Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill earlier this month that will significantly reduce rules for West Virginia home-schooled students, as well as for parents who want to home-school their children.
The new law (HB 4175), which will take effect in late May, no longer will require annual assessment reporting for home-schooled students, whether they submit tests or portfolios. If their chosen test vendors allow it, parents now will be able to administer their kids’ tests, and teachers reviewing home-schoolers’ portfolios no longer will have to submit teacher certification numbers.
The law also lowers the threshold that home-schoolers must pass on tests to achieve “acceptable progress,” requires that county school superintendents show probable cause before seeking court orders denying home-schooling for kids, and it removes the annual requirement that parents notify their local superintendent or school board of their intent to home-school.
The new law requires just a one-time intent notification, unless the home-schooling provider moves to another county, and it will let parents provide the notification as late as the first day home-schooling is to start. For public school students, existing law requires notification at least two weeks before withdrawing the child.
In the 34-member state Senate, only Sens. Bob Beach, William Laird, Corey Palumbo, Mike Romano, Herb Snyder and Jack Yost voted against the bill. Sens. Jeff Kessler, a candidate for governor, and Douglas Facemire were absent. All are Democrats.
On a final vote in the 100-member House of Delegates to pass the bill after the Senate amended it, only Delegates George Ambler, Roy Cooper, David Evans and Dana Lynch voted against it. Delegates Michel Moffatt and Clif Moore did not vote. Lynch and Moore are the only Democrats of that group.
The Home School Legal Defense Association, a Virginia-based, Christian-centered nonprofit group that opposes Common Core education standards, lobbied for the bill. Michael Donnelly, a staff attorney for the association, said the group felt West Virginia’s laws were “particularly burdensome” for home-schooling families, especially when compared to laws in other states, and said HB 4175 is part of a trend of more than a dozen states that have “significantly repealed unnecessarily burdensome regulations.”
Roger Sherman, administrative director of the Christian Home Educators of West Virginia, said his organization also supported the bill.
“It grants a little more liberty to home-schooling families, in terms of annual reporting to county government,” Sherman said.
But Betty Jo Jordan, executive assistant to state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, said the West Virginia Department of Education opposed parts of the bill.
“We were concerned — are concerned — about how some of the changes are lessening some of the reporting requirements, because we did not think they were onerous the way they are,” Jordan said. “An annual expectation to know the educational status of a child, we don’t think is too much to ask of any parent.”
Although the law still will require annual assessment of home-schoolers, the assessment results will have to be reported to the county superintendent only “at grade levels three, five, eight and eleven, as applicable, by June 30 of the year in which the assessment was administered.”
Sherman and Donnelly, though, said the definition of a grade level is more flexible for home-schoolers. The law also no longer will mandate that parents provide a child’s grade level in their notice of intent to home-school, which will be required only once, instead of annually.
The bill still will require home-school providers to “initiate a remedial program” for students who fail to show “acceptable progress” on their annual assessments. But while existing law requires counties to notify parents or legal guardians “of the services available to assist in the assessment of the child’s eligibility for special education services,” the new law will require parents or legal guardians to ask for such information.
“The parent is going to know when remedial help is needed,” Sherman said.
West Virginia law gives home-school parents four assessment options for their children, and many have chosen to take the “nationally normed standardized achievement test” route, rather than the normal statewide standardized test that’s offered to all public school students and home-schoolers and is aligned to Common Core standards.
There were about 9,600 home-school students in West Virginia last school year. Sherman said about 500 to 700 children took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills through his organization last school year, while Mary Ellen Sullivan, a paid testing adviser for the West Virginia Home Educators Association, said about 1,000 took the TerraNova test through her group.
On such tests, the new law says “acceptable progress” can be satisfied by a student scoring, with the mean of his or her test results in all required subjects, within or above the fourth stanine nationally. That means 77 percent of students nationally still could score above them — a change from the existing law, which allows only half of students nationally to score above them.
Donnelly and Sherman suggested that it is unreasonable to expect all home-schooled students to show above-average performance.
If a student scores below the fourth stanine, Jordan said, he or she still could show acceptable progress by showing any improvement from the previous year’s results. But the new law no longer requires annual reporting. She said counties now won’t be able to gauge “acceptable progress” for home-schoolers.
When asked about the apparent reporting discrepancies, Donnelly said his group didn’t want any assessment reporting requirements in the bill.
Sherman and Sullivan said their tests still won’t allow parents to administer tests to their own children, although Donnelly said he knows of some tests that do. He said requiring children who are taught by their parents to be tested in a different environment might go against test guidelines and that he feels the ban was “demeaning” to West Virginia parents, by insinuating they would cheat.
Existing law also allows for another alternative home-schooling assessment, “a portfolio of samples of a child’s work” that must be reviewed by a “certified teacher.” However, the law no longer requires a teacher to provide his or her certification number, and Jordan said it will be very difficult for counties to determine if these portfolio reviewers are teachers at all.
Donnelly said he didn’t know that requirement had been removed in the bill. He said he doesn’t have a problem with the number being provided.
As for the elimination of the two-week notice before removing a child from public school, Sherman and Donnelly said the requirement could have forced a student to stay in a potential bullying situation.
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