There are four legal requirements for homeschoolers in Florida: (1) the notice of intent; (2) the notice of termination; (3) the annual evaluation; and (4) the portfolio of records and materials. In another article, we summarized all the requirements, pointing readers to sections in the Florida Statutes where they appear.
In this article, we'll look specifically at the annual evaluation. By the end of the article, readers will understand:
who needs to have an annual evaluation
the five different options to choose from
examples of how each option is used
when evaluations are due
where to submit evaluations each year
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
Excerpts from the Florida Statutes explain the evaluation process (1002.41, emphasis added):
"The parent shall provide for an annual educational evaluation in which is documented the student’s demonstration of educational progress at a level commensurate with her or his ability. The parent shall select the method of evaluation and shall file a copy of the evaluation annually with the district school superintendent’s office in the county in which the student resides."
There are five different ways to satisfy the annual evaluation requirement, commonly called Options 1 through 5. Here they are:
1. A teacher selected by the parent shall evaluate the student’s educational progress upon review of the portfolio and discussion with the student. Such teacher shall hold a valid regular Florida certificate to teach academic subjects at the elementary or secondary level;
2. The student shall take any nationally normed student achievement test administered by a certified teacher;
3. The student shall take a state student assessment test used by the school district and administered by a certified teacher, at a location and under testing conditions approved by the school district;
4. The student shall be evaluated by an individual holding a valid, active license pursuant to the provisions of s. 490.003(7) or (8); or
5. The student shall be evaluated with any other valid measurement tool as mutually agreed upon by the district school superintendent of the district in which the student resides and the student’s parent.
VERY QUICK OVERVIEW
The annual evaluation is used to assess yearly educational progress in Florida home education students. Progress is demonstrated using one of five different evaluation options that are given, and parents may choose which evaluation method to use for every student from year to year.
A student's homeschool evaluation is due at the same time every year. The due date is determined by the date listed on the original notice of intent to homeschool (the "Letter of Intent"). The phrase "anniversary date" has come to be used when talking about the due date for annual evaluations. The "anniversary" can be thought of as celebrating the completion of another year of homeschooling, with the evaluation serving as evidence that the student is ready to continue for another year.
Evaluations are turned in to the school superintendent's office in the district the family resides. Parents typically keep copies of all homeschool evaluations that are turned in throughout the homeschool years, as these provide a legal record of homeschool progress for each student from year to year.
Note that parents who are homeschooling multiple children will turn in multiple annual evaluations, one for every student listed on the Letter of Intent. It is also possible -- even common - for children in the same family to have different evaluation due dates, if the Letter of Intent was submitted on different dates for each child in the family.
Annual evaluations are only required for students in independent home education programs, that is, ones operating under the Letter of Intent. Students enrolled in private schools or virtual public schools are assessed in accordance with the rules of their school programs instead.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT THE EVALUATION
In Florida, the homeschool evaluation is designed to assess learners individually, using the student's own personal benchmarks established previously for comparison. Given that homeschooling is a unique endeavor and not all students are alike, the goal of the evaluation is not to compare homeschoolers to other same-age homeschoolers, and not to compare them to students in public schools, either. Instead, the goal of the homeschool evaluation is to compare the work and skills of the student earlier in the year, to what the student is capable of approximately one year later.
The term "progress" used in the Statutes is also worth examining, since progress can be defined differently for different students. Depending on the learner, the type of schoolwork they're doing, and how the work lends itself to measurement, it is easy to see how having a choice of evaluation methods makes it easy for students to demonstrate progress in his or her own way.
This perspective can be helpful when selecting the measurement tool that is most appropriate for each individual student. The freedom to choose is what allows Florida parents to select the evaluation method that is most reflective of the type of learner and the homeschooling experience that is being assessed. Much like the freedom to choose courses and curriculum, choosing the evaluation method once again underscores the power and flexibility offered to parents who choose Florida homeschooling.
THE FIVE OPTIONS
Here is a look of the 5 different evaluation methods, and how they might work for a Florida homeschooled student:.
Option 1: The Portfolio Review
"A teacher selected by the parent shall evaluate the student’s educational progress upon review of the portfolio and discussion with the student. Such teacher shall hold a valid regular Florida certificate to teach academic subjects at the elementary or secondary level"
In Option 1, the parent selects a Florida-certified teacher, and meets with the teacher for the student review. During the meeting, which may happen in person or virtually, the teacher reviews the contents of the student's portfolio, plus any other materials the parent or student would like to share.
A portfolio review usually lasts 30-60 minutes and parents bear the cost of the evaluation themselves, typically ranging from $25-$50 per child. The student must be present at the meeting, and the teacher will engage the student in a short conversation about the portfolio or something else the student might like to talk about.
After reviewing the portfolio and chatting with the student, the teacher will issue a signed declaration of progress, made in accordance with the language of the Florida Statutes. The parent keeps a copy of the evaluation in the student file, and delivers the original document to the district superintendent's office by the due date.
Option 2: Achievement Test Administered by a Teacher
"The student shall take any nationally normed student achievement test administered by a certified teacher"
In Option 2, the parent contracts with a Florida-certified teacher to conduct the evaluation. Parents bear the cost of the test, pay for the teacher's time, and buy any required supplies (for example, #2 pencils and a calculator).
Also permitted under Option 2 is for groups of homeschool families to gather together and test many students at the same time. By testing multiple children simultaneously, families are able to divide the costs among themselves, while providing an authentic testing environment for students, too.
There are many tests that satisfy this option, including: Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), California Achievement Test (CAT); Stanford Achievement Test (SAT), Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS), and others.
When test results arrive, the scores are given directly to the parents of each student. In families using test the results for evaluation purposes, parents then deliver the results (or a typewritten summary of) to the school superintendent's office by the due date.
Note: Tests administered at home by parents who are not themselves certified teachers do not fulfill this option. Parent administered test results may potentially be used under Option 5 at the discretion of the district superintendent; see below.
Option 3: Test Administered by the School District
"The student shall take a state student assessment test used by the school district and administered by a certified teacher, at a location and under testing conditions approved by the school district"
Option 3 testing consists of having the homeschooler take a test that is administered by district school personnel in a school setting. Parents who may be interested in using district testing are advised to notify the school district in which they live, early enough for their students to be included in district-wide testing, typically occurring in the spring.
Results from district-wide tests are stored in the student's permanent record and automatically applied as the annual homeschool evaluation. It is important to understand that district scores cannot be rescinded, should the results not turn out as expected.
When considering this option, we first advise parents to consider any potential mismatch between the highly individualized education they might be delivering at home, and a test specifically designed for students following the state's public school curriculum. We assume that parents who choose Option 3 realize they are selecting a test for their homeschooler that public school students spend all year preparing to pass.
Option 4: Other Licensed Professional
"The student shall be evaluated by an individual holding a valid, active license pursuant to the provisions of s. 490.003(7) or (8)"
In Option 4, parents can choose to submit the results of an evaluation performed by a licensed psychologist or a school psychologist, as defined in the laws of Florida.
Should the parent already have a timely psychological evaluation in hand, this may be used to satisfy the homeschool annual evaluation requirement. Alternatively, should the parent feel a psychological assessment would more accurately reflect the student's progress, or serve to inform about the student in other ways, a psychologist's report may be submitted as the homeschool evaluation, by the annual due date.
Option 5: Any Other Measurement Mutually Agreed Upon
"The student shall be evaluated with any other valid measurement tool as mutually agreed upon by the district school superintendent of the district in which the student resides and the student’s parent."
In Option 5, the parent may submit any other evaluation that the district superintendent agrees is a valid measurement of student progress. We advise parents planning to use this option to call the Superintendent's office to first receive approval.
While protocols vary slightly across the state, examples of documents that have previously been accepted under Option 5 include:
- transcripts displaying a significant number of courses taken through Florida Virtual School Flex
- transcripts displaying college courses taken via dual enrollment
- grade reports issued by accredited, national private schools
- grade reports or certificates earned in programs taught by state-certified instructors
While Option 5 decisions are ultimately made at the district level, parents are encouraged to ask about other ways to document homeschool progress for individual students. Especially when evidence already exists from other professionals or authoritative bodies, it could circumvent the need to repeat the evaluation process again.
During any discussion on annual evaluations, the following questions inevitably arise:
"May homeschool parents who themselves are certified teachers evaluate their own students?"
"Can any Florida-certified teacher evaluate homeschoolers, or are there certain qualities to look for in a portfolio reviewer?"
"Where can families find a list of teachers who offer testing and perform portfolio evaluations?"
"Is it possible to turn in evaluations early? How about late? How far from the anniversary date is still considered compliant?"
These questions and many more are regularly discussed in our member forum on Facebook. Make a request and join in the conversation.