FAQs About the 2008 Changes to Home Instruction Statute

by Celeste Land, Government Affairs

Once again, the home instruction statute is changing. Effective July 1, 2008, amendments to the laws concerning annual reporting and testing/evaluation will become law. What do these changes mean for your family?

You can view the text of the new home instruction statute (§22.1-254.1) as it will read after July 1, 2008 on the VaHomeschoolers 2008 Home Instruction Statute Changes page.

How will the new law change the way I file my Notice of Intent (NOI) paperwork each year?

If you previously filed under option i (high school diploma or higher) or option ii (valid teacher’s license), then nothing has changed for you. You can continue to file your notice of intent paperwork as you have done before.

However, if you are a parent or guardian who does not have a high school diploma or higher, and you previously filed under options iii or iv, then your options have been streamlined and changed.

Option iii filers are no longer required to use specifically “approved” correspondence programs. Parents who file under option iii may now use any correspondence course or distance learning program; proof of enrollment in this program must be submitted to the school division, along with the notice of intent paperwork. Under option iii, parents may also use any other program of study, but will need to submit paperwork documenting what that program includes.

Option iv filers must simply provide evidence that they are able to provide an adequate education for their child. This generally takes the form of a strong, well-written letter which demonstrates the parent’s ability to teach his/her child.

Parents who file under option iv are no longer required to reference the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) in their curriculum description.

Do I still need to submit a description of curriculum under the new law?

Yes. All home instruction filers still need to submit a description of curriculum every year.

How do I submit a description of curriculum if I’m filing under option iii?

Option iii filers who are using a correspondence or distance learning program may attach the list of courses created by the curriculum provider. If you are filing under option iii and choose to provide a program of study in some other manner than a correspondence or distance learning program, your cover letter should include an overview of the courses or subjects you intend to cover.

How will the new law change the way I handle annual testing and evaluation at my house?

If you’ve been providing proof of progress in the form of a nationally normed standardized achievement test like the CAT, Stanford, CTBS, or Iowa exams (option i), then nothing has changed for your family.

If you’ve been using an “evaluation or assessment” (option ii), the law now spells out several specific options for evaluation or assessment, including:

  • an evaluation letter from a person licensed to teach in any state
  • an evaluation letter from a person with a master’s degree or higher in any academic discipline
  • a report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance learning program, or correspondence school
Does this mean that if I submit an evaluation letter or a report card or transcript, that the school division is required to accept it as proof of progress?

No. The school superintendent is now required to consider evaluation letters, report cards, and transcripts as valid forms of proof of progress. This represents a major improvement to the law, since some school divisions in the past have wrongly refused to even consider anything other than a standardized test as proof of progress. However, the superintendent still has the right to determine whether what you have submitted constitutes adequate proof of progress.

Does this mean that I can write a letter of evaluation for my own child? I have a master’s degree.

The law does not directly address this. However, as this option is at the discretion of the superintendent, a parent-evaluated letter may not be deemed acceptable, since schools strongly prefer independent evaluation. We recommend using common sense when deciding who is to evaluate your child.

What does “a master’s degree in an academic discipline” mean, anyway?

The language adopted by the legislature would appear to be so broad as to encompass all who possess master’s degrees or higher in any subject. Remember, this option is subjectively evaluated by the superintendent. Again, we recommend using common sense and your best judgment when selecting an evaluator or deciding to become an evaluator.

What should be in the letter of evaluation?

There is no minimum or maximum length for a letter of evaluation. Whatever is submitted has to be sufficient for the superintendent to make a judgment. We recommend that the letter of evaluation include a copy of the credentials of the person doing the evaluating, verification that the evaluator has actually met with the child and/or reviewed their work, and information that indicates that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress. Simply saying, “I have a master’s degree and the child is making progress” may not be enough.

One longtime Virginia evaluator typically writes two pages summarizing her assessment of the child’s progress in language arts and mathematics, followed by a summary of her findings and a list of her professional qualifications.

You are not required by law to teach to the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs), nor are you required to reference the SOLs in an evaluation. Some professional evaluators believe that letters which reference the SOLs are more likely to be accepted by school divisions, while other evaluators choose not to mention them in their letters. Before hiring an evaluator, talk to them about what role the SOLs play in their assessments and how that might affect your family.

How do I find an evaluator?

Check with your local support group to find evaluators in your community. The VaHomeschoolers website may have contact information for some evaluators as well. Make sure that the evaluator you choose is comfortable with your approach to homeschooling.

Will a report card still count as proof of progress if my child is only enrolled in the community college or correspondence school on a part-time basis?

Perhaps, depending on which academic subjects are included on the report card. Superintendents are required to consider any report card they may receive, but are not required to accept all report cards as proof of progress. We recommend you use common sense when submitting report cards of this sort to your local school division.

I don’t see “unevaluated portfolios submitted directly to the school division” on this list. I also don’t see “standardized achievement tests that aren’t nationally normed,” like the PASS test from Hewett Homeschooling Resources.

Unevaluated portfolios and non-nationally normed standardized achievement tests are still a legal option. The home instruction statute language “including but not limited to” allows for additional forms of evaluation or assessment other than the ones specified above. However, it is possible that the new law may make it harder for families in some school divisions to submit these types of assessments, since they are not specifically listed as options which the school division must consider.

While unevaluated portfolios have always been (and will still be) a legal option, The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers has never recommended their use, because unevaluated portfolios can be lost, misplaced, or misinterpreted, and are less likely to be routinely accepted by the superintendent than a letter of evaluation.

The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2008. Does this mean I can submit my proof of progress for the 2007-2008 school year under the new law?

Yes, you may. Expect some confusion as school divisions across the state transition into the new system.

What should I do if there are problems with the school division accepting my notice of intent or proof of progress under the new law?

Some misunderstandings are inevitable as school divisions come to terms with the new laws. (To put this into perspective, some school divisions are still confused about the 2006 changes to the home instruction statute!)

If you are experiencing difficulties, first try politely directing your local school division to a copy of the new home instruction statute. Other resources which may be helpful include the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Superintendent’s Memo # 080 and the VDOE Home Instruction Manual.

If you are still experiencing difficulties or have any questions regarding these changes, please contact VaHomeschoolers at our toll free number, (866) 513-6173, or email us at Government Affairs.

This information is provided as a courtesy of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. It is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice, contact a licensed attorney.

VaHomeschoolers is a non-profit public charity with 501(c)(3) status; your donation is tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.