Pennsylvania: HB 1013 and Accountability

Eleven U.S. states include a portfolio option in their homeschool law. Under this option, homeschool parents put together a portfolio of each student’s work to be evaluated by a qualified individual, typically a certified teacher. The evaluator then determines whether the student has made adequate academic progress, and in many states must write a report on the student’s ability and progression. Portfolio evaluations provide accountability for homeschool parents, offer parents an opportunity to receive input and advice about their children’s education, and help safeguard homeschooled students’ interest in an education.

However, of those eleven states, only one of them—Pennsylvania—ensures accountability for the individuals who evaluate homeschooled students’ annual portfolios. Pennsylvania law currently requires the supervisor of the home education program (i.e. the parent) to provide the superintendent of the local school with both a portfolio of the student’s work and a “written evaluation of the student’s educational progress” composed by a teacher or other professional. See 24 P.S. § 13-1327.1(e). This provides the superintendent with the ability to compare the written evaluation with the portfolio, offering a measure of accountability for the evaluators.

HB 1013 would remove this level of accountability.

If enacted, homeschool parents in Pennsylvania would be required to provide the superintendent with only “an evaluator’s certification stating that an appropriate education is occurring.” Parents would no longer need to provide the portfolio to the superintendent, which removes the accountability for evaluators that was originally built into the law. Further, evaluators would provide simple “certification” of the student’s progress rather than a more thorough “written evaluation” of the student’s progress. This cuts down on both the information available to the superintendent and the advice and guidance offered to the parent.

In most states with a portfolio option, superintendents can ask to see a student’s portfolio if suspicions of educational neglect arise. However, HB 1013 would remove even that option. Under HB 1013, if allegations of educational neglect were to arise the superintendent could only ask the parents to have another evaluation and provide another certification. The superintendent would be barred from ever seeing any evidence of the student’s academic progress beyond an evaluator’s certification. This is a problem because some evaluators have been known to shirk their responsibilities.

Accountability for evaluators is important because educationally neglectful parents frequently look for evaluators who will sign off on students’ progress without examining their work thoroughly, if at all. You can see this below in the testimony of two homeschool graduates.

Kierstyn King: “My home state, Florida, required an annual portfolio review by a certified teacher. We had one portfolio review done by a teacher who was a neutral third party, and she started asking me questions about my education that year. My mom became upset and we never went back. Instead, one of my relatives who is in the adult education field and has been a certified teacher for as long as I can remember “reviewed” our portfolios for us. I say review lightly, because no thorough review was expected or given—if that had been the case, my math and my siblings’ writing and reading comprehension skills would have been noticed. Instead, we presented our portfolios, and they were signed off on without a glance.”

Teresa M.: “At the time my parents were homeschooling us in the state of Ohio a certified teacher was needed to sign off that the children were being educated. They were supposed to look over the last year’s work to verify. The woman who did ours was also a member of our church and homeschool support group and never even looked at the stuff mom brought her, which wasn’t much. I even remember mom commenting that ‘P only cared about her check clearing.’”

Without accountability, the portfolio evaluation process cannot be counted on to ensure that homeschooled students are not slipping through the cracks. Without accountability, evaluators can sign off on students’ work without looking at their portfolios or actually evaluating their academic progress—and educationally neglectful homeschool parents will seek out evaluators who do just that. If we knew that every evaluator would carry out their job responsibly and as required by law, accountability might not be such an issue. Unfortunately, we do not. This is why accountability is so important, and why Pennsylvania’s current law should be maintained.

CRHE applauds the Pennsylvania law as the only homeschool law in the country that provides accountability for portfolio evaluators. It would not be in the best interests of Pennsylvania’s homeschooled students for this to change.

HB 1013 is sponsored by Representative Mark M. Gillen, who can be reached at his home office at (610) 775-5130 or at his capitol office at (717) 787-8550. It was referred to the Education Committee at the end of last year’s legislative session. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives will reconvene for this year’s legislative session on February 10, 2014.

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