For Immediate Release: North Dakota lawmakers should add assessment options, not create loopholes
Canton, Ma., 3/27/2017—North Dakota House Bill 1428, which would allow homeschooling parents in the state to opt out of the state’s assessment requirement if they have a philosophical, moral, or religious objection to the use of standardized achievement tests, has passed the state house and senate and is headed for the governor’s desk. “Accountability is critical to ensuring that all homeschooled students receive a basic education,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a national nonprofit organization founded by homeschool graduates. “Accountability benefits both homeschooled students and homeschooling parents. HB 1428 harms both groups.”
In North Dakota, current law requires homeschooled students to take a standardized achievement test in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. Homeschooling parents who have a bachelor’s degree or teaching certificate may opt out of this requirement if they have philosophical, moral, or religious objections to standardized testing. HB 1428 would allow any homeschooling parent to opt out if they have philosophical, moral, or religious objections or if they have a bachelor’s degree or teaching certificate, rather than requiring both. This would dramatically widen the number of parents able to opt their children out of state accountability.
In explaining their support for HB 1428, some lawmakers have pointed out that parents of children in public school are allowed to opt their children out of the state’s standardized testing requirements. Coleman disagrees with this comparison. “Children who attend public schools are assessed in a variety of ways,” Coleman said. “Homeschooling parents should be given options for meeting the state’s assessment requirements, but not allowed to opt out of accountability altogether.” CRHE recommends allowing homeschooling parents to choose between standardized testing and having a portfolio of the student’s work reviewed by a certified teacher. To answer lawmakers’ concerns without compromising the quality of homeschooled children’s education, CRHE recommends amending the state’s homeschool law to allow parents who object to testing to have their children’s progress reviewed by a certified teacher.
While homeschooling can provide children with a quality, child-centered, innovative education, this is not always the case. “I have spoken with homeschool graduates who have turned 18 with such limited math and science skills that college is not an option,” said Coleman. “These are individuals who were deprived of access to educational resources.” The research on homeschooling suggests that homeschooled students have lower math scores than their public schooled peers, and that they may attend college at lower rates. Several studies have found that homeschool graduates who do attend college are less likely to major in STEM fields, suggesting that the gaps incurred while being homeschooled affect these students’ career choices. Numerous homeschool graduates from educationally neglectful backgrounds have spoken out in favor of accountability for homeschooling.
As an unintended consequence of the bill, HB 1428 would remove required mandatory reporter contact. State law requires that homeschooled students’ standardized testing take place at the school district or under the administration of a certified teacher. This requirement ensures that every homeschooled student in North Dakota is seen by a mandatory reporter at least once per year. This is important because while most homeschooling parents involve their children in a variety of extracurricular programs and events, abusive parents have learned that they can use homeschooling to isolate a child and conceal abuse. A 2014 study of child torture found that 47% of school-aged victims examined were withdrawn from school to be homeschooled, typically after the closure of a child services case. HB 1428 would allow abusive parents to opt out of mandatory reporter contact, leaving homeschooled children more vulnerable to abuse and neglect.
“Standardized testing has serious drawbacks and should not be the only option for assessing homeschooled students,” said Coleman. “But lawmakers can address these concerns without removing accountability altogether. North Dakota’s homeschooled children are depending on it.”
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.