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FAQs on Evaluations

copyright 1998 by Wendy Bush
permission to distribute permitted if this credit is included

The PA homeschool law adopted in 1988 contains several paragraphs referring to the evaluator and her qualifications. However, the wording is awkward at times and requires a careful reading. Also, we need to read the law as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does say. As long as something is not specifically prohibited, it should be allowed. As long as something is not specifically required, it should be optional. All laws should be interpreted in favor of the rights of the individual, not in favor of the state.

Another caution: Be careful that you don’t read the law with a classroom mindset. Don’t necessarily attach a traditional classroom slant to the conditions set forth. Remember, homeschooling is not mass education. Rather, it is highly individualized and flexible. And when the law gives us academic freedom to make decisions about our children’s education, we need to use it.

Once you know the legally-prescribed role of the evaluator, you can be a better comparison shopper. Questions to ask a potential evaluator are: How do you conduct an evaluation? What do you expect of the family? What do you see as your role? Do you make any requirements beyond those set by the law? How do you interact with the children? What kind of evaluation letter do you write?

With these answers, you can make an informed decision about whose services you’d like to engage. Here are some frequently asked questions to help you in your decision-making.

May I evaluate my own children?
The law specifically prohibits the evaluator from being “the supervisor or their spouse”. However, if you possess a PA teaching certificate, you can conduct your child’s education program under the tutoring option of the PA School Code, which would exempt you from the requirements of the homeschool law.

Does that mean that even my parents or my sister can evaluate my kids if they meet the qualifications?
That’s right. Any qualified person may, except you and your spouse.

Does my evaluator have to be a PA certified teacher?
No. The law gives other options. A person who has taught a qualifying subject in a PA non-public school for two of the previous ten years may evaluate. They need no other credentials beyond this teaching experience (for example, state certification, a college degree, etc.) Non-public schools are not required to hire state certified teachers (that’s part of what’s meant by being ‘non-public’), so it is very likely that a non-public school teacher is not PA state certified.
Also, licensed clinical or school psychologists can evaluate, as well as persons with “other qualifications” with the prior consent of your school district superintendent.

Does my evaluator have to be currently teaching?
No, they just need the required teaching experience.

What is the required teaching experience?
Teachers must have at least two years of experience teaching a qualifying subject on the elementary level to evaluate elementary students and two years experience teaching secondary students to evaluate secondary students. These two years can be at any time and in any teaching setting if the person is PA certified. They must be in the preceding ten years and in a PA public or nonpublic school for the nonpublic school teacher. No teaching experience is required of licensed clinical or school psychologists, who, by the way, may be licensed or certified in any state.

What are the elementary and secondary grades?
The homeschool law defines elementary as grades kindergarten to six and secondary as grades seven to twelve.

What are the qualifying subjects?
For elementary grades, the law lists “English, to include spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; and civics.”
For secondary, it lists “English, to include language, literature, speech, reading and composition; science, to include biology, chemistry and physics; geography; social studies, to include economics, civics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; foreign language; and mathematics, to include general mathematics, algebra, trigonometry, calculus and geometry.”
Both these lists essentially contain the core subjects of English, math, science and social studies, with secondary also including foreign language.

Does a teaching certificate from another state qualify?
Unfortunately, our law does not recognize out-of-state teaching certificates. If you know someone with such certification, you can ask your district to approve them as someone with “other qualifications”.

How do I do this?
The law gives no procedure, but it would be best to make the request in writing stating the person’s qualifications, and requesting a response in writing. That way, you have their approval on paper. However, your district may say ‘no’ if they so decide. Of course, you may pursue the matter, depending on how strongly you feel about it.
Don’t wait until evaluation time to get this prior approval…if they say ‘no’, you’ll be left to find an evaluator at the last minute.

So the teaching experience doesn’t have to have been in a public school if the teacher is PA certified?
That’s right. Regarding PA certified teachers, the law does not specify where the teaching experience occurred, just how long and in what subjects. This means that a homeschool mom who is PA certified–but taught a non-qualifying subject in school, or has no classroom teaching experience–can begin to evaluate once she has homeschooled her own children for two years.
The same is true for homeschool moms who have privately tutored their own children for two years. It could also be applied to some other teaching settings as long as a qualifying subject is taught for two years.

Does this teaching experience have to have been full-time?
The law does not make this requirement. Therefore, for example, a part-time teacher in a non-public school would fulfill the law’s requirements.

When must the evaluation be conducted?
The law states that portfolios are due to the school district by the end of the school year, which is defined in the PA School Code as June 30th. Since the evaluation is part of the portfolio, it, too, must be submitted by June 30th.
The other time-related issue involves the evaluator’s statement that the required number of days or hours have been met. Some evaluators meet with families before they have completed their required days or hours, as early as in February and March. One such evaluator who does evaluations in all parts of the state assured me that no family she has evaluated has ever been questioned about this practice. She said it would be impossible for her to evaluate all the students she does if she had to wait until families had completed the necessary days or hours.
Other evaluators have adopted this practice as well. It is between you and your evaluator to decide how to handle this aspect of the law.

What is supposed to happen during the evaluation?
The law requires the evaluator to ascertain whether or not ‘appropriate education’ has occurred. Appropriate education is defined as “a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program.”
This term, appropriate education, is used throughout the law as the criterion for determining if the home education program is in compliance with the law. The simple three-point definition is all that an evaluator or a district superintendent is authorized to use in rendering a decision.
The law also says that “the evaluation shall also be based on an interview of the child and a review of the portfolio required in clause (1) and shall certify whether or not an appropriate education is occurring.”
So, based on a review of the portfolio (samples, log, required test results in grades 3, 5, and 8) and interview the child, the evaluator is to verify that appropriate education has occurred.

What format must the evaluation letter take?
No specific format is required by the law. The letter need only say that based upon a review of the portfolio and an interview of the child, appropriate education has occurred. Long reports noting many specifics, as well as the evaluator’s comments or recommendations regarding the child or her education program are not required.

Does my evaluator have to know me personally in order to evaluate me?
Not at all. Does your dentist need to know you personally to examine your children’s teeth? The review of the portfolio and interview of the child are all the information she needs in order to verify that appropriate education has occurred.

Does she have to have taught the same grade that my child is in?
No. The law obviously didn’t expect the evaluator to be an expert on what children typically learn in all grade levels, since a retired kindergarten teacher may evaluate a sixth grader, and a seventh grade reading instructor may evaluate a twelfth grader taking advance college prep courses. And, of course, most licensed clinical psychologists probably have never taught in elementary or secondary schools at all.

The person I’d like to evaluate my children tells me she doesn’t feel qualified to review their learning to verify if we did a good job.
What should I tell her?

You should give her a highlighted copy of the homeschool law so she can read for herself the very limited scope that the evaluation is supposed to have.
If she can see based on your documentation and interview of your children that they: (1) were instructed in the required subjects, (2) for the required time, and (3) have sustained progress in the overall program, then she can write the evaluation letter. No more and no less than that is expected of her.
The evaluation does not involve a high level of specialized knowledge or experience. Actually, the skills required to review a portfolio are possessed by most literate 12-year olds.

Does the evaluation have to be in person?
The law doesn’t prescribe an in-person meeting, just a review of the portfolio and an interview of the child. The portfolio can be mailed to the evaluator, and the interview conducted by phone.

Can my evaluator tell me what curriculum to use, how to keep my log, how many pages must be in my portfolio, etc.?
No, she is not authorized to prescribe any aspect of your homeschool. She simply verifies that appropriate education occurred.

Can she require me to sign a contract promising to do various things, such as see that my children are engaged in socialization outside the home regularly?
She can require that you do so as a condition of her evaluating your children, but she has no legal authority to do so.

You mean the extra things my evaluator requires of me are not authorized by the homeschool law?
That’s right. They are just things she thinks the law requires, or personally feels she must require. It’s up to you, as an informed parent and consumer, to decide if you’ll agree to any unauthorized requirements.

What if I’m not happy with my evaluation or my evaluator?
You can discuss the evaluation with her to see if she is open to any changes you might recommend. If not, you can try to find another person to do the evaluation. If all else fails, you can switch to a new evaluator next year. Don’t feel embarrassed to make a change…each year, many families–for a variety of reasons–choose a new evaluator.

When should I select an evaluator?
As early in the school year as possible, since many evaluators limit the number of children they see. Plus, this gives you more time to find one you feel comfortable with.

What else can an evaluator do for me?
Besides writing the evaluation, some evaluators serve as ‘consultants’: helping families with curriculum planning, setting up recordkeeping, writing objectives, problem solving, suggesting resources, etc. This makes the evaluator’s fee a real bargain.
Some provide testing services. They can also provide recommendation letters for employment, college, military, etc.

What does an evaluation cost?
Some evaluators are able to offer their services for free as a ministry. Others, often homeschool moms needing to supplement their family income, charge anywhere from $15 to $30. Those who make their living from providing homeschool services usually charge more, as much as $50 and up. Many evaluators give a discount for more than one child in a family.

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