LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas went from having more than 17,500 home-schooled students at the start of last school year to about 16,400 by the time it ended, and officials said Monday they aren’t sure what happened to the students who were lost.

Some enrolled in their local public school districts, but Lisa Crook, who administers the state Education Department’s home school program, said she’s left to speculate about what happened to the rest.

Crook said parents are supposed to let the agency know if there is a change in status for a home-schooled student, a requirement she wants to see local school districts do more to promote and enforce.

The agency doesn’t have a ready mechanism to find families that move out of state or enroll their children in private schools, beyond the hope that parents will get online or otherwise contact the department if there is a change.

Home schooling has been growing in Arkansas. The state went from 572 home-schooled students in the 1985-1986 school year to 3,140 in 1992. By 2002, the number was 12,497.

The 16,405 children home schooled last academic year is equal to 3.5 percent of the state’s 468,000 public school students.

Crook presented an annual report on home schooling to the Arkansas Education Board on Monday at the panel’s regular meeting.

She said about 84 percent of home-school students take state assessment tests in third through ninth grade, as required. She said it’s rare for a family to refuse to have children tested, and students who move or enroll in traditional schools are a reason the percentage isn’t higher.

"Eighty-four percent, we feel good about that," Crook said.

Crook said she tries to track down students that are unaccounted by the end of the school year.

"I went one-by-one to see if they went into their public schools," Crook said.

The report included breakdowns of home schooling by school district and county. Board member Jay Barth noted that it would be helpful to see comparisons from previous years so commission members could look for trouble spots, such as a district with a large number of students opting to study at home.

"Maybe that’s a red flag," Barth said.

Crooks noted that parents of many home-schooled students use Internet-based courses and some have banded together to hire retired teachers to teach certain lessons.

Home-schooled students take different standardized tests than those in public schools, so Crook said there is no point in comparing proficiency between the two groups.

Board member Brenda Gullett said she respects the rights of parents to educate their children at home but there should be enough oversight to ensure that students are learning what they need.

"I do not agree as a state board we can waive our accountability, (but) I don’t know what can be done about it. It’s a great concern," she said.