How the Homeschool Regulations Really Work:
Practical Nuances of the New York State Regulations on Home Instruction
ORIGINAL TITLE: “If ‘Legalization’, Then What?: An Analysis of the New York State Regulations on Home Instruction (in a Global Context)”
NOTE: The document below was originally written as a handout for a 2011 international conference in Spain. Since then, some NYS homeschoolers have themselves been finding this document useful. PAHSI (Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information) is making it available on www.PAHSI.net in February of 2013 (after some editing). Comments are welcome and can be sent either to Elsa Haas’ individual email address (see copyright notice, below) or to firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you are in NYS (New York State) and are looking for information on something specific, you may want to consult the Outline of Contents and then skip past the Introduction to the numbered point it refers you to.
Elsa Haas / ElsaHaas2@gmail.com / © Copyright August 2011 and February 2013, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED – do not reproduce or distribute in any language or by any means without written permission from the author.
Outline of Contents (numbers refer to the numbered points below)
B. What the Regulations Say (and How They Work in Practice)
#1 Link for New York State Regulations on Home Instruction
#2 Where to find the NYSED’s “Home Instruction Questions and Answers” (Q. and A.)
#3 Why the NYSED’s “Q. and A.” exists (and its usefulness outside of NYS)
#4 Complying with the Regulations: technically optional, but not really
#5 “Homeschooling” vs. “homebound instruction”
#6 No permission needed; clarification of “school district”, “superintendent”, “megadistrict”
#7 No reasons for homeschooling need be stated
#8 “Socialization” not grounds for denial
#9 No credentials required of parent, but school district does have certain powers
#10 What the school district can ask for (including proof of residence, compulsory age)
#11 Prior school records
#12 When parents can take children out of school
#13 Deadlines (for parent vs. for school district)
#14 Quarterly report deadlines are chosen by parents
#15 Quarterly report deadline options: “suggested” dates / Sept-June calendar / 365-day calendar
#16 Quarterly report deadlines can be conditional, based on receipt of “letter of compliance” for IHIP
#17 First step, begin homeschooling; second step, notify (with one possible exception)
#18 No home visits or required meetings (unless probation already in place)
#19 School district must send copy of Regulations
#20 School district’s forms are optional
#21 Updating paperwork can be easy after first time
#22 Required subjects, yes – but required content only in a few areas
#23 IHIP (Individualized Home Instruction Plan) options
#24 Unschooling or otherwise unconventional IHIPs: “plan of instruction” option
#25 School district can’t be subjective about paperwork
#26 Parent chooses grade level, but sometimes there are conflicts
#27 Written notice if school district rejects IHIP by finding it “deficient”
#28 Venues for appeal if IHIP is rejected
#29 When testing starts
#30 Testing in grades 4-8 can alternate with narrative assessments
#31 Tests to choose from
#32 Two of the most popular tests (PASS and CAT)
#33 Problems with scoring writing
#34 Testing locations
#35 Who can administer a test
#36 Testing at a public school (NYS ELA and NYS Mathematics)
#37 Narrative annual assessments aren’t done by the school district itself
#38 Who can do a narrative annual assessment
#39 Peer group review panels can be informal
#40 Peer group review panels: disputes over who is in them
#41 Testing: composite scores are what count
#42 “Adequate academic progress” in a testing year: the 33rd percentile option
#43 “Adequate academic progress” in a testing year: the “growth option”
#44 Choosing to test more than once in a school year
#45 “School year” for instructional purposes vs. for paperwork purposes; “hours of instruction”; “units”
#46 Annual assessment: venues for appeal
#47 Annual assessment deadline, and what happens if it’s missed
#48 “Special needs”
#49 Why I didn’t define “compulsory school age” in this document
C. Why I (Mostly) Like the Regulations
This is an analysis of the New York State Regulations on Home Instruction. (These Regulations are more formally known as “Part 100.10 of the Regulations of the New York State Commissioner of Education” – or as “C.R. 100.10”, with the “C.R.” standing for “Commissioner’s Regulations”.)
I’m writing this analysis as a resource for homeschooling parents living in countries or subdivisions within countries where the possibility of “legalizing” homeschooling is currently being discussed. (I’m putting “legalizing” in quotes because in some places it’s more correct to say “gaining formal recognition for the legality of”.)
Throughout this analysis I’ll use the term “homeschooling” simply because it’s the most common word here in the United States that may be used for any kind of home education, ranging from more conventional approaches to the unschooling practiced by our family. Though there are various definitions for “unschooling”, I use this term to mean that it’s our son who chooses what and how to learn, aside from certain health and safety issues.
I have no opinion on whether homeschooling parents in any other place should seek the “legalization” of homeschooling. But if homeschoolers do seek a change in legal status, or if it is forced upon them, a careful look at the New York State Regulations could be helpful, especially because they are unusually detailed and have been in effect since 1988.
When I lived in Spain between 1988 and 1997, very few families there were homeschooling, and those few could generally do so without any legal trouble.
At that time I didn’t yet have any children, but I was promoting homeschooling – especially unschooling – because I had previously worked in my home country, the United States, for Holt Associates/ Growing Without Schooling, which was founded by John Holt. Whenever anyone brought up the possibility of pushing for formal recognition of the legality of homeschooling in Spain (based on the Spanish Constitution, etc.), I generally said that I didn’t think it was a good time to do so.
After I returned to the U.S. in 1997, I lost track of what was happening with homeschooling in Spain. Now, in August of 2011, as I write this for an upcoming international conference on homeschooling to be held in Spain, I don’t know enough about the current situation in Spain to say whether pushing for “legalization” there is desirable, strategic, or unavoidable. Those are questions for homeschoolers in Spain to answer.
I don’t know enough about the situations in other countries, either, to have an opinion on whether “legalization” should be sought there or not.
Our son is twelve. We live in the New York City “megadistrict”. I came up with that term because since 2006, the New York City Central Office of Home Schooling handles the homeschool paperwork for families living in any of this city’s many school districts. We have been following the New York State Regulations since our son was six years and three months old.
I am also the director of Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information (PAHSI), whose main goal is to correct any misinformation from government sources about homeschooling in New York State.
I hope this analysis of specific aspects of the New York State Regulations will be helpful in any discussions about “legalization”, even if you happen to live in a place that so far has no specific legal requirements for homeschoolers and would prefer it stay that way.
For example, you might like it just fine that no testing at all is required where you live. But if there is the prospect that testing might be required, it may be worth knowing that in New York State, in those years in which a child must be tested, provision is made for “growth” (academic improvement). That is, if the child’s score doesn’t meet a certain cutoff, the parent can instead use a comparison between that score and an earlier one to show “adequate academic progress” (see #29, below).
No matter what the cutoff score is, and no matter where the academic learning is taking place (at home or in school), there will always be some kids who can’t meet that cutoff. So the concept of “growth” is important, legally, and you may want to insist that such a concept be included in any new laws or regulations if mandatory testing is being considered in your area. Likewise with various other aspects of the Regulations.
B. What the Regulations Say (and How They Work in Practice)
Note: If you are reading this on paper or on a computer without Internet access, it should still make sense without the links.
#1. The New York State Regulations on Home Instruction can be found at the following link on the website of the New York State Education Department (NYSED) – for the Regulations themselves, click on “Part 100.10 of the Regulations of the New York State Commissioner of Education”: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/nonpub/homeinstruction/
#2. At the same link, you will find another important document titled “Home Instruction Questions and Answers” (click on “Questions and Answers”).
#3. The New York State Regulations on Home Instruction went into effect in 1988, and the NYSED has developed the “Questions and Answers” document (or Q. and A.) over the years since then. So looking at both documents together may show you areas in which these Regulations were not as specific or clearly written as they should have been.
For example, the Regulations say (see C.R. 100.10-c-3) that the school district must either “notify” the parents that the IHIP (Individualized Home Instruction Plan) is in compliance with the Regulations or “give the parents written notice” that it is not. In contrast, #49 in the NYSED Q. and A. says that it is “strongly recommended” that notification of compliance be “in writing”.
You can tell from the existence of this particular NYSED Q. and A. item that certain parents who had expected to receive what is often called a “letter of compliance” from the school district must have complained to the NYSED when nothing arrived in the mail. That should have been foreseeable. After all, if the school district is entitled to have something in writing to keep in a file, the parents are, too. So if you are ever involved in developing regulations or laws elsewhere, you might want to insist on wording that clearly requires that “good news” from the local authorities (not just “bad news”) be put in writing.
#4. The first paragraph in the Regulations on Home Instruction says that their purpose is to establish procedures to “assist” school authorities and parents in fulfilling their legal responsibilities. (See C. R. 100.10-a.) At least in theory, this means that parents may find some other way to fulfill their responsibilities, and the school district may recognize that this other way is also acceptable and refrain from reporting the parents to the child welfare authorities. It’s important to realize that not following the Regulations isn’t prima facie (“automatic”) proof of educational neglect, because a lack of homeschool paperwork doesn’t necessarily mean the parents haven’t been educating the child.
That said, choosing to follow the Regulations tends to protect New York State homeschoolers from being charged with educational neglect, and I always recommend that they do.
If you would like to understand the deeper issues, you may find it interesting to research on the Internet the case of Angela Lipsman and her father Daniel, which led to an amendment to the Regulations in cases in which kids attend a university (or “college”, in American English) full-time although they are still of “compulsory school age”. This amendment (available at the same link I gave in #1, above) specifies that the parents of these kids are supposed to file homeschool paperwork anyway, in the same way that #53 in the NYSED Q. and A. clarifies that parents who enroll their children in correspondence schools must file it anyway.
#5. The New York State Regulations on Home Instruction are for homeschoolers – parents who choose to be directly responsible for the education of their own children instead of sending them to school. These Regulations shouldn’t be confused with other regulations or laws that apply when a child is unable to attend school due to a “physical, mental, or emotional illness or injury as substantiated by a licensed physician”, and whose parents may request tutoring by a teacher employed by the government. Such cases are more accurately called “homebound instruction”, not “homeschooling”.
#6. Parents do not have to get permission to homeschool. They simply notify “the superintendent of schools of their school district of residence”, in writing, of their intent to homeschool. (See C. R. 100.10-b.) Throughout this analysis, when I use the term “school district”, I mean either the superintendent or the person or office s/he has delegated to handle homeschool paperwork. In New York City, as noted in the Introduction, the relevant office for the entire citywide “megadistrict” is now the Central Office of Home Schooling (with “Home Schooling” written as two words, even though these days most homeschoolers probably write it as a single word). The written notification is commonly referred to as a “letter of intent”.
#7. Parents are not required to state their reasons for homeschooling because homeschooling is their right.
#8. The school district cannot deny the parent the right to homeschool based on a perceived need for “socialization”. (See NYSED Q. and A. #46.)
#9. Parents (and tutors, if the parent hires any) are not required to show any credentials or to provide any information on their educational background or qualifications in order to teach (see NYSED Q. and A. #8), though the school district does have specific powers in deciding who will write a narrative evaluation of progress or administer a test for the purpose of demonstrating “adequate academic progress” (see C. R. 100.10-h-1-ii).
#10. The school district is not allowed to ask for any information not required by the Regulations (although it is able to refuse to process homeschool paperwork unless the parent provides proof of compulsory school age, and of residence in the district – see #1 in the NYSED Q. and A.). This principle is understood to apply to all aspects of the Regulations, but #45 in the NYSED Q. and A. specifically addresses this question in relation to the IHIP (Individualized Home Instruction Plan).
#11. A child’s prior school record does not affect whether or not the parent may homeschool, and the school district is not authorized to ask for the child’s records, although it may already have them if the child previously attended a public school (in American English, one run by the government).
#12. Parents can take their children out of school to begin homeschooling at any time – they don’t have to wait until the end of a semester, the start of a new school year, or even the end of the day – though parents whose children already have “excessive absences” on their school record may be wise to proceed with some caution. (See C. R. 100.10-b-1 and 2. Also see NYSED Q. and A. #67, #68 and #69. See also #17, below.)
#13. There are alternating deadlines for both the parent and the school district at almost every step, but there has been some debate amongst parents over what to do if the school district misses a deadline. Given that there is no penalty for the school district if it does this, but there is always an implied penalty for a parent (that s/he could be reported to the child welfare authorities on suspicion of “educational neglect”), many parents conclude that they should submit the next piece of paperwork in the series even if the school district is late with its own.
#14. Parents are allowed to establish their own deadlines for their quarterly reports when they write their IHIPs (Individualized Home Instruction Plans), as long as the deadlines are “spaced in even and logical periods.” (See C. R. 100.10-d-3 and NYSED Q. and A. #69).
#15. For these deadlines, many parents simply use dates suggested to them by their school district, or dates that reflect a traditional school year (September through June). But some parents (like me) establish a 365-day “school year”, dividing it into four three-month quarters.
#16. I’m the only one I know of who files IHIPs with quarterly report deadlines that are conditional upon the receipt of a “letter of compliance” for the IHIP. The wording I use is some version of this: “Due dates for quarterly reports: October 1 (2011), January 1 (2012), April 1 (2012), and June 30 (2012), or (in each case) within 5 days of our receipt of your ‘letter of compliance’ for this IHIP (whichever date is later).”
In 2006, the phrase “within 5 days of our receipt of your ‘letter of compliance’ ” served our family particularly well. There was a major delay in getting a response to my IHIP, and because of this phrase I felt confident that I didn’t have to send in my first quarterly report until New York City sent me my letter of compliance. I was also better able to simply refuse to give officials a third copy of my IHIP. (They were requesting multiple copies of many parents’ paperwork, both because the new Central Office had been created without a complete transfer of files from the old regional offices, and because an e-mail account had been set up using a misspelled version of an employee’s name – leaving over 400 e-mails “in limbo”.)
I suspect that when the New York State Regulations were written in 1988, no one was picturing what might go wrong when homeschoolers later became fairly numerous and interacted with a massive bureaucracy (there are now about 3,000 homeschooled kids in New York City, which has about 1.1 million public school students). Homeschoolers in other places may want to think ahead about larger numbers and how they might eventually affect issues such as deadlines, computer systems (see #17, below), and forms (see #20, below).
#17. Parents have fourteen days after they begin homeschooling to send in a letter of intent – that is, the first step is normally to begin homeschooling, and the next step is to inform the authorities of your decision. (See the same references as for #12, above.)
This is especially important for those parents who take their children out of school, since sometimes a decision to homeschool is made only after a period spent considering other options, such as transferring to a different school or moving to a different location.
Some public (government-run) schools incorrectly insist that parents are not allowed to remove their children from the school until they “get permission” (as noted in #6, above, no permission is required); until all the paperwork is processed; or, in places like New York City, where homeschooled kids are entered into the same computer system as the public school kids, until the computer code is changed to the one for homeschooling (444). However, a parent who knows what the Regulations really require can generally stop truancy officers at the door with the letter of intent, and can later insist that any inaccurate “absences” from school be erased from the record. (But see #12, above, if your child already has “excessive absences” on record before beginning homeschooling.)
#18. Unless the home instruction program for a particular child is put on probation, no home visits are required, and the family does not have to meet with school officials. Probation happens only after a series of specific events and is very rare because there is generally time to address any academic problems before reaching this step. (See C. R. 100.10-i. Also see NYSED Q. and A. #2, #28 and #29.)
#19. The school district is required to send the parents a copy of the Regulations on Home Instruction within 10 business days of receiving the letter of intent. (See C. R. 100.10-c-1.)
#20. Parents are not required to use the school district’s forms for any of the documents they have to file – the “letter of intent”, Individualized Home Instruction Plan, quarterly reports or annual assessment (which are described in the Regulations), or the proofs of residence in the school district and of compulsory school age that some school districts require (see NYSED Q. and A. #1). Being able to bypass official forms is important for three reasons.
First, the right to begin homeschooling should not depend on being able to obtain an official form – that’s why the “letter of intent” in particular is most properly a letter, not a form.
Second, when school districts design forms, they are not always designed in accordance with the Regulations – the forms sometimes ask for information that is not really required. PAHSI (Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information) managed to get New York City to make major corrections to its IHIP and quarterly report forms for the 2008-09 school year. But in the meantime, parents were able to create their own formats instead of using the forms, and they still have that option.
Third, certain homeschooling philosophies or approaches don’t “fit” well on standard forms. (For example, some parents who see academic subjects as naturally interconnected choose to create a format in which the subjects are “lumped together”.)
The Regulations do require the school district to send the parent a form for the IHIP, but New York State officials have confirmed that parents can use their own format instead. For the other documents, nothing is mentioned in the Regulations about forms, but many school districts do design and provide them.
I think it’s extremely important that homeschooling organizations in places where homeschooling is in the process of being “legalized” be aware of the need to carefully consider whether forms will be required or provided, who will design them, and whether parents will be able to opt out of using any specific form.
Although officials at the state level know that parents are not required to use any of the forms provided by the school district, local officials sometimes do not understand this at first. I wish the Regulations included a sentence clarifying that parents may create their own formats (but I wouldn’t want the New York State Regulations to be brought up for debate again – I’m just discussing this aspect for anyone involved in the development of new regulations or laws where they live).
#21. Parents who create their own documents on a computer tend to find that after the first time they prepare each document, it’s not very labor-intensive to update it each time they need to file it again.
Some parents, especially those who use the IHIP to describe their overall appraoch to homeschooling (rather than to lay out an exhaustive, blow-by-blow curriculum) are able to use a similar IHIP from one year to the next (though this may be easier to do without any objection from the school district if past quarterly reports have been relatively detailed and included some specific examples). Some parents are able to efficiently create a new quarterly report by adding or deleting certain resources or topics but keeping the previous format and conceptual framework.
In other words, even though NYS is by far one of the most regulated and paperwork-heavy states in the U.S., the paperwork is more daunting the first year than in subsequent years.
Parents who decide not to use their school district’s forms may still find it helpful to look at them and think about how little information the school district really seems to want. For example, IHIP and quarterly report forms typically provide a fairly small box to fill in for each subject, which can be reassuring to parents who had imagined that they would have to write a series of small “essays”.
#22. While there is a list of required subjects (Reading, U.S. History, Physical Education, etc.) for each grade level (see C. R. 100.10-e-2), there is no list of required topics or methods within each subject (see NYSED Q. and A. #42), except for a few health-related topics (see NYSED Q. and A. #48.) Of course, the U.S. is probably unusual in that it doesn’t (yet) have a national curriculum (per se), and topics and methods vary widely in both public and private schools.
#23. In the IHIP, the parent is required to include “a list of the syllabi, curriculum materials, textbooks or plan of instruction to be used in each of the required subjects”. (See C. R. 100.10-d-2.) Maybe in part because this phrase is poorly written (there is another version of it in NYSED Q. and A. #35), some school districts incorrectly ask parents for all of these things. The parents then have to point out the word “or” and insist that they are going to provide, for example, only a “plan of instruction”. As mentioned above (see #20), PAHSI got New York City to correct its IHIP forms for the 2008-09 school year. Until then, the forms had two columns, one for “TEXTBOOKS” and the other for “CURRICULUM”, but now they have a single column with “Syllabi, curriculum materials, textbooks or plan of instruction” at the top.
#24. Parents who unschool, or who homeschool in some other unconventional way, often choose to provide a “plan of instruction” in the IHIP. This plan may simply explain in some way that the family intends to meet the requirements of the Regulations by encouraging and helping the child to follow his or her own interests, and by providing resources for the child to choose from. School districts vary in how much detail they want from the parents on this.
#25. The school district can’t reject an IHIP or other paperwork simply because it doesn’t like it or doesn’t agree with the educational philosophy it represents. If the paperwork contains all of the required information, it must be ruled in compliance with the Regulations. (See NYSED Q. and A. #36.)
#26. It is the parent who chooses the grade level to declare on the IHIP. (See C. R. 100.10-d-1 and NYSED Q. and A. #39.) Some parents choose “kindergarten” instead of “first grade” to start. And some parents repeat or skip a grade level at some point, though some school districts resist this.
It is possible to document “adequate academic progress” for the school year but then decide to have your child repeat a grade anyway, since educational standards and philosophies vary and you can ultimately decide to be “stricter” than the Regulations require you to be.
[Notes added in February, 2013]:
New York City has been known to (unsuccessfully) claim that a grade level can’t be changed once it is in the computer system/s, even if it is inaccurate and even if the error was theirs. A future PAHSI.net blog post will cover how to correct inaccuracies in NYC DOE (Department of Education) records.
Also in New York City, there have occasionally been conflicts over homeschool grade level when a child who isn’t doing well in school (especially public school) is taken out in the last few months of the school year.
Grade level can have important implications for families in areas like eligibility for competitions, government benefits, summer programs, etc. Parents may need to think ahead about many factors not strictly limited to homeschooling.
PAHSI (Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information) continues to work on grade level issues as they arise.
#27. As described in #3, above, if the school district thinks that the IHIP isn’t in compliance with the Regulations, it has to give the parent/s written notice. The full phrase is “give the parents written notice of any deficiency in the IHIP”. (See C. R. 100.10-c-3.) In practice, this means that the school district has to explain in writing what the perceived problem with the IHIP is. A few school districts have been known to try to reject IHIPs without any explanation.
#28. If the parent revises the IHIP and the school district rejects the new version, the parent has specific venues for appeal: first the local Board of Education, then the New York State Commissioner of Education. (See C. R. 100.10-c-5 and -6. Also see NYSED Q. and A. #50, #51 and #52.) In the case of New York City, mayoral control over education means that identifying the equivalent of the “Board of Education” isn’t straightforward.
In practice, though, I don’t know of anyone who has needed to use those two venues. Problems have tended to be resolved either directly with the school district or after a simple phone call or e-mail to the Office of Nonpublic Schools in Albany (the capital of New York State), which is the NYSED office that has traditionally handled questions about both homeschooling and private (non-government) schools. Unfortunately, budget cuts in 2010 left that office understaffed. (See the New York Times blog post “Retirements May Mean Less Help for Homeschoolers” either by pasting this link into your browser: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/retirements-may-mean-less-help-for-home-schoolers/ or by clicking here , but be sure to skip down past the unrelated second topic to read all the comments, which are not all in chronological order).
#29. No testing is required until the summer following what would be either third or fifth grade as defined by a conventional school calendar (that’s about ages 9-11), depending on the method used to show adequate academic progress (either a single national percentile score or a comparison between scores that is referred to colloquially as the “growth option” – see C. R. 100.10-h-1-v-b).
Reasons that testing isn’t required earlier include:
- issues of statistical validity and reliability (these are technical terms used by psychometricians) in the testing of younger children;
- the non-linear nature of skills development in homeschooling (skills may seem to plateau, but sudden progress later attests to latent knowledge acquisition);
- the fact that individualized instruction permits uneven development in a way that conventional schools cannot (homeschooled children can lag in this or that tested area and excel in others with no long-term detriment, while children taught in large groups tend to feel “lost” as soon as they miss a step);
- the long-term advantages of allowing younger children to “specialize” in areas that are not tested (such as music or art);
- the particularly wide variety of approaches to homeschooling in the early grades;
- the potentially negative effects of high-stakes testing on younger children’s attitudes toward academic learning; and
- the comprehensiveness of assessments based on portfolios and interviews, rather than on a single, high-stakes standardized test.
#30. In grades 4-8, usually about ages 9 to 13, testing is not required every year. Every other year, the parent can submit a “written narrative annual assessment” instead. Parents often choose to submit the results of testing only in grades 4, 6, and 8, or only in grades 5 and 7. (See C. R. 100.10-h-2-ii and NYSED Q. and A. #60.)
#31. In years in which a test is used, the parent chooses the test from among those that have been approved for homeschooling – some administered at schools, some available for use at home or elsewhere. (See C. R. 100.10-h-i for the original list of tests. There is also a memo titled “Testing Information for Home Instruction” that lists additional tests approved by the New York State Education Department – the NYSED – and I can provide you with a copy upon request.)
In practice, the NYSED doesn’t always have enough staff to review new tests for approval, so it has allowed school districts to approve some tests. (For example, New York City now recognizes scores from the college-admissions SAT, PSAT and ACT, which some kids choose to take early.)
#32. Although parents who want to order and pay for a test on their own can choose from among many, two of the most popular tests are the PASS (Personalized Achievement Summary System, available through Hewitt Homeschooling Resources) and the CAT (California Achievement Test, available in several versions through Family Learning Organization, Seton Home Study School, Thurber’s Educational Assessments, etc.).
While the PASS was developed specifically for homeschoolers, only the older versions of the CAT are available to homeschoolers because the newer versions are still being sold by the test publisher for use in some schools, both public and private.
Some parents choose the PASS because it is untimed (for all kids, not just for those who have “special needs”) and/or because it uses a “placement test” to decide the level of each section on the actual test, so that the child will be neither too bored nor too frustrated and the scores will be more accurate. The PASS has only three sections: Mathematics, Reading, and Language Arts – that is, English grammar, usage, and spelling.
Some parents choose a short version of the CAT. Like the PASS, this short version includes only Mathematics, Reading, and Language Arts. But some parents prefer it to the PASS because it takes less total time to complete than the PASS.
Other parents choose one of the longer versions of the CAT, which may include as many as ten subjects, among them Science and Social Studies. But not all subjects count towards the “composite”, or overall, score – the only score that matters for showing “adequate academic progress”.
#33. The parent can choose a test (like the PASS or the CAT) that is entirely multiple choice, thus precluding the issues inherent in scoring a student’s writing using “rubrics”. (See the book Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry by Todd Farley, as well as research by Dr. Les Perelman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.) In any case, writing is evaluated in the years in which a narrative annual assessment is submitted instead of test results.
#34. The child can be tested at various locations (for example, at home, at a public place like a library, at the home of the person administering the test, or at a public or private school). Of course, some tests are only available at schools. (See C. R. 100.10-h-1-ii.)
When the Regulations were negotiated in 1988, one of the factors discussed may have been certain laboratory experiments (referenced by John Holt, among others) that showed that people tend to score higher on a test when it is given in the same room where the person learned the material.
#35. New York State allows the school district to grant consent for the parent to test his or her own child. Some school districts grant this consent, and some deny it. If consent is denied, parents generally end up hiring a New York State certified teacher to test the child at home. (See C. R. 100.10-h-ii-d and NYSED Q. and A. #64.)
#36. Some parents choose to show “adequate academic progress” by sending their children to take certain of the same tests that the kids in the local public (government) school take, especially the New York State English Language Arts (ELA) Test and the New York State Mathematics Test. (Some parents do this because it is free, some because they want their children to get practice at taking tests in a school environment, and others because they want the score to be more easily understood or convincing to any schools that their child might apply to in the future.)
#37. In the years when testing is not required, if the parent chooses to use a “written narrative annual assessment”, school district employees never directly evaluate the child’s work. Instead, a third party (“a New York-state certified teacher, a home instruction peer group review panel, or other person”) does the assessment. (See C. R. 100.10-h-2-iii.) To me, this is a positive and extremely important aspect of the Regulations.
#38. As with testing, the school district is allowed by New York State to let the parent write the narrative assessment. In this case, the parent would be the “other person” mentioned in #37, above. (See NYSED Q. and A. #64.) Some school districts do allow the parent to do this, and some don’t. If the parent chooses an individual person for the narrative assessment, some school districts reject any choice other than a certified teacher. But they can’t require a certified teacher if the parent chooses to use a “peer group review panel”. (See #40, below.)
#39. If the parent chooses a “peer group review panel” for the narrative annual assessment, the panel may simply be two other homeschooling parents. It doesn’t have to be set up by a homeschooling organization. (See NYSED Q. and A. #65.)
#40. The school district can reject the parent’s choice of “peers” for the “peer group review panel”, but if this is done for seemingly arbitrary or illogical reasons, parents may be able to successfully argue against it.
For example, in 2006 an employee in the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling told parents that they were free to use a peer group review panel as long as one of its members was a certified teacher. PAHSI (Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information) pointed out that this would undermine the very concept of “peer”. If an American is guaranteed the right to a “trial by a jury of his peers”, we argued by analogy, it’s absurd to say that one of the jurors has to be a judge. The employee then backed down.
#41. As mentioned in #32, above, in a year when testing is used to show “adequate academic progress”, the only test score that counts is the composite score. So a low score in one area can be offset by a high score in another area/s. For example, a child whose scores in Math and in Language Arts are low may score so high in Reading that the composite score is adequate.
#42. One way to show “adequate academic progress” through testing is for the child to score above the 33rd percentile. That means the child’s composite score is better than about the bottom third of his or her statistical peers nationwide, however they are schooled. (See C. R. 100.10-h-1-v-a.)
#43. As mentioned in the Introduction above, if the child’s composite score isn’t above the 33rd percentile, the parent can instead demonstrate “adequate academic progress” with “one academic year of growth” – by comparing the most recent composite score to one from the previous school year or from earlier in the same school year. People often call this “the growth option”. (See C. R. 100.10-h-1-v-b.)
#44. A parent may choose to test more than once in a school year – multiple attempts are fine as long as an adequate score is achieved by the end of the “school year” (as defined by the homeschool paperwork requirements, which call for the annual assessment to be submitted by June 30). Any composite score from a test administered between the beginning of the “paperwork school year” (on July 1) and the end of it (on June 30) counts, though parents are wise to allow time to both receive the test results and submit the annual assessment that is based on them by June 30.
#45. As mentioned in #15, above, the “school year” for instructional purposes can be as long as 365 days, or it can be shorter (though for paperwork purposes, all the paperwork within a certain 365-day period belongs to the same “school year”). There is no requirement to follow “school hours”. (See NYSED Q. and A. #7.) So all of a child’s learning counts, if the parent wants it to, no matter when it happens – even on the weekend, early or late in the day or night, or when most children are “on vacation”. There are certain requirements about “hours of instruction” (see, for example, C. R. 100.10-f), but they end up being rather theoretical and silly for various reasons.
For example, “hours of instruction” may include self-instruction, such as a child’s reading a novel of his or her own choosing. This counts just as much as a parent teaching a “lesson” about that novel and is perfectly consistent with what happens in public and private schools, where children are also expected to self-instruct at certain times during the school day.
In practice, as long as the parent documents adequate academic progress in accordance with the Regulations, the time requirements can be treated as general guidelines that indicate that it’s the parent’s responsibility to give the child the time, space, and attention needed in order to make that progress.
The parent whose child is able to meet the goal of adequate academic progress in fewer hours than are technically required is not penalized.
For the past six years (I didn’t do this for first grade), I’ve written in my IHIP that I planned to state in all of the quarterly reports that the number of hours of instruction had met or exceeded the requirement for that grade level. But I’ve also written in each of these six most recent IHIPs: “We will consider this statement a mere formality”. And I’ve included a detailed explanation of why it is a formality.
This explanation is based in part on John Holt’s writings. For example, he pointed out that one-on-one instruction is inherently more efficient than group instruction in most cases, and he suggested that parents might want to find out how much “homebound instruction” is provided by the government to kids who can’t attend school (the kids described in #5, above). Here in New York City, it’s only five hours per week in the lower grades, and only ten hours per week beginning in seventh grade (about age twelve). As he pointed out in Teach Your Own (though the passage may not be included in all editions of that book), this shows how efficient one-on-one instruction typically is, since these kids do generally “keep up” with their peers in school.
Beginning in seventh grade, the Regulations (I’m now going back to the ones about homeschooling, not “homebound instruction”) specify a minimum number of “units” per two- to four-year period for certain major subjects, with a “unit” defined as a certain number of minutes. (See C. R. 100.10-e-1.) For 2011-12, or seventh grade for our son, my IHIP includes an explanation of how we plan to handle units: we will not time how long our son spends on each subject, but instead will consider “competency”. In other words, if our son knows something, we don’t care how long it took him to learn it. As with all my paperwork, this IHIP was accepted by New York City without comment.
#46. If a “dispute” arises between the school district and the parent over the annual assessment, the parent’s venues for appeal are the same as those for the IHIP. (See #28, above. Also see C. R. 100.10-h-3.) Again, in practice disputes are generally resolved before reaching these venues.
#47. If, by June 30, the school district doesn’t receive an annual assessment (whether test results or a narrative, depending on what is required that year), it has to follow a specific series of steps before reporting the problem to the child welfare authorities. (See NYSED Q. and A #66.)
#48. Children who have “special needs” such as Down syndrome, autism, or dyslexia, and who are homeschooled by parental choice (not because they unable to attend school and receiving “homebound instruction” as described in #5, above) are not in a separate homeschooling category. So everything in the Regulations applies to them, too. But the parents may choose to seek special services that are paid for by the government, such as speech therapy, or to seek special accommodations in testing – for example, extra time to take a test. This is done through separate processes similar to the ones for public and private school students with special needs.
Parents are not required to allow the government to evaluate their children for “special needs”, and may refuse the special services available through the government. But if the child obviously needs some kind of therapy and the parent doesn’t provide for it in some way, someone might make a complaint that could result in an accusation of educational neglect by the child welfare authorities.
Since the parent is the one who establishes the grade level in the IHIP, some parents may decide to have a child with a major special need spend more than one year at the same grade level, even if “adequate academic progress” was shown the first time.
In 2008, a new law reinstated special education services to homeschooled kids after they had been interrupted because of a technicality. A memo about this law – titled “New Requirements for the Provision of Special Education Services to Home-Instructed (‘Home-Schooled’) Students” – is at the same NYSED link provided in #1, above, for the Regulations and for the NYSED Q. and A. But a section of the Q. and A. which previously covered questions related to special needs has not been rewritten or restored to the Q. and A. (I can provide you with a copy.)
#49. A later note (added in February, 2013): Compulsory school age is defined not in the Regulations, but in law. The upper age limit varies from one part of NYS to another, and the lower age limit is sometimes in flux and may be complicated by parental waivers. For these reasons, PAHSI (Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information) will add a discussion of compulsory age to PAHSI.net as soon as possible, but it probably won’t be in this document (it may be in a blog post).
C. Why I (Mostly) Like the Regulations
Our family has been able to homeschool the way we want to for the past six years while following the Regulations, even though we are unschoolers.
We live on Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City. There are three bridges leading from the Island to the State of New Jersey, where homeschoolers have no specific requirements. Parents don’t even need to notify the authorities that they homeschool.
Sometimes people tell me they plan to move to New Jersey to escape the New York State Regulations. They ask me whether I wouldn’t prefer living there, too.
It surprises them when I reply that I prefer to live in New York State because I see the Regulations as our family’s protection.
I see the IHIP as a “contract”. Each year, I have described our approach to homeschooling honestly in the IHIP. Once the New York City Central Office of Home Schooling accepts my IHIP as containing all the information required by the Regulations, the “contract” is legally in place.
If a neighbor were ever to complain to the authorities that, for example, our son spends too much time outside playing or seems to lack a certain academic skill, and if a child welfare (here it’s the Administration for Children’s Services, or ACS) worker were then to appear on our doorstep, I would simply give that worker a copy of my IHIP and other documents and say, “All of these documents are on file at the Office of Homeschooling. They describe what we do.”
I would prefer to do this, rather than have to explain unschooling from scratch to someone who has been sent to investigate us. (Fortunately in any case, all of the documents I have filed have been accepted without question, as I mentioned earlier, and no one has ever appeared on our doorstep to investigate.)
There are aspects of the Regulations that I would change if it were possible to do so without risking other less desirable changes. For example, it would be nice not to have any requirements on hours (or time-based “units”) of instruction because some parents new to homeschooling worry about them more than they need to – since they don’t initially understand #45, above. But my overall opinion of the Regulations is relatively positive, and I prefer not to rock the boat and maybe make things worse.
This analysis doesn’t cover everything. It doesn’t include how homeschoolers in New York State later get into college (university) if they want to. And I didn’t describe federal, state, and local funding issues, or the circumstances in which homeschoolers might get into trouble for providing group instruction and not meeting private school regulations like fire codes. Please contact me for more discussion. I hope you all enjoy the 2011 conference, if you’re attending. Wish I could’ve been there, too!
Best wishes, Elsa Haas
Elsa Haas / ElsaHaas2@gmail.com / © Copyright August 2011 and February 2013, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED – do not reproduce or distribute in any language or by any means without written permission from the author.