Monday, August 06, 2007

Albemarle's Home Instruction Policy Manual Update and the Term Educational Progress Discussed

I wrote back in June about problems with Albemarle's home instruction pages. The Albemarle County Public Schools website has been updated to reflect some of the changes to the home instruction statute from 2006.

The policy manual has the correct information for filing under option i, but still retains the incorrect text for filing under option iv.

d. provides a program of study or description of the curriculum which, in the judgment of the Superintendent/Designee, includes the Standards of Learning objectives adopted by the Board of Education for language arts and math and provides evidence that the parent is able to provide an adequate education for the child. [all emphases will be mine in the quoted paragraphs]

It should read or instead of and, in the above paragraph. So now there are actually 5 options, with a iv(a) and iv(b). This is an important distinction in the statute. It it weren't, the law would not have been changed!

From the VaHomeschoolers website:
Q: Even with the new law, I still need to file under option iv. How does the new law change what I need to do?
A: Under the new law, option iv filers must either submit a program of study or curriculum which includes the standards of learning objectives for language arts and mathematics or provide evidence that you are able to provide an adequate education for your child. Under the old law, you had to provide both; now you may choose one or the other. (Section 22.1-254.1 A) Regardless of which option you choose, you will still need to submit a description of the curriculum, as do all home instruction filers (section 22.1-254.1 B).

Fortunately, the notice of intent form that Albemarle provides for parents to use if they wish does show the correct language.

Another issue that should be pointed out is on their page Portfolios To Satisfy Evaluation Requirements for Home Instruction. This page was updated in March 2006. It states in part:

The parent may submit a composite score in or above the fourth stanine on a battery of achievement tests that are used in the public schools. The current state-adopted battery is the Stanford Achievement Tests, 10th Edition. The composite score on this test battery includes tests in vocabulary, reading comprehension, language, and mathematics.

Thus, it is sufficient that the evidence of educational growth relates to the content areas of language arts and mathematics. A portfolio submitted to satisfy the evaluation requirements for home instruction should contain examples of the student’s work in the content areas of reading, writing, and mathematics. The purpose of the portfolio is to exemplify the child’s level of achievement and progress as related to the Virginia Standards of Learning objectives for English and mathematics. Sophistication of the expected work of students is commensurate with the grade level of students. Parents are advised to refer to the standards of Learning for guidance regarding the material of which the portfolio should demonstrate coverage.

This seems logical, and harmless enough. But naturally, I have a couple comments to make. First of all, there is no longer a state-adopted battery of tests, as mentioned in the first paragraph quoted. The law changed, and now reads:
The parent who elects to provide home instruction shall provide the division superintendent by August 1 following the school year in which the child has received home instruction with either (i) evidence that the child has attained a composite score in or above the fourth stanine on any nationally normed standardized achievement test or (ii) an evaluation or assessment which the division superintendent determines to indicate that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress.

Also, nowhere in the law does it state that home educated children should be measured against a "level of achievement and progress as related to the Virginia Standards of Learning objectives for English and mathematics." Parents may choose any curriculum they wish for their children, and unless they file under option iv(a), they don't have to even look at the SOL's. Some faulty logic is being used by the school division, I think. Probably not intentional, because they rely on tests and standards to show them how kids are doing, and don't have anything at stake, as homeschool parents do, in this issue. They're just the gatekeepers, and it's probably not a job they really want.

However, while parents are required to demonstrate an "adequate level of educational growth and progress," no subjects are mentioned specifically. I would stipulate that most homeschooling parents will be teaching their children English and math. But on principle, I object to the way Albemarle County is currently defining evidence of progress when parents will not be using a test.

There are choices available for homeschooling parents--and if a parent is teaching their child using their native language, for example, Spanish or French, they should logically be allowed to demonstrate that progress is being made in that language. Despite strong feelings of some people to the contrary, there is no official language of the United States (at the time the Constitution was written, different colonies were allied with England, France or Spain, and new immigrants were coming from other countries as well), and while the Commonwealth of Virginia does have English as the official language, nothing in the law says parents must teach their children in English.

Even more to the point, there is nothing that requires parents to teach any specific subject, unless they file under option iv(a). I could decide to teach just science this year. That would be my choice to make. The superintendent cannot judge my curriculum. It's not what I would do, but that's not my point. And I would expect that even if I did just teach science, my children would still make adequate progress in "English and math" because of the reading we'd be doing and the math involved in science.

So while it is accurate to say that if a parent chooses to demonstrate adequate progress by using a test, they must expect their child to have learned enough "English and math" to meet the minimum required, that is just one option. I'll refer you back to my post Thoughts on Testing for more on that. The first option (testing) does not define the second option (an evaluation or assessment).

I would like to think that if a parent is teaching science, and by law is allowed to do this, then it would follow that progress in science is what would have to be demonstrated. The parent would then use the second option for demonstrating "an adequate level of educational growth and progress." However, most school divisions, including Albemarle County, are stuck thinking that language arts and math are the only permissible indicators of educational achievement.

I have Googled "defining educational achievement" and found nothing relevant to this argument, in a quick perusal. Although I enjoyed reading an article from the Ohio Association for Developmental Education, Defining Developmental Education: A Commentary, Jeanne L. Higbee, The University of Georgia. From her Conclusion:
Why do we call ourselves developmental educators? Hopefully, because we envision our mission as the development of the whole student, not just the development of intellectual competence. I would like to think that our profession exemplifies not only excellence in teaching our content areas, but in education well-rounded individuals who will emerge from our colleges and universities prepared for the years to come. Pardon me if I bristle every time I hear someone refer to what I do as remedial. My students are not sick, and they do not need to be cured. They are evolving, and the possibilities are limitless.

And from Life Learning Magazine, there was this article on defining education--starting on page 14. I'd be glad to read if there is an accepted standard to be found, even if it's not codified in the Commonwealth. "For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise."—Benjamin Franklin

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