“Hello, Cheryl. This is Tammy. We met at mom’s meeting last month. My annual homeschool evaluation is due in July. I’m anxious and have questions. I thought maybe you could help.”
“Evaluations concern many parents, Tammy. You’re not alone. I am glad you called and I’d love to answer your questions.”
Every year as evaluation season approaches, I receive phone calls like Tammy’s. Parents worry about pending evaluations. They wonder if they are doing a good job homeschooling their children. They seek affirmation. As we talk, sharing thoughts and information, the voice on the other end of the phone calms.
I listened as Tammy described her home-education program. Registered with the local superintendent under the home-education law (Statute 1002.41), Tammy could choose one of five options to fulfill the evaluation requirement. She chose option one — an evaluation by a state-certified teacher.
Finding a Florida-Certified Teacher
“How do I find a Florida-certified teacher holding a valid certificate?” Tammy asked.
Tammy was following the right course of action. Asking fellow homeschooling parents and leaders for personal recommendations is the most reliable way to locate an evaluator. I recommended four evaluators — three lived in her county and one in a neighboring county — and suggested she call and interview each one. I gave her examples of the types of questions she could ask to help her choose an evaluator who would best serve her family:
• Do you hold a current valid Florida teaching certificate to teach academic subjects at an elementary or secondary level?
• What words would best describe your educational philosophy?
• Are you familiar with home education?
• Have you evaluated home educated students in the past?
• Do you have references?
• Where does the evaluation take place?
• What can my children and I expect to occur during the evaluation?
• Do you allow parents to stay with the child during the evaluation?
• How much time should I allow?
• What materials should I bring?
• What fees will be associated with the evaluation?
This process, though sometimes tedious and time-consuming, would help Tammy select an evaluator compatible with her family’s educational philosophy and her child’s learning style — an asset and an advocate for their home-education program.
Navigating the Evaluation Process
Tammy continued to ask questions: “What can our family expect to happen during the evaluation?”
I could hear apprehension in Tammy’s voice. The actual evaluation concerned her most. Reading the section of the law addressing the evaluator’s legal responsibility helped Tammy understand the evaluator’s role — to determine whether a child “demonstrates educational progress at a level commensurate with his or her ability.”
How the evaluator goes about determining progress varies greatly. Some evaluators prefer to engage in an informal discussion while reviewing the contents of the child’s portfolio. Others favor administering a formal test. A combination of methods is also common. It is important for parents to know which method an evaluator will use and consider whether the approach corresponds with the student’s abilities. For example, a child with learning challenges may not accurately demonstrate progress under the pressure of a timed test. Instead, this child’s progress may best be evidenced in written work samples from the beginning, middle and end of the year.
The law does not contain specific standards by which evaluations should be conducted. Tammy, as the parent directing the education of her child, had the right to select an evaluator whose evaluation technique would complement her homeschool and her child.
“What should I take to our evaluation?” Tammy inquired.
I reminded Tammy of the evaluator’s role to determine a child’s progress commensurate with his or her abilities. The content of the child’s portfolio (work samples, an activity log made contemporaneously with instruction and a list of reading materials) is the greatest tool for documenting academic progress. Tammy could organize items exemplifying such progress in whatever fashion worked best for her. I suggested a three-ring binder, an accordion file or file box to categorize the log, book lists, work samples, writing assignments, photographs, travel brochures and artwork. Dioramas, crafts, display boards and models could be stored in a large plastic container.
The specifics in my answer prompted Tammy to ask, “How long will an evaluator need to do an evaluation?”
Since every evaluator takes a different approach to the process, the length of time needed for an evaluation varies. If the evaluator chooses an inspection of the portfolio with an informal discussion with the child and is open to field questions from the parent, I told Tammy to plan for 45 minutes. She understood the time frame was dependent on the amount of materials included in the portfolio, the child’s ability and desire to share details of the year, and the number of questions the parent has for the evaluator. Formal testing could take significantly longer.
Tammy asked one last question: “If I choose an individual evaluation this year, can I choose another option the following year?”
This is a good question raised frequently by parents. I assured Tammy that her evaluation choice for the current year was not binding. If she wasn’t satisfied with the individual evaluation, she could choose one of the four remaining options the following year. I cautioned Tammy that dissatisfaction with an evaluator could lead to a discouraging evaluation process. Locating another evaluator should be considered before dismissing the individual evaluation process altogether.
It is normal for parents to have questions (even about their home education program) or be anxious about annual evaluations. However, by seeking answers, talking to fellow homeschoolers, understanding the home-education law, and embracing evaluations as a time of reflection and accomplishment, parents can sail through evaluations with confidence.
Florida Evaluation Law (Statute 1002.41)
“The parent shall provide for an annual educational evaluation in which is documented the student’s demonstration of educational progress at a level commensurate with her or his ability. The parent shall select the method of evaluation and shall file a copy of the evaluation annually with the district school superintendent’s office in the county in which the student resides. The annual educational evaluation shall consist of one of the following:
1. A teacher selected by the parent shall evaluate the student’s educational progress upon review of the portfolio and discussion with the student. Such teacher shall hold a valid regular Florida certificate to teach academic subjects at the elementary or secondary level;
2. The student shall take any nationally normed student achievement test administered by a certified teacher;
3. The student shall take a state student assessment test used by the school district and administered by a certified teacher, at a location and under testing conditions approved by the school district;
4. The student shall be evaluated by an individual holding a valid, active license pursuant to the provisions of s. 490.003(7) or (8); or
5. The student shall be evaluated with any other valid measurement tool as mutually agreed upon by the district school superintendent of the district in which the student resides and the student’s parent.”
Written by: Cheryl A. Bastian, Winter Park– District 7
She encourages the homeschooling community as an author, speaker, leader and mentor. She has been married 21 years and has six children. Her books and resources are available at www.cherylbastian.com.