William Hansz, a homeschool high school junior, wants to take the PSAT exam this year to lay the groundwork for applying to college. The PSAT is also the primary way students qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.
“I’m looking at going to Clemson for science or engineering,” the teen said in a recent interview.
However, when William contacted the local public high school in Greenville County, South Carolina where he took the PSAT last year, he was told the COVID-19 pandemic had changed things.
“Because of social distancing,” his mother Bethany Hansz explained, “they said no outside students this year.”
Paige Smith, whose family lives in the same area, said she encountered similar difficulty when trying to register her two homeschool daughters for the PSAT.
“I tried the public high school that we are zoned for, and we were very quickly denied there,” she said.
Paige ultimately contacted 10 other private schools before finding one about an hour’s drive away that agreed to register her two daughters—10th grade Addison and 9th grade Sarah Campbell—for the PSAT.
She added that she doesn’t think they were declined because schools had no remaining seats for the exam.
“They simply said they were not opening their doors to outside students,” Paige explained.
Test-Takers Turned Away
The stories the Hansz and Smith families shared seem to fit an unfortunate trend.
Home School Legal Defense Association is hearing from a growing number of homeschool teens who say they are experiencing difficulty accessing tests meant to help them gain admission to college and compete for scholarships.
We were between a rock and a hard place. And there are a lot of homeschool kids we know in the upstate that were in the same position. — Bethany Hansz
A recent survey of homeschool students conducted by HSLDA Online Academy revealed that, of the 67 who responded, 24 percent were refused access to College Board exams by the same facilities that had administered tests to them last year. Of that 24 percent, half said they have been unable to find an alternative testing center willing to accommodate them.
Bethany Hansz said she just wants her son to have an equal opportunity to compete for the honor, especially since it would enhance his fairly rigorous college prep program. This semester, for instance, William is taking pre-calculus and physics and is earning his first college credit through dual enrollment at Greenville Technical College.
With no obvious alternative for accessing the PSAT, said Bethany, “we were between a rock and a hard place. And there are a lot of homeschool kids we know in the upstate that were in the same position.”
Tools for College
Paige Smith concurred. Both her daughters hope to attend college. Addison has studied architecture and is now considering other subjects to explore after high school. Sarah Campbell is interested in veterinary medicine; this year, she joined a 4-H club to learn more about caring for animals.
In order to pursue these goals, Paige added, she believes homeschool students like her daughters need access to exams such as the PSAT.
“We felt the test was important,” she said. Especially for students who wish to score well on college entrance exams such as the SAT, Paige added, “I really feel it’s solid practice.”
The main purveyors of these tests apparently feel the same way. The College Board, whose products include the PSAT, SAT and Advanced Placement program, is urging public schools to allow homeschoolers equal access to its exams.
Bethany Hansz said this position probably contributed to a change of heart by officials at her local high school.
After an outcry from local families, many of whom are connected with the Upstate Homeschool Co-op where Bethany teaches American literature, officials announced they would open the PSAT to home-educated and private school students.
“We don’t know when the test will be,” said Bethany, “but we have registered and paid for it.”
Looking to the Law
Meanwhile, HSLDA is involved in other states where the law makes our advocacy on this issue much more straightforward.
In Texas, we are exploring options for helping a member family’s high school daughter. Houston public schools told her that she could not take the PSAT when the district offers it in October, but that she would have to wait until January.
However, the homeschool teen needs to take the PSAT this fall in order to remain qualified as a member of the National Honor Society.
Besides, added HSLDA Senior Counsel Darren Jones—who wrote a letter to Houston officials on the teen’s behalf—Texas statutes clearly state that public schools “shall permit a homeschooled student . . . to participate in an administration of the PSAT/NMSQT or a college advanced placement test offered by the district.”
In other words, he said, “this discrimination is flatly against Texas law.”
The law provides the same clarity in Colorado, where our attorneys have been able to advocate on this issue by citing laws that guarantee homeschool students access to activities offered by the public schools.
HSLDA is closely monitoring a similar situation in Virginia, where state law specifically guarantees homeschool students access to the PSAT when it is administered by public schools.
However, a member family told us that public school officials in Loudoun County (where HSLDA’s office is located) would not reserve a seat for her teen at the next date for the PSAT in October.
Officials informed the family, “Due to limited staffing and health mitigation requirements, our priority is for enrolled public school students to have an opportunity to test. If we find that the numbers of interested students allow us to extend the opportunity to home instructed students, then we will do so.”
HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff contacted the school superintendent and reminded him it is the district’s duty to arrange for as much capacity as necessary to accommodate homeschool students who register for the test.
Meanwhile, HSLDA is working with the College Board to explore additional ways to provide homeschoolers access to the organization’s exams.
Our goal is to ensure the growing number of homeschool students are granted equal access to opportunities for advancing their education and career training.