Homeschool advocates scored a major victory recently when they helped persuade public school officials in Georgia’s second-most-populous county to reverse a policy banning homeschoolers from taking a college prep exam.

Homeschooled high school students living in Gwinnett County can now sign up to take the PSAT/NMSQT test (PSAT) through the local public school system, which is set to be offered in mid-October.

The PSAT is one of several standardized tests owned and administered by the College Board. Taking the test helps students prepare for the SAT, which many colleges use when evaluating applicants for admission. The PSAT is also the only means by which students can compete for education funds through the National Merit Scholarship Program—which can total more than $50,000 for some students.

Restoring Access

HSLDA Senior Counsel Will Estrada worked with the Georgia Home Education Association (GHEA) and the College Board to get the ban on homeschoolers testing in Gwinnett County reversed. Despite this victory, he said there is still work to do to ensure homeschoolers across the country gain access to these types of exams, which can function as gateways to certain schools and careers.

“We are pleased with the favorable outcome,” Estrada noted. “But we realize this is just a temporary fix.”

GHEA board member Mary Beth Morris recalled learning about the problem a few weeks ago. Dozens of homeschooling families contacted her organization to report being told their students were not eligible to take the PSAT at Gwinnett County public schools.

“They were informed that the district had said homeschoolers were no longer allowed to test, and they cited safety,” said Mary Beth. “It was very distressing, because these tests can only be taken at a brick-and-mortar school.”

Limited Options

Some private schools offer these exams, but limited resources restrict the number of students who can sign up. Mary Beth said she’s heard from homeschooling families who have traveled hours to take advantage of open test slots at small private schools.

Mary Beth also recounted how restricted access affected her own family. In 2017, her two youngest children, who are twins, were initially turned away by Gwinnett County schools when they tried to register for the PSAT. After she persuaded officials to rethink their decision, it appeared that the problem had been resolved in their district.

“The whole district leadership has turned over since then, as well as the school board,” Mary Beth said.

Another change this year was the College Board’s dispensing with paper tests for the PSAT and switching to a digital format. Mary Beth speculated this may have prompted the district leadership to decide it was simply too challenging to include homeschoolers in the testing.

But school officials changed their minds after hearing how their decision could hurt homeschoolers. Gwinnett County schools even added an additional test day exclusively for homeschooled students.

“To the district’s credit, they responded and corrected the situation quickly,” she added.

More to Do

There are still homeschool families in other Georgia districts—and around the country—who struggle to find venues where their students can test. HSLDA is waiting for a public school district in North Carolina to respond to our request that a member family’s teen be allowed to take the PSAT.

Estrada suggested one way to obviate these situations would be to allow homeschooling families to administer these sorts of exams on their own.

“As long as we have to rely on public or private schools, homeschoolers will be at a disadvantage when it comes to gaining access to the tests,” he said. “We are working with leadership at the College Board to find a long-term solution.”

Mary Beth added that GHEA is exploring how to request legislation to address the ongoing issue.

“Solving the problem in Gwinnett Country was a great start,” she said. “But it’s just the beginning of what we need to do.”