The letter arrived just as Megan and her family were entering one of the busiest times of their homeschool year.
Megan’s daughter needed to not only start wrapping up her 7th-grade coursework, but also to polish a dance routine for a recital showcasing her progress in jazz, tap, and ballet. And, being Pennsylvania residents, the family also had to assemble a student portfolio to show they’ve complied with state homeschool law.
The last thing they needed was the correspondence that arrived in March from the Pleasant Valley School District—a confusing, ill-informed missive imposing yet another education-related obligation.
The letter stated that homeschool students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades are now required to take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test (PSSA). This exam is partially based on Common Core standards and is administered to public school students annually.
Megan said her first reaction was to tell herself: “No, that’s not correct.”
The mom said she knew that Pennsylvania law hadn’t changed in the past few years, and assumed that the requirement stated in the letter was probably just another instance of erroneous information from local public school officials.
In recent years the district had made other demands that were unsupported by state law, including a request that Megan submit medical forms that would have entailed divulging sensitive information about her daughter.
Megan contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for help in resolving that situation. But she said the continued contact by the district especially frustrated her because of the positive relationship she enjoyed with officials in the district they used to live in.
“They didn’t require things that weren’t stipulated by the law,” Megan said. “They communicated if they had a question about something I’d submitted, but they didn’t bug me unnecessarily about things I already know.”
In a high-regulation state such as Pennsylvania, she explained, having to analyze communication from officials to see if it conforms to state homeschool law is more than just time-consuming.
“It causes anxiety,” she said.
The letter stating homeschoolers had to take the PSSA was especially disconcerting because it misconstrued the law in several ways.
Pennsylvania does require homeschool students to take standardized tests in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade—but not in 7th grade, which is what Megan’s daughter was enrolled in this year. Also, the PSSA is not one of the standardized tests the state has approved for homeschool compliance.
In any case, taking the PSSA would have caused additional problems for Megan’s family, because it is designed to test students on their knowledge of learning standards taught in public schools.
And, as Megan explained, her family chose to homeschool their daughter after enrolling her in a public preschool program and determining it did not provide the kind of environment that would help her thrive.
“We had concerns about the elevated pace, and that it would be stressful for our daughter,” Megan said.
Focusing on the Benefits
Homeschooling has allowed Megan’s daughter to learn at her own pace and pursue her passions, which include karate as well as dance. Last summer, the girl auditioned for and was accepted into a local dance company, which provided opportunities to perform in several productions and in a parade.
As for the PSSA requirement, Megan said she contacted HSLDA again to ask for help. HSLDA Director of Legal and Legislative Advocacy, Scott Woodruff, wrote to the officials who sent the letter, stating simply that, “There is no statute that requires homeschool families to participate in the PSSA tests.”
Soon afterward, school officials contacted Megan to say they really meant to convey that homeschoolers may choose to take the exam if they wish.
Her family was then free to focus on their daughter's year-end homeschool evaluation. After that, they began a well-deserved summer break.