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October 26, 2016

Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner in Pennsylvania: Common Questions about Complying with the Law

One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that it enables parents to custom-tailor an educational program to meet the unique needs of each child. This is especially beneficial for children who have developmental or learning disabilities.

But homeschooling a struggling learner in Pennsylvania can be more complicated than homeschooling a child without learning difficulties.

Public schooled children who require special education services receive instruction in accordance with an individualized education program (IEP), which is developed by a team of educators. When parents decide to educate their child at home, they may continue to work with the child’s IEP team through the public school or they may decide to meet their child’s needs privately by creating an individualized service plan (ISP).

Parents of struggling learners may also have extra work to do in complying with the law. Pennsylvania’s law prescribes three categories of annual requirements for all homeschooling families:

  • (1) notification (by August 1),
  • (2) record-keeping (throughout the school year), and
  • (3) assessment (by June 30).

For parents of struggling learners, there is an additional step that may apply: program approval.

Here’s some guidance* to help navigate Pennsylvania’s legal requirements for homeschooling a struggling learner.

1. Do I need to have my home education program approved by a special education teacher,  licensed clinical, or certified school psychologist?

If your student currently has an individualized education plan (IEP) from the public school, the answer is yes.

  • A parent whose student has been identified as needing special education services (pursuant to the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]) must “address the specific needs of the exceptional student” and have the program “approved by a teacher with a valid certificate from the Commonwealth to teach special education or a licensed clinical or certified school psychologist” (24 P.S. § 13-1327[d]). Parents must include written notice of the approval with the annual affidavit.
  • The Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP) provides a list of qualified special education evaluators who are happy to work with homeschoolers.

If your student’s IEP has been terminated, the answer is no.

  • When a student is no longer in need of special education services, or parents choose to access services privately in accordance with an ISP, approval of the program is not necessary. When an IEP is terminated, the public school district will not provide services; thus, the child is no longer in need of services pursuant to the provisions of IDEA.

2. Do I have to administer a standardized achievement test for my child with special needs?

The supervisor of a home education program is required to maintain, among other things, results of a standardized achievement test in reading/language arts and mathematics. This testing is only required “in grades three, five, and eight” (24 P.S. § 13-1327.1[e][1]).

There is no explicit exemption from the testing requirement for students who are developmentally or learning disabled. That being said, the testing requirement is based on academic performance, not age. For example, a 9-year-old who is working at the 2nd grade level is not required to be tested. But a 9-year-old who is working at the 5th grade level is required to be tested.

It is important to test at the grade level most accurately reflecting your child’s current functioning level in the majority of subjects. Additionally, many test publishers allow testing accommodations, such as extended time, spoken answers, or reading assistance.

For practical tips on testing from HSLDA’s struggling learner consultants, click here.

3. Do I have to teach all the required subjects every year?

No. Home education programs must include instruction in specific subjects at the elementary and secondary school levels. Thus, the homeschool program should include sufficient instruction in each required subject to enable each student to become proficient or develop mastery at the required level.

For core subjects, this may require rigorous annual instruction. But the law does not specifically require students to receive instruction in every required subject every year—with one exception: programs must include “regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires.” (24 P.S. § 13-1327.1[c]).

Parents must maintain a portfolio of records and materials to demonstrate that the program consists of “instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program” (24 P.S. § 13-1327.1[a]).

If your question wasn’t listed above or you are looking for more specific advice, we encourage you to contact our office using this form or by calling 540-338-5600. We’re here to help.

*This guidance is not a substitute for legal advice about your specific situation.