Testing and Compliance
By Mia Anderson
Part 4 of 5 in the series: Knowledge is Power: Know Your Homeschool Law
This is the forth in a series of articles discussing the Washington State laws that affect and regulate homeschooling. The more informed we are about the law and our rights, the more able we are to defend those rights.
While you are reading, remember that all laws are open to interpretation. Please be aware that what follows is one interpretation. We encourage you to take the time to read the RCWs presented here for yourself. They are available in numerical order on the web.
RCW 28A.200 is the chapter of the law that addresses homeschooling, or home-based instruction specifically. The first section of this chapter, RCW 28A.200.010, is titled, "Duties of Parents." It delineates, as you may have guesses, the responsibility of the homeschooling parent not already outlined in the mandatory attendance law. This article will deal with the third duty listed, annual testing and failure to comply.
In the last installment of this series, I stated that recording keeping is often overlooked when discussing the homeschool law. Conversely, annual testing is never overlooked in conversations about the homeschool law, and is often the cause of heated discussion. Because testing is such a contentious issue, I'm going to take the law sentence (sometimes phrase) at a time.
The law says that a parent shall have the duty to "(3) Ensure that a standardized achievement test approved by the state board of education is administered annually to the child by a qualified individual or." This presents the formal testing option of the two testing choices given to homeschooling parents.
The first thing to note here is that the criteria for formal testing is "standardized" not "normed." There is a big difference between standardized and normed tests. Standardized simply means that there are consistent standards, or directions to follow, for administering and scoring the test. All children taking this test will do it the same way, and scoring will be consistent. Standardized tests are used to give parents information about specific academic skills and abilities. They don't generally give parents grade or age equivalent scores, but rather, criteria scores, such as 60% correct on long division, 45% correct on addition of fractions, etc. Standardized tests often do not require any special qualifications for administrators.
Normed means that a test has been put through a norming process where questions that don't distinguish between test takers' abilities are thrown out. The result is a test where the scores of a group of similar age or grade students, when graphed, will fall into a shape that resembles a bell, not surprisingly known as a bell curve. A majority of the students will score around 50 percentile or center of the graph, with increasingly fewer students scoring at percentiles further removed from the 50% center line in either direction. Normed tests, such as the SAT, CTBS and ACT, are used to compare one student to a similar group of students, and give parents grade or age equivalent scores. Normed tests are by definition also standardized, and usually administered under the authority of a certificated teacher or other certified professional.
All of this is important because just last month the rules changed. Prior to the new testing WAC (see "Advocacy in Action") the State Board of Education (SBE) has approved only normed tests for our annual formal testing. The new WAC is clear that the tests approved by the SBE are approved on the basis of standardization. Parents now have a choice of using standardized or normed tests.
The second thing of note here is that the law does not define "qualified individual." It therefore is left to the test publisher to determine who is qualified to administer their tests. In some cases this means someone with a teaching credential, in other cases, no special qualifications are necessary.
The third thing of interest is that the law does not stipulate what or how many subjects shall be tested. This is up to the parents.
This first sentence in the testing portion of the law goes on to say, ".that an annual assessment of the student's academic progress is written by a certificated person who is currently working in the field of education." This refers to what we commonly refer to as non-test assessment. This means, a certified teacher will write a report on a student's academic ability or progress. There are no specifications or criteria on how this evaluation will be accomplished or documented. It is up to the parents and teacher to determine what kind of information, on which subject areas will be resulting from the evaluation, how it will be generated, and how it will be reported.
Next the law states, "The state board of education shall not require these children to meet the student learning goals, master the essential academic learning requirements, to take the assessments, or to obtain a certificate of mastery pursuant to RCW 28A.630.885." This is the part of the law that exempts homeschoolers from taking the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) or participate in other parts of the current education reform. It does not, however, protect homeschoolers from future educational reform. So, it pays to be vigilant.
"The standardized test administered or the annual academic progress assessment written shall be made a part of the child's permanent records." reiterates part of section (2), record keeping. These testing records belong to the parents, and reside with the family.
"If, as a result of the annual test or assessment, it is determined that the child is not making reasonable progress consistent with his or her age or stage of development, the parent shall make a good faith effort to remedy any deficiency." This portion of the law has raised some disagreement with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). OSPI has published in the "Pink Book," their publication on the homeschool law, that it is not clear in the law who determines if a child is making reasonable progress. We feel strongly that because this sentence is part of a law titled, "Duties of Parents," it's pretty clear that this determination is the responsibility of the parents as are, "efforts to remedy any deficiency."
Failure to Comply
Finally, the law ends with this statement. "Failure of a parent to comply with the duties in this section shall be deemed a failure of such parent's child to attend school without valid justification under RCW 28A.225.020. Parents who do comply with the duties set forth in this section shall be presumed to be providing home-based instruction as set forth in RCW 28A.225.010(4)." Is very clear here that the compulsory attendance law is satisfied by homeschooling parents attending to the duties outlined in this portion of the law. A child could be determined to be truant, with all the accompanying consequences, if a parent chooses to neglect filing an intent to homeschool, record keeping, or annual testing. Conversely, parents who fulfill these responsibilities are considered, under the law, to be homeschooling. With the new testing WAC in place, complying with the homeschool law is easier than ever.
The fifth topic is parent responsibilities and rights.
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