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Know the Law

Homeschool 101
What Are Oregon's Legal Requirements to Homeschool?
 

 


Simple Summary of the Law

Oregon homeschool law is fairly simple.
 

Currently there is a one-time state Educational Service District (ESD) notification requirement which is done when a child turns 7 years of age by September 1st or within 10 days of beginning to homeschool for the older child who has been removed from public school or has changed ESD's. 
 
There is also standardized testing requirements at ending 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th which must be administered by a "neutral" person as defined by the state. 
 
Both requirements are more fully outlined and discussed below with a few tips we've learned along the way. See the bottom of this article for links to the actual homeschool statues through the Oregon State Department of Education.
 
In this section, we at the CHOC Board are not seeking to offer legal advice but only share our understanding of the homeschool laws in Oregon.
 
Also, our purpose here is not to philosophically debate whether the state has a legitimate right to oversee the education of children (a practice which we and many others view as highly questionable).  We seek only to pass on what we understand the current law to be, not what it should be. 
 
Remember, any law can be one legislative session or ballot measure away from change.  Informed and involved homeschoolers are an integral part of that change.
 
  
In Oregon, you are currently required  by Oregon law to notify your local Educational Service District, or ESD, of your intent to homeschool (See OCEANetwork's chart of ESD offices
in Oregon.)  This is not a request to homeschool but a notification to them that you are going to homeschool, and the letter needs only to give the bare facts: your name, your child's name, date of birth, address, grade your child will be in, and the last school attended or your public school district--that's it!  (See April 2012 update below for NWRESD)
 
Currently you only need to notify the ESD once, per child, of your intent to homeschool unless you stop and then start again or move to a different ESD area. 
 
This notification must be sent by September 1st for the upcoming school year for a child who is newly registering for school (ie. who has never registered before). 
 
Oregon law states the latest age a child can register for school is by the time he will turn 7 years of age by September 1st. 
 
If your child is already school age and has been registered in another ESD area or another state, your notification to ESD must be within 10 days of starting to homeschool in Oregon.

Update April 2012:  The NW Regional ESD, serving Washington, Clatsop, Tillamook and Columbia counties, has recently sent out a letter to homeschool families in their district informing them that they are required to create a family account and register through an online system with NWRESD. The letter states that paper notifications will no longer be accepted. The online registration also required a phone number and email address. It was implied that creation of this online registration system was required by Oregon law. HSLDA and OCEANetwork have contacted NWRESD to encourage strict adherence to Oregon Law which requires paper notification of the intent to homeschool with only the bare facts listed above and does not require phone numbers or email addresses. NWRESD responded that they will modify their online registration system to reflect it is not mandatory, remove the requirement for a phone number and email address, and will continue to accept paper, mail-in notifications.
 
 

This first ESD notification will set a child's grade level for the duration of the schooling years, if notifying for a child who has never been officially registered before.
 
Think thoughtfully and prayerfully about your grade level choice.  ESD is not very compliant if you want to change grade levels later, either up or down. 
 
As stated, Oregon law requires that some form of formal schooling--either public, private, or homeschool--must begin by the time a child has turned 7 years of age by September 1st. 
 
By Oregon Administrative Rule (agency interpretation of the Law), Oregon will assume a child is in the first grade at 7 years of age unless you specify differently (which you could opt to do, see discussion below).
  
 
It is common social practice and encouraged, even assumed, by many public school districts that a child will begin formal schooling when he or she turns 5 years of age by September 1st. And there are many "early start" government programs that would like to push formal schooling down even earlier--to 3 or 4 years of age. 
 
Currently, these 5 year old children enter into the kindergarten programs of public education.  They will then enter first grade at 6 years of age.  However, few parents understand (or are told) that formal kindergarten schooling is actually optional and that a child may delay entering into any "formal" schooling system until he/she is 7 years of age by September 1st. 
 
Not all children are ready for the faster track.  A bright 5 or 6 year old may do well in 1st grade material; however, will he or she be able to keep that pace in later grades? 
 
A child's maturity level is often very different from his academic level.  Just because a child is bright and can handle the academics (such as learning to read at age 4) it does not guarantee that he/she will be able to handle the more mature subject matters and necessary reasoning skills of upper grades at a younger age. 
 
It has been said that summer babies and boys often benefit delaying their formal schooling start to allow more growth and maturity before formal schooling begins.
 
Also realize, especially in the younger years, children learn a lot of things informally simply through  interacting with their normal environment while being guided by a thoughtful parent--ie making cookies for grandma can teach a child a lot about math, nutrition, social skills, food safety, etc.  Reading a book together offers discussion time about many different subjects, practice with ABC's, early reading skills, etc. 
 
We've always found it amusing how much effort institutional schools use to make kindergarten look like informal learning--what if the children had merely stayed in their homes and learned informally naturally--and not at government expense?
 
Remember too the first required benchmark test does not come until ending 3rd grade.  There is a lot of overlap and duplication in institutional school subjects during the primary (kindergarten through 3rd) grades to try to accommodate the different readiness of young children who've entered the public school system early.   
 
The main idea here is don't get hung up on the idea of grade level.  It is an arbitrary measurement  imposed by a government system that does not account for individual growth or readiness. 
 
Instead, always work your child to the level he/she needs, per subject for mastery, but notify the state at a level you think reasonable for the child's overall maturity and development. 
 
Be aware that unless you can provide medical or special education validation for further delay**, the State of Oregon will expect your child to be in some form of formal schooling, either public, private, or homeschool, no later then when they turn 7 years of age by September 1st under Oregon's Compulsory Attendance laws. 
 
**For discussion about the requirements for children with special needs, go to OCEANetwork's
 
 

A quick summary of this law is: All homeschooled children must take a nationally standardized test by ending grades 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th.  The end of the school year is considered no later than August 15th (thus that is the deadline for a testing year). There's an 18-month grace period for children who have been pulled from private or public institutions.
 
Students who wish to participate in sports through the public school system will be required to test in the spring to meet eligibility rules (although it has been reported that some school districts are somewhat lax about the need to qualify with repetitive annual testing).
 
Go to OCEANetwork's site for a full listing of the current testing law .   
 
If you have a special needs child, and know you will not use regular standardized testing, you will need to file an Individual Education Plan or a Privately Developed Plan...See OCEANetwork's "Homeschooling Laws for Children with Disabilities."
 
 
Homeschoolers are given a choice of five state approved tests 
 
To meet the standardized testing requirement, homeschoolers are given the choice of five nationally recognized and normed formal test batteries such as the California Achievement Test (CAT)*, Terra Nova,  the Iowa Basics (ITBS), and the Standford Achievement series.  (UPDATE 8/4/2010 *The CAT 5 series will be officially retired as an Oregon allowable test August 15, 2010 in favor of the newer McGraw-HillTerra Nova tests --however the CAT 5 is still supported and scored by McGraw Hill up to June 2011  as school districts use up purchased stock.  Check with your Educational Service District to see if they will accept the CAT 5 as an allowable standardized test result after August 15, 2010.)
 
Several of the approved test batteries cover only basic skills, ie: reading comprehension, English, and math, while others include these basic skills and add sections in social studies, science, and citizenship. 
 
We recommend if at all possible only taking a basic survey skills test, such as the CAT 6/Terra Nova, that covers reading and math rather than a fuller battery test which includes multiple subjects to avoid having the timing of a lot of your schooling subjects determined by standardized test scopes. 
 
The reality is that to a certain degree you do end up teaching to the test, or at least checking to make sure you've covered the subjects that will be tested for that year. Reading and math are fairly generic in their sequencing of concepts, however, there is much variation in science, social studies, and history.  Also, science, social studies, and history can allow for more politically correct topics approved by state agendas. 
 
Test Administration (Who Gives the Tests
The tests must be administered by a state-approved, neutral test giver.  See our Education Testing and Counseling section for a list of qualified test givers. Also contact or go to the website of your local Educational Service District which will have a list of current test providers. (See OCEANetwork's chart of ESD offices.) Or, see this list from the Oregon Department of Education for test providers listed by county
 
Please note that the benchmark assessment tests taken by Oregon public school children, the OSAT, can not be used for these ORS required benchmark tests for homeschoolers because the OSAT is not nationally normed. So you can't simply have your child go down to the local public school and take the OSAT tests along with the public school children.
 
 
Oregon's Marcation Line for Passing
Oregon's marcation line for homeschool children to be considered passing a standardized test is the 15th percentile, and most homeschooled children without learning disabilities who have been regularly doing schooling work prepared by reasonably-attentive parents pass them easily. 
 
If your child drops below the 15th percentile, you are given 3 years to rectify the matter before the State steps in and requires further assessment of your educational process. (Don't freak if a child has a bad test one year. Simply calmly reschedule and retake the test.  See more on test taking tips at the end of this section.)
 
If your child regularly struggles to remain above the 15th percentile on standardized testing, it may indicate a learning disability.  There are a number of Educational Counselors who support Christian homeschooling as well as those versed in the needs of homeschooled children who benefit from Special Education to help you evaluate your child's situation.  (If your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, see OCEANetwork's "Homeschooling Laws for Children with Disabilities." )
 
NOTE: The National Home Education Research Institute and the Homeschool Legal Defense Association show through controlled studies that homeschooled children overall score in the 70th to 80th percentiles on these standardized tests while public school children score in the 40th to 50th percentiles.  This homeschool testing performance carries over to the college board exams and continues throughout college academic success.
 
 
Preparing for the Test
 
We highly recommend getting test prep books.  Doing test preparation before the actual test day will help your child feel more comfortable taking the test and will also act as a quick skill review so that test day is not a "shock."  
 
Our favorite test prep is McGraw Hill's SRA Scoring High Series.  The Scoring High series provides grade specific focused practice that first reviews all the concepts in each subject category then culminates in a mock test. Our kids found them very helpful and a good source of end of year review. (Our family took about one week to go over this test prep book before taking the actual test.)  
 
To find Scoring High test prep packages, use the search box on the McGraw Hill site for the particular test you are looking for; ie, the CAT, or the Terra Nova, or the Iowa Basic ( ITBS).  Even though a bit expensive, we found the teacher key very helpful if you don't want to have to take the test yourself times your number of kids/grade levels to correct it. (Use a separate sheet for student answers so that you can re-use the student test booklet for all your children to help offset costs.)  Mari Inc. also carries the Scoring High test preparation packets.  Be sure to get the test preparation packet for the particular edition of CAT or Terra Nova or Iowa Basic Skills (ITBS) that your child will be taking (ask your testing service which edition they will be giving).
 
Basic Skills also produces a simple mock test called "Achieving Peak Performance" for each grade level.  It is not test specific so could be used for either the CAT, Terra Nova, or ITBS. The disadvantages of "Achivieving Peak Performance" are that it provides no skill review only a mock test, and that it is geared for generic standardized test skills and not specifically targeting any particular test.
 
The best preparation is a good night sleep, healthy meal, and positive attitude.  Be careful you do not relay your anxieties to your children.  Standardized tests are simply standardized tests, not a test of personal worth and often not even an accurate assessment of educational ability. (Several homeschool organizations are currently working to remove this testing requirement for homeschool children.)
 
Testing Results
The Test results, one file copy and one certified copy, and an additional diagnostic (if requested at the time your child takes the test) will be sent to you at your home address.
 
Included in the results is a paper that explains what the results show.  You will see several categories including:
 
The National Percentile your child ranked which is how your child did on the test as compared with other children that same year at that same ending grade, ie if your child scores in the 88th percentile, that means that 88 percent of the other children taking that test that year scored lower than your child;
 
Raw Score--the number of questions answered correctly in comparison to number given, i.e. if your child receives19/20 it would mean that he got 19 questions right out of the 20 given on that test section. 
 
Comparative Grade Level--a not overly helpful column that gives the supposed grade level a child would be expected to have done as well as your child...this is a very arbitrary category, so don't take it too seriously especially if your child supposedly did as well as a 10th grader would have been expected to do. 
Choc Board Tip:  Don't panic if your child, particularly a younger child, performs poorly on one of these standardized tests--especially if it is the child's first test or the child has been doing well on previous tests. 
 
Children do have bad test days. They may have been ill, distracted by noise, overly worried about their performance, confused by ambiguous questions, etc.  Remain calm and simply schedule the child to take the test again. 
 
We recommend getting the optional diagnostic every time your child tests. You can request the diagnostic on test day and it's usualy an additional $5 fee.  This diagnostic breaks down the test results into specific subsections so that you can see if there is a particular area giving your child difficulties (ie fractions or grammar, etc.). 
 
Also remind children to fill in the circles fully, listen carefully to all instructions, continue to take the test section until the adjunct tells them to stop, and to make sure they are writing their answers on  the correct section on the form.
 
Send Testing Results to ESD Only Upon ESD Request 
Oregon law gives Educational Service District's the option to request that these required benchmark test results be sent to them.  Some ESD's will request these test scores, others will not. 
 
Each ESD decides individually, through internal policy, whether or not they want test scores sent in, and sometimes even individually by service center within larger districts. Whether or not an ESD requests test results sent to them can also change from year to year as ESD's change internal policies.
 
 
(However the requirement to test for these benchmark years--3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th--can only change through Oregon legislation as that testing requirement is from Oregon law rather than ESD internal policy.)  
 
You can check with your specific ESD center directly to know for certain what their requirements will be regarding sending in test results, though they should notify you of their intent and usually do through official letter. For ESD contacts, go to OCEANetwork's  chart of ESD offices
 
As of official notice dated 12/21/07, the Washington County Center for the Northwest Regional Educational Service District has stated they will no longer request test scores be sent in to them. As per that notice, go to the NWRESD website at http://www.nwresd.k12.or.us  for a full listing of their current homeschool policy. (The NWRESD covers Clatsup, Columbia, Tillamook and Washington counties) 
 
 
If you have any problems, concerns or questions concerning your homeschool or about an ESD's treatment of your testing requirements or homeschooling, you should contact OCEANetwork or the Oregon counsel for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association for specific advice or legal counsel as ESD's have been known to overstep their legal bounds and try to add unnecessary demands.
 
 

Current Oregon Law makes no specific requirement on what records you keep as a homeschooler.  You are NOT required to--and should NOT--file with the ESD or the State of Oregon any curriculum plan, assignment schedule, or attendance record, so any file keeping of that nature is at your discretion.
 
Oregon Law only specifically requires that your child pass his level of a nationally-normed achievement test (like the CAT, Iowa Basic, etc.) for grades ending 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th. (See our section above for testing requirements).
 
 
Oregon Law gives the educational service districts the option of requesting that test scores be sent to them should they desire to do so.   If your ESD requests test results be sent in to them, you are by law required to do so or risk being found truant with various fines and penalties incurred. We recommend sending requested test scores to the ESD through certified mail, return receipt, as ESD's have been known to lose a test score in the shuffle--and then you may get a nasty truancy letter anyway.

Obviously we at the CHOC Board strongly recommend at the very minimum you keep records of the legally required benchmark tests and all correspondence with your ESD showing your compliance with Oregon law.
In Oregon, any other recording keeping is left up to the discretion of the homeschooling parents. 

 

Elementary and middle school records can be fairly informal then unless you are certain you will likely place your child into public or private school at a later date.

Generally only high school students will need an extensive record keeping system as colleges and vocational schools will look to the high school record for admission. 

Most high school homeschoolers create a high school diploma, transcript, and/or portfolio system either personally or through a transcript/diploma service. This requires keeping a close record of their child's daily work, tests, and achievements through logs or grade reports, and keeping essential papers in a file folder system in order to validate a child's high school work to support the college admissions process.   (See our High School and College Helps page for further discussion).

CHOC Board TIP: From the early years our family has always preferred to keep some sort of organized paper trail so that we could have a sense of where we'd been, where we were going, and also to "justify" our homeschooling efforts if for some reason we were ever challenged by a public official or nosy relative.

 

Even in this relatively peaceful time for homeschooling, an ESD challenge could happen--and our friendly Oregon laws could change. Other states do require constant and often substantial record keeping, and it could happen here as passionate anti-homeschool lobbyists come and go each legislative session. So we decided to always have a paper trail to make any after-the-fact validation easier.

While recognizing the limitations and questionable use of standardized testing, our family began homeschooling when annual testing was required in Oregon, and the atmosphere not always friendly.  We continued to annually test even when the law changed as we found it was an easy way to silence critical relatives or nosy neighbors as we could always point out we were passing state-approved standardized tests annually.  On a more positive note, annual testing kept our kids' testing skills fresh which helped on the college board exams!

 

 
 
Please go to OCEANetwork for a full summary of the Oregon Revised Statutes (which are enacted law) that cover homeschooling in Oregon as well as in depth details regarding many specific homeschooling matters. 
 
At OCEANetwork's site, you can sign up for an email alert which will notify you of any Oregon legislation which might impact homeschooling in Oregon.  OCEANetwork is actively involved in promoting the cause of homeschool freedoms in Oregon.
 
For a full discussion of Oregon's homeschool requirements as viewed by the Oregon Department of Education, you can go to "Oregon Guidelines for Home Schooling Questions and Answers."
 
If you have legal concerns or challenges to your homeschool, you may contact the Oregon counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association.  HSLDA is a national organization for Christian homeschoolers.  It provides homeschool legal supports and legislative watchdog services. See the summary of Oregon laws and administrative rules by HSLDA here.
 
HSLDA Members receive unlimited free legal counsel and aid on all homeschool legal matters, even if the matter goes to court.  HSLDA also provides regular legislative alerts regarding national or state laws which could affect homeschooling as well as promotes homeschool freedoms at the national level. The cost of membership is around $100 per year (less if you are a member of an HSLDA affiliated support group).
 
 
 
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