Understand the Legal Qualifications for an Evaluator
The changes to the Pennsylvania homeschool law that were effective October 31, 2014 (Act 196 of 2014) eliminated the review of portfolios by superintendents but makes choosing a qualified evaluator more important than ever.
The law still requires the supervisor to file an affidavit and accompanying paperwork before commencement of the home education program. At the end of the school year, the supervisor must prepare a log, compile samples of work and obtain scores from standardized tests in grades 3, 5 and 8, all of which must be compiled in a portfolio and reviewed by an evaluator no later than June 30.
Many parents worry if they don’t use an evaluator recommended or approved by the school district, the evaluation won’t be accepted.
As long as the evaluator meets the eligibility criteria under the homeschool law, a school district has no authority to reject or disapprove of an evaluation or the evaluator of the supervisor’s choice.
The superintendent MUST accept the evaluator’s certification that “an appropriate education has occurred”.
The homeschool law defines both the credentials and experience required by a qualified evaluator. In any case, an evaluation may not be conducted by the homeschooled student’s parent.
1. Who’s Qualified to Conduct an Evaluation?
A licensed clinical or school psychologist, a teacher certified by the state of Pennsylvania or a nonpublic school teacher or administrator may certify that “an appropriate education is occurring” after a review of the portfolio and an interview with the child.
The law provides an extra requirement for nonpublic school teachers and administrators by requiring at least two years of teaching experience in a Pennsylvania public or nonpublic school within the last 10 years.
2. What Experience is Required to Conduct an Evaluation?
The Pennsylvania homeschool law also specifies the experience required to conduct an evaluation for elementary (grades 1-6) and secondary (grades 7-12) levels. This applies to PA certified teachers, nonpublic school teachers and administrators
A teacher or administrator who evaluates a portfolio at the elementary level (grades kindergarten through six)* shall have at least two years of experience in grading any of the following subjects: English, to include spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; and civics.
*(Although the exact language in this provision indicates “grades kindergarten through six”, the compulsory attendance age begins at age 8 in Pennsylvania, so most students will not need an evaluation until third grade).
A teacher or administrator who evaluates a portfolio at the secondary level (grades seven through twelve) shall have at least two years of experience in grading any of the following subjects: English, to include language, literature, speech, reading and composition; science, to include biology, chemistry and physics; geography; social studies, to include economics, civics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; foreign language; and mathematics, to include general mathematics, algebra, trigonometry, calculus and geometry.
The term “grading” as used in both clauses is also defined and means “evaluation of classwork, homework, quizzes, classwork-based tests and prepared tests related to classwork subject matter”.
3. Exceptions to the Professional Qualifications and Experience
Finally, the law allows a school district to approve persons with other qualifications to conduct an evaluation at the request of the supervisor. The special approval is completely at the discretion of the superintendent of the district of residence.
For example, many experienced homeschooling parents obtain special approval in a school district to provide evaluations for other families. A friend with experience teaching at the college level (full or part time) could qualify for special approval. A district might also accept a person who received teaching certification and experience outside of Pennsylvania.
This provision was drafted broadly enough to encompass a variety of persons, professional credentials and experience and special approval is worth requesting, especially if you’re having difficulty finding an evaluator.
4. Diplomas and the Twelfth Year Evaluator Under the New Law
The Amendments to the Pennsylvania home school law which went into effect on October 31, 2014 (Act 196 of 2014) gives a parent-issued diploma the same rights and privileges as a state-issued or school-issued diploma.
The parent must complete a form created by The Pennsylvania Department of Education (“Department”) which will be available on its website. The diploma form must be signed by an evaluator in the student’s twelfth year who is verifying the student’s suitability for graduation.
The twelfth year evaluator must meet the qualifications and experience required for secondary evaluators as described above but must also certify that the basic graduation requirements have been met.
(1) Four years of English.
(2) Three years of mathematics.
(3) Three years of science.
(4) Three years of social studies.
(5) Two years of arts and humanities.
24 P.S. § 1327.1(d)
The courses to be taught during the secondary years include algebra and geometry. If algebra and/or geometry are covered before 9th grade, the student must still complete three years of mathematics between grades 9 and 12.
The courses to satisfy each of the requirements can be creative and vary from typical courses taught in high school. For example, physics, biology and chemistry are traditionally taught in high school and satisfy the science requirement but other science courses may be designed to accommodate the student’s interests or plans after high school.
Verifying a student’s suitability could be easier for an evaluator who has conducted the student’s evaluations throughout his home high school career but it isn’t required.
“Proof” of meeting the basic graduation requirements will vary widely and will often be dictated by the student’s plans after high school. For example, the course work for a student planning to attend college will likely be different than a student who plans to attend trade school or apprentice for his dad toward Master Plumber certification.
The law gives wide discretion to the supervisor to meet the graduation requirements (course selection, topics and manner/method of covering the chosen topic) and equally wide discretion to the evaluator to verify that the graduation requirements have been met.
The most important consideration is whether the parent and evaluator understand each other’s expectations and preparations before the evaluation takes place. If the parent disagrees with the form of proof that the evaluator might expect, he can find another evaluator. Likewise, the evaluator isn’t obligated to verify the student’s suitability for graduation if she’s dissatisfied with the transcript, materials or explanation provided by the parent.
5. Certified Diploma Programs
The new law also validates diplomas issued by a certified diploma program.
Since each organization has its own criteria for graduation and evaluations, I won’t discuss that here.
I hope this article clears up any questions you have regarding the qualifications and experience required for an evaluator under Pennsylvania homeschool law.
If your evaluator doesn’t already have a form, click the button below to download a simple form that you can submit to the superintendent after the evaluator has completed it.