Oregon Homeschool Law
Oregon homeschool law is fairly simple.
Currently there is a one-time Educational Service District (ESD) notification required when you begin homeschooing and then standardized testing required at ending 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th grades.
Both requirements are more fully outlined 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, the CHOC Board does not seek 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; we seek to pass on what we understand the current law to be, not what some might argue it should be.
Remember, any law can be one legislative session 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. This is not a request to homeschool but a notification to them that you are going to homeschool, and the letter or online notification 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!
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 6 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.
Determining Your Child's Grade Level for the State
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 6 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 6 years of age unless you can prove reason for delay (disability) or you desire to begin 1st grade before the child reaches age 6 (such as the fall before they turn 6 in winter).
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) 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 6 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
Testing Requirements for Homeschoolers
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 Oregon Department of Education Homeschooling Guidelines for a full explanation of the 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."
Which Tests Are Used
Currently, homeschoolers are given a choice of five state approved tests. Please note that the test types can change as publishers revise names.
The CBTS Terra Nova of basic skills, the Iowa Basics (ITBS), the McGraw-Hill Common Core, and the Stanford Achievement series.
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 Terra Nova, that covers reading and math rather than a fuller battery test which includes multiple subjects to avoid having the timing of most 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 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.)
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 must retest the following year even if it is a "non-test" year. If there is no decline, even if you student does not make the 15th percentile demarcation, you may resume the normal testing schedule. If there is a testing decline from the prior year, you are given several 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. For more information on help with that, see our Testing and Counseling section and OCEANetwork's teaching to 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 so that test day is not a "shock." Our kids found these books very helpful and a good source of end of year review. (Our family took about one week to go over the test prep book before taking the actual test.)
While the favorite test prep package we used is no longer made, the Spectrum test practice series, from Carson Dellarosa, is very similar.
Basic Skills 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 Terra Nova, or ITBS.
You can find an assortment of standard test prep at Exodus Books.
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.)
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
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 to try to add unnecessary demands.
What Records Do I Legally Need to Keep?
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 Terra Nova, Iowa Basic, etc.) for grades ending 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th.
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 unless you are certain you will likely place your child into public or private school at a later date. Be aware that the public school system is under no obligation to recognize anything you have done with your child in the home school. Each educational district, and individual school, may recognize or not recognize homeschool work at their discretion.
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 pages 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. 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.
For More Information
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 disclosure 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).
The National Home Education Research Institute. Their mission statement is: "Produce high-quality research (e.g., statistics, facts, findings) on home-based education (homeschooling); Serve as a clearinghouse of research for the public, researchers, homeschoolers, the media, and policy makers; Educate the public concerning the findings of all research on home education" They are a NW grown group located in Eugene, Oregon.
the CHOC Board
All Rights Reserved
(Permission is given to print for personal use or link to this article as long as credit is given to Tammy R. Arp at the CHOC Board and our website address is shown.)