. So what do we know about outcomes for homeschooled kids either social, emotional cognitive, or vocational? I want to hear about any outcomes that we know of for homeschooled kids.
Dr. Rebecca: Okay. The 1st thing that I’m going to tell you is, I think the research on outcomes is dicey. That is [00:31:00] because of selection bias. When you’re looking at standardized test scores for kids who are identified as homeschooled, their standardized test scores tend to be higher on average. However, not everybody gives their kids standardized tests when they’re homeschooled, and not everybody signs up for the research study that is being done to identify the educational outcomes of homeschoolers.
So I think you have some bias about people who are more academically focused or more people whose kids are more advanced, people who have a more rigorous approach to homeschooling being more likely to give the standardized test that tells us, oh, these children are doing well.
In my [00:32:00] practice, I have seen the full range of outcomes. But typically, homeschooled kids do not have difficulty getting into college, like the more difficulty than anybody else does. A lot of colleges are actively recruiting among homeschoolers. My friends who are college professors tell me that they see kids who are incredibly well prepared and kids who are sadly lacking in basic skills coming from homeschooled backgrounds.
Socially and emotionally, I think, probably the same thing. Research has typically not found that there are social or emotional delays among homeschoolers. But again, there’s that question of, do we have a truly representative sample. Probably not.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Well, and I would imagine the research is [00:33:00] hard to standardize as well, just because of what we talked about earlier with the diversity of programs and, you know, how do you, you know, how do you make conclusions without more consistency there?
Before we totally leave that topic, I meant to ask about just, I mean, do we have any sense of how many old-school homeschooled families are using curriculums that are “certified” or somehow tied to a verified curriculum, I’m sure I’m not using the right terminology, but hopefully, you can intuit what I’m getting at here versus a looser or more organic?
Dr. Rebecca: The idea of accredited curriculums, which might be what you’re thinking of, doesn’t typically have a lot of application in the home school world. So some [00:34:00] curriculums advertise themselves as being accredited, but that typically conveys no actual benefits. Most parents probably do some combining of materials from different sources.
Dr. Sharp: Got you.
Dr. Rebecca: So, maybe this company’s reading program, but then this other company’s math program like, so getting more of an eclectic approach.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I got you. We’re about to bridge into the actual practice and how we take all this into account as we’re assessing these kids, but there’s just some foreshadowing here I think with how challenging that makes our job as psychologists because we are so rooted in norms and standardization. Some of that is tied to curriculum and grade level. [00:35:00] There’s all kinds of factors here.
Dr. Rebecca: So hopefully the one thing that all the listeners who do testing have already figured out is you need to be asking about this stuff. You need to find out: What materials do you use? What does homeschooling look like at your house? What’s your philosophy? What’s your approach? And you need to collect some pretty detailed information about what is going on. What has this child been exposed to? Otherwise, your educational achievement information is going to make no sense.
Dr. Sharp: Of course. Are there other questions that we need to be aware of or specific things that you like to ask or insider info that we should ask that we may not think [00:36:00] of just off the top of our heads?
Dr. Rebecca: Sure. Here are questions that I think are important. First of all, if you’re going to assess homeschooled children, you need to understand the homeschooling laws in your state.
Some states, for example, require homeschooled kids to take a standardized test. When they do, there’s often quite a range of standardized tests that they’re allowed to take. Other states don’t have a testing requirement or don’t have a requirement that certain materials get taught. So, before you are deciding whether a family has done an adequate job according to the laws of your state, you need to know what the laws of your state are. You can easily find that by looking it up.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Is that a Department of Education kind of thing? Once we get on that, is that the Department of Education website?
Dr. Rebecca: There are no national standards. So it’s going to go by your state laws and you can just [00:37:00] type in Colorado homeschooling laws and you will find many summaries of great homeschooling laws.
I always ask about, what curriculum do you use? What does a typical day look like or a typical week look like for your homeschooling?
I’m familiar with a lot of materials because I’ve been doing this for a while, but you can ask a homeschooling family to bring them in. If they say, he’s not getting reading no matter how much we go through the reading books, you can say, Hey, bring in your reading book. Let me take a look at it. That’s sometimes very helpful information.
I like to look at also, how did you homeschool on the past? So if somebody comes in with their 3rd grader and they tell me, we’re using [00:38:00] Matthew C as our math curriculum. And I say, Oh, what else have you used for math? And they say, well, we’ve also used Singapore and then we tried Horizons and then we tried, all about math. If they’ve been hopping from program to program that lets you know right away that math is a big concern in this family and also that the child has probably gotten pretty choppy exposure to we’re going start 1st grade with one program and finish first grade with another program. There might be gaps where they left things out.
Dr. Sharp: Mm-Hmm. Would you generally say, I mean, is that a heuristic for kids struggling, is like bouncing from curriculum to curriculum?
Dr. Rebecca: That’s often true. Yeah. And if not, you can always you can say, wow, it looks like you’ve been through a lot of math programs. What was going on there? [00:39:00] You’re going to get some good information there.
One thing that I like to look for is, I said before, for most homeschooling families, they start out doing something very structured that looks a lot like school and then it becomes more loose or more reimagined over time. And that is common. But when I see a family that started out very structured and is now doing some version of unschooling or childhood schooling where they’re not putting any demands on the child, like overt demands, I want to know why not, and often because the child couldn’t handle sitting down and being taught a lesson.
That’s different from the parents saying, well, I found over time that I didn’t need to sit down and teach a math lesson because we were just [00:40:00] coming across so much math in our daily life as we were building projects and things like that. So the story of why changes were made is often really revealing.
Dr. Sharp: Right. I like that you highlight that. I mean, that’s always a theme with our evaluations, understanding the process or the why, but especially important in these cases where things may change and parents make decisions and we need to know what’s going on there.
Dr. Rebecca: Sure. Another distinction that I would make that is important to get at with your questions for a family. Intentional homeschoolers where the parents had a positive philosophy about why homeschooling is good compared to reactive homeschoolers where school did not work for the child. That’s a really [00:41:00] key difference that you need to under… If the child went to school before and then just started to homeschool, why, what was going on at school that made them decide to do something different?
A real benefit from working with homeschooled parents is that they have almost always closely observed their child’s learning and they’ve been right next to the child as the child is struggling to read something or struggling to solve math problems. And if you ask about that in a detailed enough way, they can provide this wealth of observational data that’s helpful.
So I will say questions like, what happens when Timmy is trying to read? Or what kind of mistakes are you seeing [00:42:00] that he makes with his math? Is he always not getting certain math facts, or does it seem like sometimes he knows them and sometimes he doesn’t? What are you noticing about how he understands the concepts versus where is he making mistakes in the details?
So a teacher with a classroom of 25 to 30 kids doesn’t have that very close observation of every single child. And parents usually do, and if you can convince them that you’re interested in the details, they can provide you with really good information that you can use to guide your assessment.
Another thing that is important to ask, especially for older kids, is when you’re starting to look at [00:43:00] teens who will maybe need accommodations outside the home. It’s really important to figure out what is the family already doing to accommodate the child. Often they don’t know. They’ll say, this is just our style of homeschooling, but when you ask about things, you’ll think, Oh, I don’t think this child would be doing as well if they didn’t have this accommodation.
For example, common not to have any like timed tasks in homeschooling, or you might have a teen who can’t handwrite at all and does all of their writing on a laptop, but the parent doesn’t think of that as an accommodation. It’s just how we do things we type. So you need to be able to account in the report for the chat. If you’re going to make an argument [00:44:00] that a child needs accommodations going on to high school or college, they’re going to say, well, why have they gotten this far without needing them? And in that case, you need to be able to say the parents were providing these accommodations.
Dr. Sharp: I could see that being an area of cognitive dissonance for parents and that they maybe do not want to acknowledge accommodations that they’ve been making, but it’s advantageous to have some documentation of the history of those accommodations, like you said, if they’re transitioning into public school or college or whatever it may be.
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All right, let’s get back to the podcast.
Dr. Rebecca: I haven’t had parents be resistant to acknowledge that they’re making accommodations. And that might be in part because I’m so enthusiastic about accommodations, so I have an approach of, it’s fantastic that you are able to give him the foundation that he needs to produce his best learning and let’s talk about the ways that you’re doing that because you’re great at that.
It’s going to be different from if the approach was, well, I bet you’re not making him do as much as they would make him do at [00:46:00] school. Are you? Sure.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, it’s all in the framing.
Dr. Rebecca: I don’t think anybody would actually say that.
Dr. Sharp: You never know.
Dr. Rebecca: You never know.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I like that. You highlight that. That’s one of those things that I could easily see flying under the radar for myself and for other practitioners to almost forget how parents are accommodating their kids at home. I mean, we do it all the time, like even just with our kids doing homework after they come home from school. It’s way different. It’s way different than most classroom environments. And it’s important to dig into that.
Dr. Rebecca: So one question that I’ll often ask, like could you give your child an assignment to do, and then you walk out of the room and do something else? Because a lot of kids do their work with their parent at their side and if the parent [00:47:00] laughs, it was like, I would never do that. That wouldn’t work. Then, that’s important information that we maybe didn’t appreciate before.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Yeah. There are so many questions I could see getting really deep into this because it’s like you have a captive audience, a teacher interview that could essentially go on forever with parents as teachers.
Dr. Rebecca: Yeah. That’s really helpful.
Dr. Sharp: Sure.
Dr. Rebecca: Sure. You have to know that that information is out there, and know to go looking for it.
Dr. Sharp: Right, which we will now listen, thanks to these thoughts.
Dr. Rebecca: There’s a point about homeschooling that I didn’t make earlier that I think speaks to this. One of the things that can make assessment challenging with a homeschooling family [00:48:00] is that when you’re dealing with homeschoolers, you are already dealing with somebody who doesn’t automatically believe that professionals know best. So these are families who decided I could teach my child as well as or better than a credentialed teacher.
And here you are a licensed psychologist coming in to say, well, actually, I know your child best and I know what your child needs. That may cause conflict. So one thing that’s very helpful about getting this detailed information from the parent is that then, in my feedback, I can link the things that I have noticed or identified to specific things the parent told me.
So when I’ll say, your child has real struggles with [00:49:00] working memory and this is what’s happening when you notice that he’s doing math problems and he’s left out a step, or he finishes reading a paragraph out loud and then he can’t tell you what the paragraph is about. So if you can link your judgments and conclusions to the parent’s judgments and conclusions, that is incredibly helpful in getting them to accept your expert opinion.
Dr. Sharp: That’s such a good point that also would have flown under my radar. I don’t know that I would intuitively come to that but it’s so true and I’m guessing you’ve seen this play out. This is not just a theory that it comes out in your work and seeing parents who are [00:50:00] less willing, like you said, to acquiesce to authority just because they’re supposedly an authority figure.
Dr. Rebecca: Sure. And that awareness of that cultural issue was one of the reasons that I came into this practice. I find that it helps a lot with the trust barrier when parents know that I also homeschooled my kids. Most of you are not going to be able to use that to establish rapport, but more important than that, I think, is being able to provide a persuasive case of here is how this diagnosis links to what you’re seeing.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. We should be doing that anyway, I feel like, but it seems extra important in this case to ally [00:51:00] with the parents. That’s great. I would love to talk about the testing itself and what considerations or differences may pop up when we’re working with homeschooled kids, either in the measures you select or the way that you interpret the scores or anything. That’s a pretty, pretty broad topic. I’ll let you take it where you wish.
Dr. Rebecca: I think my batteries probably look pretty similar to other people’s batteries. The way that I interpret things is probably different. I’m always interpreting educational test results in light of how the child is being educated. So if you have a family that brings in their 7-year-old for [00:52:00] testing and they’re a very play-based family and are not doing formal academics yet, it is not surprising that that child cannot read. And so, he’s got a really low score on the reading test, but this is why I’m not worried about that because you guys haven’t tried. You’re holding up on that.
One area that I consistently notice younger homeschoolers typically do much less writing than younger kids in public school. And so the quality of their writing is usually not great in the early grades. Again, I’m not that concerned with that because I know that most homeschoolers are allowing their kids to do a lot of oral work when they’re little. They don’t have… In a school setting, you need children to [00:53:00] produce written work so that you can evaluate how they’re doing but in a homeschool center, it’s a homeschool setting. You don’t need to do that. And so people may introduce writing later. And again, if that’s their philosophy, if that’s what they are doing, then I’m not concerned that it is evidence of a learning disorder if the child has lower writing scores.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. This point that you made first about the 7-year-old who may not have spent much time reading or the younger kid who hasn’t spent as much time writing, I think both get at the same question, which is, we wrestle with this with kids who are in traditional public school or whatever, private school is this question of when in consideration of a learning disorder diagnosis, [00:54:00] do you draw the line with what counts as intervention? And it seems like that could get even murkier in homeschooling. I’m curious about your thoughts on that, and that stipulation of diagnosing learning disorder has to be resistant to intervention and how you handle that with a homeschool.
Dr. Rebecca: So partly when I’m doing a diagnosis of a learning disability, I’m going to rely on, probably I’m going to put more weight on looking at basic skills that are for example, if I’m trying to diagnose a reading disorder and I don’t have perfect knowledge of how good the reading education has been, it’s going to be important to look at orthographical processing skills and phonological skills.
So I’m going to put maybe more [00:55:00] weight on the CTOPP because I’m looking for, do I see impairment in basic skills that even if the parent was trying harder with the reading lessons, would there still be difficulties because this child can’t distinguish the sounds in the word?
Parents have usually tried a few things before they come for an evaluation. Testing is expensive. So, if I see a parent that’s cycled through 3 or 4 different reading programs, that to me says they’ve been trying different curriculums and they’re not finding that any of them is particularly helping.
A lot of families have already tried tutoring by the time [00:56:00] that they come to see me, and that would be another example of intervention has happened here.
Dr. Sharp: That feels a lot more clear-cut to me if a family has tried tutoring. I guess where I get tripped up a little bit as before that point. So do different curriculums count as intervention or does it count as intervention simply because they are working one-on-one with their parent, basically, what counts as intervention and maybe I’m being too concrete about this, but it’s an interesting question that has come up in our practice a few times.
Dr. Rebecca: So, with a specific example of reading, there are several published homeschool curriculums that are based on Orton–Gillingham methods. And so in the same way that a child in school, if [00:57:00] they’re not learning in the regular classroom might go to like a reading recovery program, a child who is not picking up reading naturally at home might go to a very structured Orton–Gillingham reading program, like all about reading. And I would consider that to be equivalent to this child has gotten additional reading support.
Dr. Sharp: That’s great. Thank you for answering my very concrete question. I like a nice concrete answer. That makes sense to me, though. And the way you frame it. Yeah, of course, like, it depends on the curriculum, but if the curriculum is based in those same principles that might happen in tutoring, that should count.
Dr. Rebecca: Sure. Or for example, if a parent has tried traditional math instruction and then has tried moving to a lot of hands-on math with [00:58:00] manipulatives, then I would consider that an attempt to solve the problem that it is an intervention.
Dr. Sharp: Of course. Yeah, that makes sense to me as well.
I’m curious about a potentially difficult situation. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this come up, but I know that it’s come up in our practice a few times over the years where you essentially need to give the parent the feedback that their teaching or their curriculum or their methods or whatever are not effective, like their kid is not doing well and somehow you figured out it’s probably because the curriculum is not working or maybe the structure isn’t working, maybe they’re more of like a looser homeschool and the kid needs a little more structure. I’m curious how you handle this difficult [ 00:59:00 ] feedback or potentially difficult feedback moments where you have to tell the parent, maybe you should do something different or maybe this isn’t the best fit for this kid. How do you handle those?
Dr. Rebecca: I feel like I am almost always telling parents, you need to keep the job differently. To me, that’s not difficult feedback because they’re coming to me for a consultation on how can I be doing this better and the way that I’ll approach that is to say, you guys have tried a lot of things, and you’re pretty frustrated, and your kid is pretty frustrated. Your kid needs certain conditions to be met to be able to learn, and that is why you’re having this frustration.
So for [01:00:00] example, it’s very common for unschooling families to hear stories from other parents that say, you don’t have to teach reading because every kid in a little, in a print-rich society, every kid’s going to learn to read. My child didn’t read until he was 10 years old, and then he picked up Harry Potter and read the whole thing. Like, this is a whole anecdote for parents here.
And so, if I have that family come into me, and I am diagnosing their child with dyslexia, then I’ll say, it is true that typically developing children do start reading on their own, but the way that your child’s brain works, that is not going to happen for them. They need to be taught reading in a very specific way. And so, now that you know that, here’s what I’m going to [01:01:00] recommend that you do.
Dr. Sharp: I like that. It’s well phrased. Something that I’ve noticed through our conversation is, I feel like I keep trying to frame these situations as challenging or negative and you come right back and you’re like, no, this is an opportunity to help this family. I really appreciate that. It’s a nice little set-shift for how to take a different perspective. So thank you for that.
I wonder about… Yes, I was going to go more toward recommendations, but if there’s more to talk about with the assessment process, then we could certainly tie that up before we move.
Dr. Rebecca: There is one thing that I have seen a surprising number of times in reports [01:02:00] from other providers or in advice that’s being given to people who are testing homeschoolers. And that is the question of the teacher forms of questionnaires.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, great specific question to answer. Thank you. Yes. What do we do?
Dr. Rebecca: So, first of all, I want to clarify that you should never be giving the homeschooling parent the teacher version of a form just because they’re their child’s teacher. That happens sometimes. It doesn’t make sense because even in the midst of free algebra, the homeschooling parent is still mom or dad, they’re not Mr. Smith.
Most homeschooled kids have at least some learning environment outside the home, which could be a Co-op, it could [01:03:00] be a music lesson, it could be a tutor. I don’t give them the teacher forms of questionnaires either, because I feel that the assumptions of teacher forms are based on a pretty standardized classroom environment. It doesn’t normally apply. A homeschool co-op class might be 6 teenagers sitting in a circle on a rug arguing about literature, right? So it’s not the same thing with structured assignments and grades and expectations.
I do find that these outside teachers are usually willing to talk to me and we can have a 15-minute conversation that gives me a lot of data. And I always pick that conversation over using a teacher for him.[01:04:00] Dr. Sharp: Good advice. I will absolutely remember that and take it to our team. And it just makes sense. But it’s one of those little things that we could use. It’s easy to get tripped up like, well, the parent is the teacher technically, but that’s a nice clarity.
Dr. Rebecca: When your child was a toddler and you were teaching their colors, they probably learned their colors before they went to school, but you didn’t morph into it a preschool teacher and sit down and do a lesson plan for color identification.
Dr. Sharp: Right. That’s a great example. Very cool.
Well, let’s talk about recommendations a bit; how those may look different for homeschooled kids, or maybe not.
Dr. Rebecca: The recommendations give a lot of opportunity for [01:05:00] for creativity here, because you get to design the perfect school environment for this child in a way that normally we can never do, right?
So normally you’re constrained by what is possible and your 7-year-old with ADHD in a large public school 2nd-grade classroom is going to have to fall within standards of behavior that are specific to the needs of that environment that you can just throw out the window at home.
So, it’s really common for people to tell me, oh, he does great at learning about history because I’m reading the chapter of this history book out loud and he’s jumping on his trampoline. And that’s something [01:06:00] that you could never have. So that’s really great. If you can just start from 1st principles, what would I want for this kid?
The homeschool parent is probably dedicated enough and is unconstrained enough by the environment to be able to provide that thing. So that part is really enjoyable. The one-on-one attention is really enjoyable. So, accommodations that I will often recommend
In homeschooling, like I alluded to before, it’s possible to decouple content learning from basic skills. So, all of a child’s science and history and art and music and geography and whatever they are learning can be done in a way that is not reliant on [01:07:00] reading skills or writing skills. You can have a very oral hands-on exploration of these other subjects, you can have long discussions about topics, and that’s a real gift to kids who otherwise would be having to zero in on improving their basic reading skills.
And so what I’ll tell parents of kids with a severe reading problem is, when you’re working on reading, work really hard on reading. When you’re working on something else like history, take reading out of the equation and just focus on concepts and ideas.
Dr. Sharp: I see what you mean. That’s a great example and hard to do in a traditional school. I was really thinking through that.
Dr. Rebecca: Yeah. Or another thing, it’s very common, I’ll often tell parents that it is fine for [01:08:00] them to scribe for their child, and write down their answers until they’re old enough to type. If you have a child who’s struggling with dysgraphia, you know, you can have them dictate their answers.
Dr. Sharp: This is great.
Dr. Rebecca: Yeah, one thing there is, I’ve made a couple of jokes about people with a 19th-century teaching style. One of the things that I recommend all the time for kids with reading and writing problems is a 19th-century technique that has pretty much vanished. It’s called copy. So you put one well-written sentence in front of the child and have them copy that out. And you use that one sentence, then you can talk about points like the sentence starts with a capital letter. Did you notice that?
So that’s an opportunity for kids [01:09:00] to get their eyes on correct examples of English. It’s an opportunity for them to practice their handwriting without also having to generate ideas. And it’s a way to teach usage and mechanics in a way that’s very concrete and focused. So that’s something I commonly recommend.
Dr. Sharp: That’s great. What about the question? I assume you’ve had to have this conversation. I’m curious how it goes. If you have made the determination that a kid would be better off in traditional school, how… Well, have you had that conversation? And if so, how do you approach it?
Dr. Rebecca: I have a few times had kids that I thought needed to be in public school or a specialized private school for learning disabilities. Typically, [01:10:00] when I approach that, I’ll talk with the parents about this is the kind of intensity of intervention that I think your child needs. And for your child to be academically successful and meet the goals that you have for her, this is what you would need to be able to provide.
And I’ll just say, so you’re going to want to take some time and do some real thinking about, are you set up to provide this kind of intensive intervention at home? Is this something, practically speaking, that you have the time and resources for? Or possibly I’m going to say, given how much you guys are fighting about schoolwork and the strain it’s putting on your relationship, I want you to [00:11:00] consider whether this is something that is the best for your family.
Dr. Sharp: Right.
Dr. Rebecca: My preference is to spell it out like that. This is what your child needs. It would be a pretty tall order sometimes for you to do that at home, but you could, but you couldn’t do it at home. Do you think that’s realistic? Is that something that you would do? Because if it is, I can provide you with resources. I can make specific suggestions.
But often at that point, the parent will be like, yeah, if that’s what he needs, then I can do that. And then, we’ll be talking about some of the specialized private schools in our area, or we’ll be talking about what public school you zone for. Well, let me tell you what I know [01:12:00] about that school.
Several times I’ve seen in reports a recommendation that a homeschooled child go to a public school that is not supported by data. And it will be the psychologist’s opinion. For example, I recently saw in a report, “Because this child sometimes struggles with social issues, he should go to public school.” And that’s not a compelling argument to most families.
In a report, “Homeschooled children have role confusion where they can’t tell when their parent is being their parent and when their parent is being the teacher. So, it will solve your parent-child relationship issues to [01:13:00] send your child to school.”
I feel like if you’re going to include a recommendation like that, the parent is going to lose their faith in all of your other recommendations as well. So if you’re going to recommend school, you need to be prepared to spell out, like, this is the precise reason why I think these supports could not be provided at home, could not be provided by a tutor that you hire.
Dr. Sharp: In your mind, are there specific situations that would automatically qualify kids to move to a traditional school, or if not, can you give us some examples of data that maybe would support that recommendation?
Dr. Rebecca: So there are certainly family situations where I don’t [01:14:00] think the parent is capable of the sustained focus in education. So for example, if I have a parent who is mostly using an online program or trying to get their child to work independently in workbooks because the parent is maybe working full time from home, then I’ll be pretty clear that that is not going to work. Your child is not going to learn that way.
Or I’ve seen sometimes parents who have good intentions and a really good relationship with the child. The parent also has flavor and ADHD. And I will say, it sounds like you have really good intentions and then it’s just really hard for you to get school done. And with your child’s specific learning needs, [01:15:00] they need to be very consistent with sitting down and doing school work in a way that I’m not sure fits with your strengths and abilities.
Dr. Sharp: Sure.
Dr. Rebecca: There are no specific diagnoses where I would say this can’t be managed at home.
Dr. Sharp: I could see that. There’s such a continuum for a lot of our diagnoses and there are so many factors to take into account. I imagine it’s hard to make a hard and fast rule with any of those. It’s a potentially complicated or fraught conversation, but also an opportunity.
Dr. Rebecca: So you will see sometimes I have seen sometimes cases where a [01:16:00] child has some real emotional regulation, behavioral, social impairments. And the parents have dealt with that by removing all demands in those areas.
For example, maybe an autistic teenager, not previously identified as an autistic teenager, who is doing an unschooling type of thing and spending most of their time in their room playing video games, that’s certainly something that I’ve run into directly.
In that case, we have a conversation about, you saw when your child was at school, how stressed out he was all the time, and how hard it was for him to manage these [01:17:00] things. And you took care of that stress by taking that need so he didn’t have to be in that every day. But now we need to think about how is he going to develop his ability to function. How is he going to develop the skills that he needs because he can’t stay in his room playing video games forever?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, I like that. I like these specific words. Always helpful.
Dr. Rebecca: Yeah.
Dr. Sharp: Well, I feel like we have, gosh, I mean, we’ve talked about a lot of different things and there’s so many of these little areas that it was hard to resist the urge to go deep on some of these topics, but I appreciate you coming and at least doing an [01:18:00] overview of working with homeschool kids. I’ve learned a lot. I’m going to be thinking about this and passing a lot of this info to our team. Thanks. I’m grateful just to be able to chat with you for a little while.
Dr. Rebecca: This has been really fun. I have enjoyed this conversation a lot.
Dr. Sharp: Thanks again for sharing all of this, Rebecca. If people want to learn more about this topic of assessing homeschool kids, what’s the best way to get in touch with you and how can they reach out?
Dr. Rebecca: So I’d be delighted to make contact with some of the listeners and my contact information, I think you’re putting it in the show notes and my website is mindsinfocus.net.
Dr. Sharp: Awesome. Yes, those will absolutely be in the show notes.
I want to make sure you have this sort of unique other way that you spend your time. And I want to at least hear a little bit about that.
Dr. Rebecca: Sure. I just [01:19:00] got back from a two-week deployment with the American Red Cross as a disaster mental health specialist. So I was just on the island of Maui for two weeks, providing psychological first aid and crisis services to survivors of the wildfires there.
This is a fantastic opportunity for psychologists who normally spend their time buried in data and doing really precision testing work to get out and meet some of the most critical needs of the community, practice in a completely different setting, and not have any report writing at all. So I encourage people. If you’re interested in this, contact your local Red Cross chapter and ask about disaster mental health. I do one deployment a year. And I find it incredibly rewarding.
Dr. Sharp: I love that. Well, and your [01:20:00] marketing is spot on. Write zero reports. That’s pretty good. No, this is so important. And who knows? Maybe we have an episode down the road where I could chat with you about your work in that context or someone else, but that’s a cool way to use our skills in a little bit different way that’s super helpful to the folks who need it.
Well, thank you again. This has been delightful. I hope that our paths cross again soon.
Dr. Rebecca: So do I. Thanks, Jeremy.
Dr. Sharp: All right, y’all. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes, so make sure to check those out.
If you like what you hear on the podcast, I would be so grateful if you left a review on iTunes or Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts.[01:21:00] And if you’re a practice owner or aspiring practice owner, I’d invite you to check out The Testing Psychologist mastermind groups. I have mastermind groups at every stage of practice development: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. We have homework, we have accountability, we have support, we have resources. These groups are amazing. We do a lot of work and a lot of connecting. If that sounds interesting to you, you can check out the details at thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting. You can sign up for a pre-group phone call and we will chat and figure out if a group could be a good fit for you.
Thanks so much.
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