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PHAA Bylaws Now Require Narrative Evaluations
Howard Richman, 4/28/2010

Starting with evaluations for the 09-10 school year, PHAA evaluators will need to write personal, narrative evaluations to maintain their standing in PHAA.

[Reprinted from Issue 107 of PA Homeschoolers Newsletter]

What makes our homeschool diploma program, Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency, different from the other six organizations recognized by the PA Department of Education? Well, there are lots of things:

  • Last I compared, we were the biggest -- 374 graduates in 2009.
  • We have the best student newsletter, The Excelsior.
  • We are state-wide and have two graduation ceremonies, in both Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
  • We have the best high school at home conference, held each July in Carlisle.

But all of those are superficial. What really makes our organization different is our high standards. We believe in excellence and do our best to attain it. Our latest bylaw change testifies to that: at our membership meeting on July 17, 2009 at our conference, our members unanimously voted to propose an amendment to the PHAA bylaws that would raise our standards regarding evaluation letters.

That amendment was placed on a ballot that was mailed to the membership in the fall issue of The Excelsior. Completed signed ballots were mailed by members to Natalie Bishop, Secretary of PHAA, and had to be postmarked by November 15. She received 37 yes votes and 5 no votes that were postmarked in time for the deadline, so the amendment passed by more than the required 3/4 margin.

The PHAA bylaws have been amended to include the words boldfaced in the following section, under Article XIV, Section 10, "Quality Counts":

In the letters of evaluation which will be attached to the transcripts, evaluators are urged to recognize: (1) high-quality work, (2) service activities, and (3) individual initiative demonstrated by the student. Furthermore, these letters of evaluation must include a substantive narrative containing observations of the specific home education program. Evaluators who violate this provision shall be prohibited from renewing their PHAA membership.

We wanted to keep PHAA from being harmed by a growing trend within the homeschooling community in which evaluators have extremely brief meetings with the family being evaluated and then issue only identical form-letter evaluations. It has gotten so bad in some parts of the state that homeschoolers meet with an evaluator at an amusement park, for maybe 15 minutes. The evaluator hastily goes through the portfolio, often telling the family that they have too many sample papers included. Afterwards the evaluator gives the family a form letter identical to every other one, simply stating the minimum required by law.

Even some PHAA evaluators have started using these short meaningless evaluation letters. Instead of telling the world about high-quality work, service activities, or individual initiative demonstrated by the student, they sign an identical letter that could fit any student.

In contrast, most PHAA evaluation letters create pictures of what the students did during the year, and of the students themselves. We have a whole chapter in our diploma guide giving evaluators examples of how they can explain excellence in their evaluation letters. Most of our evaluators try to do so, and these letters often save evaluators time in the long run as they translate easily into college recommendation letters, allowing evaluators to fulfill the role of guidance counselor or accademic reference in students’ applications. Furthermore, some diploma programs only send out the transcript of grades and credits to colleges, but PHAA has always considered the transcript to just be a summary of the evaluation letters. We attach all of the evaluation letters, 9th through 12th, to each sealed transcript that we send out. Those evaluation letters further function like recommendations of the particular students.

We were concerned that the few evaluators who write poor quality evaluation letters were hurting the excellent reputation of the PHAA diploma when colleges or employers get those evaluations. We voted to make sure that PHAA evaluations would never be perceived as "rubber stamps." As a result, all PHAA evaluation letters, beginning with those written for the 2009-2010 school year, will have to include a brief narrative. (One page evaluation letters are long enough.) The narrative, of course, can't tell everything that the student did, but whenever possible, it should point out high quality work, service activities, and initiative demonstrated by the student.

Evaluators who continue to write non-narrative evaluation letters will always be given the opportunity to rewrite those letters so that they can renew their PHAA membership the next year. They could also appeal to the PHAA Board of Directors if there is a dispute with the Executive Director (that's me) over whether a particular evaluation letter meets the requirements of this bylaw.

This regulation only affects whether evaluators can continue their PHAA membership for another year. They can write non-narrative evaluations this year, but if they do, it will be the last year that they can be PHAA evaluators.

Parents just need to make sure that their current evaluator appears on the full list of PHAA member evaluators that is published in each issue of The Excelsior. If their evaluator’s name appears, they will know that the evaluator is a member in good standing.

There are six other homeschool organizations that are also recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to award diplomas to graduates of PA home education programs. Each program is going to meet the goals of its members, and families have many choices when seeing which best meets their needs. We do our best to serve those homeschoolers who want to tell the world about the excellence of their programs.<


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