Note: VaHomeschoolers no longer maintains a list of homeschool evaluators. Please use the following suggestions to assist you in finding and choosing an evaluator.
Virginia’s Home Instruction Statute requires parents to provide evidence of academic progress each year by August 1 (families who file under the approved tutor provision or who are exempt from the compulsory attendance code because of a religious exemption are not required to supply proof of progress). The most objective means to provide evidence of progress is to use a nationally normed standardized test; as long your child meets or exceeds the minimum score threshold at the fourth stanine, providing the results to your local school division superintendent automatically satisfies the requirement.
Some families, however, object to using a standardized test on philosophical grounds. Other families may have a child who does not perform well on tests or whose progress may not be easily measured by commonly available standardized tests. Children with special needs may benefit from having their progress assessed in light of their abilities and development. These families, and others, may choose to satisfy the evidence of progress requirement using an evaluation rather than test results. Parents can then submit the evaluation letter or report. It is the local school division superintendent who determines if the evaluation or assessment indicates the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress; that does mean an evaluation may be rejected if the division superintendent does not find that adequate progress has been documented. Choosing your evaluator carefully can minimize this risk and help make using an evaluator an enjoyable experience.
Who Can Evaluate?
The home instruction statute specifies that methods of documenting adequate academic progress include, but are not limited to, (a) an evaluation letter from a person licensed to teach in any state, or a person with a master’s degree or higher in an academic discipline, having knowledge of the child’s academic progress, stating that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress; or (b) a report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance learning program, or home-education correspondence school. The law clearly defines a local school division superintendent’s responsibility to consider an evaluation letter or assessment as evidence of progress, but it still retains the superintendent’s discretion in accepting those letters and assessments. An evaluation or assessment that is accepted in one school division may or may not be accepted in another division.
While the law does not specifically prohibit a parent from evaluating his or her own child, it was not the intention of lawmakers that parents evaluate their own children. VaHomeschoolers does not recommend submitting an evaluation that was performed by a child’s own parent(s); if this practice became widespread, it could spur lawmakers to change the home instruction statute to prohibit it. Any time lawmakers review and change the statute, the possibility exists that additional changes will be made that are not in the best interests of homeschooling families.
Things to Consider when Choosing an Evaluator
If you have decided to use an evaluator, the next step is selecting a person who can appropriately assess your child’s skills, abilities, and knowledge in conjunction with your family’s needs. Not every evaluator is a good match for every family, and the key to having a successful evaluation experience is to ensure that the evaluator you hire can meet your requirements.
Some evaluators do use standardized tests in conducting evaluations; often these tests require specialized training to administer and may supply very different information than commonly available tests that can be administered at home or in a classroom. Others prefer to look through a portfolio of the child’s work over the course of the school year, or to meet with the child and parents in an interview format to assess progress.
A test may not be acceptable to a family that holds philosophical objections to testing; a portfolio of work may take more time to assemble than a busy family can spare; a shy child may not respond well in an interview with an unfamiliar evaluator. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with the tools an evaluator plans to use with your child.
Some evaluators expect to see or discuss evidence of traditional schoolwork — worksheets, essays, math problems, book reports, and the like. Others want evidence that Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs) have been covered, even though homeschoolers are not required to address the SOLs. Other evaluators may be comfortable with nontraditional evidence of a child’s skills and accomplishments, including photos of activities and outings, etc. Make sure you understand and can easily provide what your evaluator expects.
Some families prefer to study science from a secular point of view and others from a faith-based point of view. Some evaluators assess science skills from a secular point of view and some from a faith-based point of view. An evaluation can be a negative experience for all concerned if the evaluator’s expectations do not match the goals of the family. Make sure the expectations and beliefs of your evaluator are compatible with those of your family.
Make sure you understand the credentials your evaluator is using to establish his or her authority with your local school division. If you are using an established evaluator, has he or she already had evaluations accepted in your school division? Has he or she had an evaluation rejected? If so, was it corrected and ultimately accepted? If you are using a new evaluator, consider the requirements of the home instruction statute to decide if it is likely that the evaluator’s credentials will be acceptable to your local school division.
Evaluation Time Line
Some evaluators meet with the child and/or parents and supply an evaluation report the same day. Other evaluators conduct the evaluation and supply a written report afterward. The time line may depend, in part, on the evaluation tools that are used—some tests can be scored immediately and the results reported on a simple form, while a custom-written report may require more reflection and time. An evaluator who travels to your location and conducts evaluations for multiple families may need to write reports after returning to office or home. Make sure you understand the time line for the evaluation itself and when to expect the evaluation report, particularly if a deadline is approaching.
Evaluation Fee and Expectations
Evaluation fees can vary widely. Some factors influencing the cost of an evaluation include the credentials, education, and experience of the evaluator; the amount of time the evaluator spends on the evaluation, including the level of detail in the evaluation report; the cost of any assessment tools your evaluator uses; and travel time and associated costs if the evaluator comes to you. If an evaluation is rejected by your local school division, will there be an additional fee to correct it so that you can resubmit? If you do not receive the report in time to submit it to your school division before the August 1 deadline, will there be a reduction in the fee? Make sure you understand the cost of the evaluation and any associated fees for travel, etc., as well as what recourse you may have if an evaluation is late or rejected by your school division.
If your family has specific requirements or special circumstances, it is best to begin identifying an acceptable evaluator as early as possible. If your child has special needs, for example, an evaluator familiar with your child’s condition or circumstances may be better equipped to identify appropriate progress. If your child is beginning homeschooling with skills that are significantly lower than expected for grade level, it may be helpful to have an assessment when you begin as well as at the end of the school year.
Finding an Evaluator
The best way to find an evaluator that meets your family’s requirements is by personal recommendation. Inquire at local events and online lists about evaluators, and seek out families who have used the evaluators you are considering. Ask what their goals were for the evaluation and what their experiences were. Did the evaluator meet their expectations? Were there any surprises? Did the evaluation methods, time line, and fees match what had been discussed in advanced? Just as it is a good idea to get a recommendation before using the professional services of a doctor or auto repair shop, it is a good idea to get a recommendation before engaging the services of an evaluator. The evaluator with the best advertisement or online posting may not be the best evaluator for your needs.