Apparently, Pennsylvania is known for having tough homeschool laws. Supposedly there's a lot of paperwork involved. As a former public school teacher, I can assure the rest of the homeschool mom's out there that, in retrospect, what we have to do as homeschool teachers is nothing in comparison. Sure, as a homeschool mom, I can understand not wanting to have to do one more thing for the state. I get that. But it really is not as time consuming or difficult that some homeschool parents are making it out to be. In my experience as a homeschool evaluator, I find most parents doing MORE than what they need to do. So I'm going to try to put it all here in a nutshell. What do we really need to do in Pennsylvania?
If you want to read the actual law, Session of 1988 Act 1988-169, there are many sources online that provide this. The link above is one from CHAP (Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania).
But what does this really mean?
You must fill out a notarized Affidavit and hand this in to the local school district before beginning to homeschool your child either at the compulsory attendance age of 8 (or the school year in which he or she will be turning 8) or before pulling them out of the public school if he or she has already started or been registered for attendance there, regardless of age or grade. An affidavit will include the names of your children (that are to be homeschooled), the name of the supervisor of the homeschool program (this is usually the mother though I recently saw that CHAP actually recommends the father),address and telephone number of the home education site, and a statement that no one in the house has been convicted of a felony and that the homeschooling parent has a high school diploma. The affidavit should also include a statement that the students listed have received the health and medical services required by the Public School Code (dental exams upon entry into school and in 3rd and 7th grades and medical exams upon entry into school and in sixth and eleventh grades as well as immunizations OR an exemption due to religious beliefs or medical reasons). The affidavit must be legally notarized.
Along with the affidavit, the supervisor must hand in a listing of proposed objectives. This does NOT need to be difficult! As a former teacher, I struggled with this one. I really wanted to give very long, drawn out, detailed objectives. It's not necessary. Your list of proposed objectives is really a set of goals. List each subject you plan on covering through the year (Note the word "PLAN" here: It is okay to change your plans. You are not required to fullfill the exact objectives you hand in. It is just that. A PLAN.). For each subject that you list, write about 3 vague or specific obejectives. For example, if you are covering 3rd Grade Math, the objectives may be: - to introduce multiplication and division facts, - to use math skills in everyday situations as in grocery and Christmas shopping, - to continue improvement of math skills on a 3rd grade level. See? Very easy! If you are wondering about a subject and what to write for objectives, let me know. I'd be glad to help!
This is all for the beginning, UNLESS your child has been formally identified throught the school district as having special needs. In this case you must submit objectives that have already been approved by a "licensed clinical or certified psychologiset or a teacher with a valid certificate from the Commonwealth to teach special education". In other words, find an evaluator ahead of time that can approve your objectives ahead of time. (More on evaluators later.)
During The School Year:
Teach. Duh, of course, right?! 🙂 (But don't teach your kids to say duh....just a little humor...hope you're smiling)
You are obligated by law to provide instruction in the required subjects for 180 school days or 900 hours if your child is in elementary grades, 990 if he or she is in secondary grades. Most people use a list to show days rather than hours but this is entirely up to you. Keep the list of days in calendar form or in some other form of logging style to show your evaluator and put into your portfolio for the end of the year (see below for more information on portfolios and evaluators). The 180 school days is no more than the public school child.
Standardized testing is required just as it is for the public school children but, thankfully, only in grades 3, 5 and 8! So during the course of the year, you will need to find a resource that allows your child to take a standardized test that is one of the approved tests and include the results of this test in your portfolio at the end of the 3rd, 5th and 8th grade years. The approved tests at this time are: California Achievement Test, Comprehensive Testing Program (CTPIV), Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Metropolitan Achievement Test, Peabody Achievement Individual Test --Revised Edition, Standford Achievement Test, Terra Nova, and the Woodcock Johnson Revised Tests of Achievement. Some homeschool co-ops offer one of these tests on a yearly basis to their homeschool group. One of these tests is actually available online. Most require another adult to be present during the testing time other than the homeschool parent/supervisor. You will need to do your research in advance. Do NOT wait until the end of the year as you need the results to give to your evaluator and to put in the portfolio.
Keep a portfolio. The portfolio is NOT that big of a deal. But do yourself a favor. Decide at the beginning of the year how you are going to set up your portfolio and start saving and organizing the samples to put in it through the course of the year instead of being an overwhelmed homeschool mom at the end of the year who isn't sure what to do with all these stacks of paper! My suggestions is just purchase a 3 ring binder... no bigger than one inch! Put dividers in the portfolio for all of your subjects you are covering. Now as the year goes on, every month, put in one sample of each subject behind the divider for it. At the end of the year, you will have enough samples in your portfolio! Easy peasy!
Keep a Log. This is probably the most contraversial piece of material in the PA law because there are soooooo many interpretations as to what this log is, besides a list of reading materials. There must be a list of reading materials. There is no doubt about that. So keep track of those books your child is reading. HSLDA provides a thorough explanation of interpretations of this part of the law on their site. Their recommendation is keeping a calendar form and marking the materials you use each day in a type of code. I will confess, most people do not use this method. Usually, people hand in a simple reading log within the portfolio that lists all reading materials for the year and often includes curriculum used as well. This seems to satisfy the majority of school districts. In addition to the reading list, they have a type of calendar form or number list showing the 180 days that have been covered in the year. It is preferred by most evaluators that this list does show the actual dates of school and not just the numbers 1-180.
The End of the Year:
Before handing your portfolio in to your school district, your child must be evaluated by a qualified evaluator. Most evaluators are certified teachers but some are psychologists while others are homeschool parents who have taught at all levels. The certified teachers and psychologists are automatically qualified (as long as they have experience testing at the level your child has completed),but those not having certification must be pre-approved by the school district. Most homeschool co-ops are able to porvide you with lists of evaluators in your area but there are websites that also provide this information:
Be sure to ask the person you call what their qualifications are. Some are only qualified for particular grade levels (elementary vs. secondary) while others are qualified for all grade levels as well as special education. Ask their price for the evaluation. There can be a great variation with this price. Some, but not many, will come to your home or meet you somewhere. Some automatically do a long extensive write up for the district that is required by homeschool accredidation agencies (which are not necessary to join) while others hand in a simple form that meets the expectations of the law without providing more than necessary to the school districts. This may affect the price as well. Also, be sure to make your appointment in advance! Do NOT wait until the end of the school year to make an appointment! Many of these evaluators already have an extensive client list and book up fast for evaluations. Others may not evaluate past a particular date. So please, contact them early. It is not unheard of to at least contact an evaluator early in the year to find out when to call them to make the appointment. Also, by contacting an evaluator early, they should be more able to help guide you in preparing the portfolio and knowing what to expect during the evaluation and possibly answer any other questions you might have about the process or homeschooling in general.
Once you have the evaluation, you will be ready to hand in your portfolio. Your evaluator will probably all ready make sure it contains all that it needs to contain:
- 180 day log
- samples of each subject covered (there should be about three samples from the beginning, middle and end of the school year for each subject, totalling approximately 9 samples for each subject) Samples may be workbook pages, tests, essays, book reports, pictures of events, activity, art exhibit, etc., or artwork. Unschoolers often use lots of photos in their portfolio with captions to explain the subject being covered.
- Test results if it is a year of required testing
- Evidence of Fire Safety being covered (Fire saftey is the ONE subject that MUST be covered EVERY year)
- A copy of your signed evaluation form given to you by the evaluator
That's it! Just walk into your district office and hand it in, always obtaining a written receipt that states you have handed in the portfolio with the above pieces included (I always type up my own form, listing everything that's in the portfolio as in the list above and just have the secretary or who I hand the portfolio to sign my receipt).
I usually advise to my evaluation clients that this is the perfect time to hand in the affidavit for the next year as well along with the objectives and to get a receipt for that too. This way, one is free to begin homeschooling and counting days on July 1, the first day of the school year, if they choose to do so. This is great as it allows those great summer field trips to count as school days! 🙂
I love helping fellow homeschoolers, so again, if you have any questions, let me know! If I don't know the answer, I might at least be able to offer a source that would!