A total of twenty-four states have assessment requirements for homeschooled students. However, almost all of these states offer options that allow homeschooling parents to bypass state assessment requirements (Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington) or do not require parents to submit the results or do not have a minimum score (Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Washington). Only nine states require all homeschooled students to be assessed (Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia), but even these states often have lax enforcement, little accountability, and low thresholds for intervention.
In some states the required assessment is annual while in other states it takes place only after specified grades (in five states—Georgia, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Tennessee—assessments are required after as few as three or four grades). The most common methods of assessment are standardized testing and portfolio reviews. Some states allow parents to have their children tested in their local public schools, but most parents chose to have the testing done independently. A portfolio review involves putting together a packet of the student’s work—reading lists, math tests, science lab notes, writing samples, etc.—and having it evaluated by a certified teacher or other qualified professional.
Eight states rely on standardized testing (Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee), ten states allow parents to choose between standardized testing and portfolio reviews (Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia), and three states mandate testing for some years and allow parents to choose between testing and portfolio reviews for other years (Hawaii, New York, Pennsylvania). One state (Maryland) relies on portfolio reviews and two states (Massachusetts and Rhode Island) leave the assessment form up to the school district.
The portfolio review option generally requires a certified teacher to evaluate and approve the student’s progress. However, in most states there is no accountability to ensure that these evaluators do their due diligence, and no rubric to guide teachers in evaluating students’ portfolios. Standardized testing requirements have their problems as well. For one thing, the minimum score states require on standardized tests can be as low as the 15th percentile (Oregon) or the 13th percentile (Colorado). This means that unless a student is falling severely behind academically, there is no intervention. For another thing, most states allow parents to administer their children’s standardized tests themselves, which is problematic for obvious reasons. Finally, in some states enforcement of the homeschool law is fairly lax. Some parents may homeschool under the radar or simply not complete the required assessment. In many cases enforcement falls to local school districts, which are often already overburdened and underfunded.
While some private “umbrella” schools may require assessments for enrolled homeschool students, only one state—Washington—requires these schools to conduct such evaluations. Tennessee requires these schools to offer testing, but does not require them to mandate it, and while Maryland requires face-to-face interaction between homeschooled students and the private “umbrella” schools that enroll them, it does not mandate assessments. While some private “umbrella” schools offer co-op classes or enrichment activities, most make no requirements beyond the state minimum.
We recommend annual academic assessments that take into account the flexible and innovative nature of homeschooling. We recommend giving parents choice in the type of assessment by allowing them to choose between options such as standardized testing and portfolio reviews. Finally, we recommend intervention for students in need of specialized attention. North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, among other states, currently have assessment requirements and offer intervention.
Portfolio reviews should be conducted by certified teachers or other education professionals who are neutral parties and meet with each child as a part of the reviewing process. Portfolios should showcase student learning, and evaluators should be trained in requirements for adequate progress that focus on fostering and supporting student learning while reflecting the flexibility of homeschooling. There should be a system of accountability for homeschooling families and evaluators in place to ensure that evaluators do their job fairly and effectively.
We recommend that standardized tests be administered by qualified individuals other than students’ parents. Tests may be administered in the home or in a neutral setting such as a library. We recommend that public schools give students the option of being tested on-site at no cost. Adequate progress on standardized tests should be based on achieving minimum proficiency rather than on a percentile score.
We recommend that lack of adequate academic progress as indicated by test scores or portfolio evaluations result in intervention that provides students with specialized attention. This intervention should be positive, cooperative, and child-centered and should provide committed homeschool families with support and resources in an effort to help them succeed, but should also include consequences for failure to improve. Intervention processes currently exist in states such as Ohio, Oregon, New York, and North Dakota.
In states that that include a private “umbrella” school option, umbrella schools should be required to conduct annual assessments of each student and provide intervention when adequate progress is not being made. This is currently required in Washington.
No. We understand that the flexible and individual nature of homeschooling means that a given homeschooled child may work more slowly in some subject areas and more quickly in others. We support assessments that focus on competence and academic progress commensurate with students’ abilities and are opposed to requiring homeschooled students to score at grade level in each subject as measured by standardized testing. We believe that student learning is more important than whether students are studying the same content as their age cohort in each subject.
No. There are many different kinds of standardized testing and ways of scoring student achievement. Testing can be frequent or infrequent, and wider intervals between testing means that there is less pressure to teach to the test and more focus on overall competence. Additionally, CRHE advocates for assessment requirements that allow parents to choose between standardized testing and portfolio reviews. We believe in preserving homeschooling’s flexibility and room for innovation by giving parents a variety of assessment options.
Only in rare cases. We support policies that allow time for improvement and offer resources and support. We believe these policies should be supportive rather than punitive, and that committed homeschool parents should be given time to provide their children with the resources and academic support they need to succeed. Some options include requiring parents to create remediation plans explaining how they will correct deficiencies in student learning and allowing parents to homeschool under the supervision of and with the advice of a certified teacher. Several states already do this. Should lack of academic progress continue, we support terminating homeschooling and requiring the child to be enrolled in a public, private, or charter school of the parents’ choosing. Homeschools that fail to educate children should face consequences. We also support special needs testing that will identify students who are struggling due to external factors. Children with identified special needs should be assessed according to their ability.
Homeschooled children with learning disabilities or other special needs would be eligible for the same assistance and allowances with testing as children who have an individualized education plan (IEP) in school. Each homeschooled child with special needs should have an independently developed IEP created cooperatively by the parent and the child’s service provider. This IEP would include an assessment mechanism tailored to the child’s needs and abilities.