The efforts of homeschool advocates in New Hampshire bore fruit earlier this year with the passage of legislation that makes the state’s home education law simpler, more up-to-date, and more equitable.
House Bill 1663, sponsored by Rep. Erica Layon, was signed by Gov. Chris Sununu in June and will take effect fully at the end of August.
Significant changes made by the legislation include the following:
- Eliminating an unfair measure of assessment related to standardized testing
- Recognizing that homeschool students learn using diverse methods in a variety of venues
- Ensuring students with special needs are treated according to their abilities
Home School Legal Defense Association helped the legislation advance by coordinating with state groups and urging our members to contact their lawmakers and put in a good word for the bill.
“It was great to work with a number of homeschool organizations in New Hampshire to support these helpful changes to the law,” said HSLDA Senior Counsel Mike Donnelly. “We’ve worked for years to get these kinds of improvements, and I think legislators are more willing to get on board because they’ve seen how homeschooling produces excellent students and engaged citizens.”
Donnelly said he was especially happy to see the removal of a minimum requirement for homeschool students who take standardized tests in order to satisfy annual assessment requirements.
Before H.B. 1663, in order to be considered academically proficient, homeschool students who took these exams had to earn a composite score “at or above the 40th percentile.”
“This measure was unreasonable and arbitrary,” said Donnelly. “No other students in New Hampshire had the same standard. As for the handful of states that do set a standardized test score minimum for homeschoolers, Ohio and West Virginia just require students be in the average range, which is the 23rd percentile. In Colorado, if you are in the 13th percentile, you pass.”
“The problem with requiring a percentile score minimum is that it reduces a student’s individual effort to a data point on a bell curve,” explained Steve Duvall, PhD, HSLDA Director of Research. “It’s really a crummy way to compare test results,” he said.
Percentiles rank the scores of everyone who took a certain test, which means that even if a student earned a good individual score by correctly answering most of the questions on an exam, if 60 percent of all other test-takers scored higher, then that
student would still be ranked in the bottom 40 percent.
A Nod to a Diverse Form of Education
Another tweak to the language of New Hampshire’s law was simply intended to show that legislators understand how homeschooling really works.
The statute now states that home education is not merely provided by parents, but that it is also coordinated and directed by them.
“This recognizes that although parents often do a lot of the teaching, they also include others in the education of their kids,” explained Donnelly. He pointed out that today’s homeschool families have so many options for activities outside the home—including co-ops, sports, arts, college dual-enrollment, and even distance learning akin to the courses offered by HSLDA Online Academy.
Finally, the legislation also amended the law to state that homeschooled students with disabilities should not be assessed according to a higher standard than their peers in public or private schools.
In other words, said Donnelly, “the disability of a student should be taken into account. Homeschooled students should be assessed according to their ability, and not according to some arbitrary standard.”
One thing H.B. 1663 did not do, which Donnelly said he found disappointing, was eliminate the ability of the state Department of Education to clarify homeschool law by issuing additional rules.
He added that this omission probably doesn’t pose any difficulties for the present.
“The current rules are an accurate reflection of the law,” said Donnelly. “However, the concern is that someday the department’s rule-making authority could be used to impose unnecessary restrictions on homeschooling. Our goal at HSLDA has been to increase homeschool freedom, because evidence shows that children thrive when they’re guided by the people who know and love them best—their parents.”