“Can you really do that? Is it legal? What about socialization?” Then there are some more questions people like to ask when you tell them you are Unschooling. Eventually though, they ask, “Don’t you have to report to the school and take tests?”
Answers to the last question vary and depend on where you live. In some states, such as Oklahoma (where we moved from), you don’t have to do ANYTHING other than state that you are homeschooling if you remove a child from school. There are no rules, regulations, requirements, evaluations or portfolios to deal with. I would call it an Unschooler’s Paradise!
Unfortunately, here in Pennsylvania, you have to jump through some hoops. PA is considered one of the more difficult states to Homeschool in, but it’s not impossible. The warning I give everyone, regardless of where they live is: if you choose to comply with your state’s Home-Ed Law, do so as minimally as possible; don’t give over or report anything that the law does not explicitly ask for, because if you do, it only makes it harder for other Homeschoolers in the future — if you give a school district an inch, they’ll try to drag you & everyone else for miles.
Besides counseling Unschooling families in PA myself, I refer them to askpauline.com. Pauline has compiled mountains of information for Homeschoolers in our state and I am grateful. It appears that most questions I receive from people regarding the law apply to portfolios. Pauline has some resources here for portfolio pages and ideas. I will stress again to only include the absolute minimum number of required pages for the portfolio…do NOT be one of these parents with portfolios the size of a phone-book — it only hurts your fellow Homeschoolers. It’s fine to keep tons of examples of things your children have done throughout the year, but you do NOT have to submit all 5000 of them — only a few. There are several Unschooling mums in PA who only submit portfolios consisting of approximately 12 photocopied pages for their children and practically half of those are book lists and such and only about half are copies of “work” done by their children. I’d encourage more families to comply in such a manner — you can always submit more if it is truly necessary & in keeping with the actual law, but you can not retract a phone-book’s worth of pages.
We do have options for testing and one of the best options is NOT testing. Though our Home-Ed Law does require that in grades 3, 5 & 8 all homeschooled children be tested and that test results (for reading/language arts & math only) be included with their portfolios in those years, it does NOT require parents to assign a grade level to their children. Plainly what I mean is that you do not have to include what “grade” your children are in, only their ages. If your child is the age of the average 3rd, 5th or 8th grader, but they are involved in a higher/lower “grade level” of exploration and engagement, then you (as the home-ed supervisor) can decide that they are NOT a 3rd, 5th or 8th grader and therefor are NOT required to be tested and have those test results submitted — if they are tested, it need not be at “grade level” either. Homeschooled children can be “held back” or “skipped ahead” like traditionally schooled children. And apparently, a lot of homeschooling parents have opted to just not include test results until they are asked for via certified mail — oddly, many parents are never asked for them via any means.
In PA we also have to have our portfolios viewed by an evaluator. We get to choose our evaluators, they look over the portfolio, sign off that an “appropriate education” and “sustained progress” is taking place and then the portfolios are sent in with the evaluator’s letter. The important thing to remember about evaluators is that they are working for you (whether or not they are being compensated). Dayna Martin has a good post about “shopping” for an evaluator.
While I oppose our state’s regulations, I don’t think they have to be treated as this scary monster under the bed. You either comply or you don’t. You either comply to the wording of the law or you be as creative with your thinking and interpretation of how to comply with the law as you feel suits your needs. Thankfully, in PA we have some time, because we don’t have to “do” anything until children are 8yrs old (or the following year for birthdays mid-Sept. & after) and then we’re only required to “do” whatever it is that we do until and including the day before a child turns 17yrs old.
And thankfully, if you are ever confused you can contact the homeschooling liasion.