This primer is an attempt to make your paper work flow as smoothly as possible. The original intent of the law is clear. You are not asking for permission nor are you seeking approval to homeschool your child. You are notifying the state that your child will be homeschooled using a detailed outline or narrative and providing proof that your child did progress per age and ability (not grade level). You have a constitutional right to homeschool.
The home study unit determines if the notice is complete. If found to be incomplete, within 14 business days they will send out a letter notifying you the paper work is complete or what may be missing. You have another 14 days to send in the missing information. If the Secretary or designee has "a significant doubt about whether a home study program can or will provide a minimum course of study for a student .... the Secretary may call a hearing." Way less than 1% of all enrollments submitted were threatened with a hearing and even fewer were actually held. If a hearing officer rules against the parents and they feel the issue is still unresolved, they can appeal directly to the Vermont Supreme Court. This is rare but it does happen. The enrollment notice has three basic parts:
Description of forms| Detailed Outline or Narrative| Assessment of progress
Description of Forms
The law does not say you have to use the Agency forms but you must supply all of the required information stated in the law. The intent of Agency or VHEN forms are supposed to make this easier for you so that nothing is forgotten. Agency forms tend to change from time to time, even though the statute has not. Agency changes depend on who the current Home Study staff is and how they interpret the law. VHEN looks to the clear intent of the statutes and how the Vermont Supreme Court has described the statute's intent.
Annual enrollment notice (state form A) - Simple directory information such as name, addresses, and phone numbers, parent's signatures, name of child and age of child in year and month only, for example, 07/99.
Agency Form B - only once - This is about a simple screening for disabilities. It is a place for independent professional evidence on whether the child has any disabilities. If your child has not been screened in a Vermont public school or previously for a home study program you will need to fill out this form. Your child's doctor or a teacher can fill out this form. Not only are the results of the screening required but also the method of screening. Remember this is supposed to be a simple screening.
Agency Form C - only if needed- If your child is taking a course at a public school or a private school, these teachers will be covering a subject area of your child's course of study. The public or private school is responsible for this material and hence the reason for this form and their signature.
Agency Form D - optional - This is a release of contact information so that those that obtain this mailing list from the Agency can send you information that might be of interest to you as a homeschooler. Currently this mailing does not generate a lot of mail in your box.
Agency Form E - only if needed - This form is for private tutors and those that provide ongoing instruction for your child in the areas of reading, writing, use of numbers, history, literature and science. Form needed only if the subject area is not being taught by you or self directed by your child therefore the other teacher's signature is needed.
Teacher Assessment Form - annual - The teacher can use this form or if they/you prefer, put the information found on this form into a letter. There is a more indepth discussion of this information in "Assessment of Progress" below.
Detailed Outline or Narrative
The detailed outline or narrative is also called the course of study. Some also refer to is as the curriculum. This is a description of what may be covered the following year. When writing this, do not put down everything that you think you will cover. It should cover the basics but do not give too much detail. Trial and error is the only way to learn how much is not enough. A rule of thumb is to supply about 75% of what you think you may cover.
There are many ways that the detailed outline can be written. Some parents are intentionally vague and plan on getting an incomplete letter. This way they know just how much more they need to give. The law mandates that learning experiences are to be provided for children and that these experiences are to be adapted to the child's age and ability. Actual learning is not mandated. You can list the topics/skills you may cover or actual write a paragraph about the content area.
The course of study has 6 parts that break down into 8 actual subject headings. They are as follows:
- Basic communication skills - reading and writing
- Basic communication skills - use of numbers
- Citizenship, history and government in Vermont and the United States - field trips are easy enough to do to cover Vermont history.
- Physical education
- Comprehensive health which covers tobacco, alcohol, and drugs - the home study statute (166b) does not reference any other statute that talks about comprehensive health
- English, American and other literature - this is about elements of literature and reading various types of literature
- Fine arts - art, music, drama, dance etc.
Assessment of Progress
The assessment is about the child progressing from year to year. Not all children will be at "grade level" in all subjects at all times. This is why the statute refers to "age and ability" and not grade level. Homeschoolers do not tend to use grade levels. Some children will be ahead of their "grade level". Some children will be ahead in some subjects and behind in others. Still other children will lag behind in all subjects. Anytime a child is not progress then it is time to see if something else is going on. So to repeat, the assessment is about annual PROGRESS commensurate with age and ability - is the child progress at an adequate rate for that child? Academic grades are not necessary in an assessment, in fact do not include them. Some parents homeschool and never grade anything. They do correct however and expect for corrections to be made but they do not always give a grade. Portfolio samples do not need to have grades on them but DO DATE THEM. The staff at the AOE may look to see if corrections have been made so also show correction if any are needed. For example circle all spelling errors. This show the state that the parent is aware. The teacher assessment will describe what the teacher sees and that is most often nearly everthing the child did during the school year and often includes the teacher talking with the child. Testing of course will have percentile rankings.
The assessment breaks into the same subject headings as the course of study. Each area must be covered by the form of assessment that you choose and you can mix and match as long as every subject area is covered by one or more forms of assessment. . - portfolio with a parents report - teacher assessment - test with a parents report for areas not tested. A parent's report is simply a description of what was covered. It can be in journal format and does not need to be very long. Once again trial and error will teach you over time just how much is enough. Following is a brief discussion of each type of assessment:
- Teacher Assessment - teacher usually sees nearly everything the child did during the school year and talks with the parents and the child.
- Standardized Testing - using test approved by the Secretary, any subject area the test does not cover use one of the other forms to assess that area.
- Portfolio with a parent's report - provide 4-12 samples of each area that show beginning, middle, and end of school year to show the progress.
Additional information you should know:
Some parents operate under the principle that they send small amounts of information but do try to be thorough. If the Agency feels it needs more they will send you a letter state such and what exactly they are looking for in further information. This assures that you do not send too much information in. Some parents like to send in lots of information. It gives them a more thorough picture of what their children covered. VHEN recommends that you create a home portfolio that is extensive and a keepsake. From that folder pull information to send to the state. Staff does not need to see what a wonderful homeschooling year you had. They only need to see documents from beginning, middle, and end of the year to see the progress that the law requires.
The Agency does not critique nor give a stamp of approval on how well your child did or how well you did. The law will not allow them to give you a report on the quality of the education provided or to give approval. It is their job to make sure that it is complete and that age and ability progress was demonstrated. That is all. Again, whether you send in little or much the Agency does not comment on how well you did because the law does not allow for them to do that. However, if the Agency feels that there is a significant doubt about whether your home study program can or will provide a minimum course of study for a student then and only then can the Agency step in to critique the quality of education provided.
You can educate your special needs child at home. It is more difficult but possible. Many of the issues with special needs come from having a child who has severe needs or if you are trying to leave the public schools to homeschool your special needs child. Learning disabilities cover the bulk of issues. Your course of study must include information on how you will accommodate the disability. Your assessment will show how progress was made on the course of study.
Hearings are not common. A hearing can be a scary process to go through. The Agency tries to work things out before hand. Some times it takes quite a bit of negotiation to work up an agreement with the Agency. Agreements are usually worked out well in advance of a hearing. If you make an agreement with the Agency be sure that it is one that you can keep. A hearing must be held within 30 days of it being calling and must be held in your locality. You may have representation there such as a lawyer. If a hearing is held and you do not like the decision of the hearing officer you may appeal directly to the Vermont Supreme Court.
This is the link to the Vermont Agency of Education, Home Study Website.