Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back in the homeschool classroom: Time for annual testing

It's almost that time of year again when homeschool families are preparing for mandated state testing of students in order to prove academic progress and allow home education to continue. Home Educators Association of  Virginia (HEAV) has lots of information to help parents through what can be an intimidating process. It doesn't have to be.

After 16 years educating my own children at home, I can say that the resources offered by HEAV are a great help in the process with answers to questions and a list of resources. Check out HEAV's informational webinar about the law and testing options called Know the Law: Notifying and Testing Demystified.

Yvonne Bunn, Director of Homeschool Support & Legislative Affairs at HEAV, has put together information of help to home educators.

What does the law require?
If you homeschool under the homeschool statute, §22.1-254.1, you must provide evidence of academic progress. The results of an evaluation or assessment should be sent to your division superintendent by August 1 each year. Parents may use
  1. Any nationally normed standardized achievement test, or
  2. An evaluation or assessment, including, but not limited to,
    1. An evaluation letter from a person licensed to teach in any state, or a letter from a person with a master's degree or higher in an academic discipline, or
    2. A report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance-learning program, or home education correspondence school.
The first testing option--a nationally normed standardized achievement test--is used by many parents. If your student takes a standardized achievement test, he must have a composite score in or above the fourth stanine or 23 percentile. A composite score is made up only of the mathematics and language arts components of the test. Students are not required to take other sections of the test.

While most parents use standardized achievement tests, there are several reasons parents may want to show evidence of achievement by other methods. For some, an evaluation letter will more accurately show progress. An achievement test score may not correctly reflect a student's progress. For others, such as a learning-disabled student, a score below the 23 percentile may show satisfactory progress. If a student is using a correspondence school, then a report card from the school is satisfactory. If a student is enrolled in a college or community college, or distance-learning program, a transcript will meet the evaluation requirement.
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Do kindergartners have to be tested?

Some kindergarten students will need to be tested and others will not. Age, not grade level, is the determining factor. Children who are NOT six by September 30 of the school year do NOT have to be tested. If a student is five years old on September 30 of the year he begins kindergarten, he will not have to be tested that year. However, if a student is six years old by September 30 of his kindergarten year, he will have to be tested. § 22.1-254.1 (C) states,
The [testing] requirements of subsection (C) shall not apply to children who are under the age of six as of September 30 of the school year.
Most homeschooling families will receive a form letter in the spring reminding them about testing. If your child is not six by September 30, the information in the form letter does not apply to your child.
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Are there other exceptions?
Yes. In general, homeschoolers must show evidence of progress if they have complied with §22.1-254.1 of the Virginia Code by filing a "Notice of Intent to Provide Home Instruction" or writing a letter to the school superintendent. However, evidence of progress is not required for the following:
  1. children who are under the age of six as of September 30 of the school year;
  2. students who are under the religious-exemption provision §22.1-254(B)(1);
  3. students being taught by a certified tutor §22.1-254 (A); or
  4. students who have graduated, regardless of age.
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What about portfolios?
The law describing evaluations and assessments does not mention a "portfolio." However, in describing evaluation options, the law says, "including but not limited to" an evaluation letter, a report card, or a transcript. Although a portfolio is not included, some superintendents may be willing to accept this form of assessment because of this carefully worded language. Parents who have submitted an unevaluated portfolio in the past may still be able to submit one directly to the superintendent because the language does not limit what can be submitted.

Also, a portfolio could be presented to a qualified evaluator who is licensed to teach or a person with a master's degree in an academic discipline. This person could review the portfolio and submit an evaluation letter to the superintendent to determine if the student is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress.     

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Do you have more questions about testing such as these:
  • How can I prepare my child for testing?
  • Can I administer the test myself?
  • Who decides which test I can use?
  • Do I have to have my test pre-approved?
  • Where can I get tests?
  • How much will testing cost?
  • How do I interpret the results?
You can find the answers to these and many other questions in HEAV's informative Testing FAQ.  

Testing Resources

If you're not sure what to expect or you're uncertain about how your child may score on a standardized achievement test, Achieving Peak Performance is a great resource. This practice test can help both you and your student be ready and confident on testing day!

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