In California, the answer to this question may be yes or no, depending on how you decide to do homeschool.
Option #1: Not Tracking with Public School
You do not need to track with specific grade-level requirements for public school if you go with a PSP (private satellite program) — or — if you fill out the California Department of Education Private School Affadavit to become your own private school. Private schools are afforded more freedoms; they do not get state funding. The requirements for both of these homeschool options are that you take and keep track of attendance. Also, you should teach in English, cover core subjects such as language arts, mathematics, physical education, science, and social studies. You must keep immunization records (or record personal belief exemption for students), and maintain a list of courses. Also, compile a list of instructors with their qualifications and addresses. A PSP will maintain these records for you; you need only to get them the information. If choosing a PSP, your student’s transcript would come from “ABC Private Satellite Program,” for example. (A third option is to hire a qualified private tutor to teach your kids.) Check out the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, as they have complete up-to-date information on the requirements in California. Due to highly publicized negative stories about outlier homeschooling families, the requirements are changing, and becoming more onerous as time goes on.
Imagine the complete freedom to this option! In my first 3 years of homeschooling, I chose this option for my kids in elementary school. I decided I did not want to report what we were doing. I did not want anyone to mess with my plans. I wanted to cover subjects such as nutrition, the Linnaean system of classification of living things, birds, architecture, and other subjects that usually are not addressed in elementary school. We went deeper than most public schools delve in these areas. See this article about why and how I decided to homeschool. I kept attendance, made lists of our course of studies, kept shot records, and instead of grades, made portfolios of my kids work. My youngest still looks at these records I put together. (Heck, I reference them even now when I am in need of curriculum writing ideas!)
Option #2: Somewhat Tracking with Public School
If you decide to go with an independent study charter school program (ISP), chances are you may need to more closely mirror public school requirements. This is especially true with respect to the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts. With an ISP, though technically you can refuse to take the SBAC test (yearly test for 3rd grade and above that measures proficiency), it really helps the ISP for your students to take the exam, and results may be factored into the legitimacy of a particular charter school program. These charters would get in trouble, I am sure, if students do not take the test, if there are any questions about the adequacy of the education a program offers. These programs receive state funding; in 2017, this amounted to about $10,291 per year per student. Lack of information about their programs via testing may potentially impact charters getting that state funding.
Some charters give families more freedom than others. If your student’s education does not at all align with Common Core curriculum or with a state-level curriculum map, it could present problems for the ISP. In that way, families may experience more pressure to comply with Common Core and other state-level requirements if going with an ISP. See this article on options for homeschooling.
Homeschooling Bigger Picture
One of the reasons many families homeschool is that they believe their kids should learn different information than is being transmitted in public schools. If you are looking for the most freedom, registering as a private school affords the most, and then going with a PSP is next in line.
It is important to keep in mind that curriculum standards change all the time. Educational standards come and go. In fact, history is not really taught in many elementary schools; it’s now known as “social studies.” If you as a parent have a sense in your gut that your children should learn the history of Japan in 4th grade, go for it! This may be important to your family values, and thus vital to include in your homeschool program.
What if we don’t hit some of those grade level requirements. Will my kids be disadvantaged?
Maybe, Maybe not. In my experience, in homeschool we went for those different topics I wanted to teach, and once we learned them, we cycled back to work on “grade-level” requirements, etc. You many find in homeschool there is a lot of space; you can fit more in than you think!
As high school nears, your anxiety may grow.
When my daughter was in the 6th grade, I decided to go with a PSP, so grades for high school admission would not come from, moi. In high school, there are very precise requirements about what is needed for admission to certain colleges. Certain classes, with A-G requirements are required by colleges. Get informed about these requirements! Having a PSP could really help navigate these waters.
Doing it your way, partnering with a charter school, or ——-. There are many ways to proceed with homeschooling. If you want to go with a more contemporary education, go with an ISP. If you want to do things your way, and potentially deviate from current public school education, choose option #1.