Needless Homeschool Regulation

The House Education Committee recently held a public hearing on HB 1263, a bill that would reinstate unnecessary annual reporting requirements for homeschool students. Representatives Hall was packed with homeschool supporters, overflowing the chamber and gallery, extending to the elevators. Only two people spoke in favor of the bill: one of the sponsors and the Berlin superintendent who initiated the legislation. The hearing lasted over three-and-a-half hours with nearly every person speaking about their children’s successes in home education, struggles in the public-school system, and commenting that learning cannot be measured by annual assessments. They were also critical of district officials that would impose standards on them without being able to meet comparable standards in their own schools.

We testified in opposition to the bill and share our remarks below.

The House Education Committee did not vote on the bill. Their practice is to schedule an exec session a week or two later at which time they will decide to support (Ought to Pass) or oppose (Inexpedient to Legislate) the bill, amend it, or send it to study. We will post information about the exec session once it is scheduled. The committee can be emailed at HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.

Read more about the hearing in Homeschoolers Flood the State House.


January 25, 2018

To: House Education Committee

From: Michelle Levell, Director, School Choice for NH

Re: HB 1263, relative educational evaluation of home schooled children

My name is Michelle Levell and I am the Director of School Choice for NH,  an all-volunteer coalition of concerned citizens, families, and leaders that advocates for educational options in the Granite State. I submit this testimony in strong opposition to HB 1263 that would roll-back homeschool year-end assessment reporting requirements.

I’m going to start by telling you about one of my three children. When they were younger, we homeschooled them for part of their elementary education years. My daughter was a bright student, loved to read and tell stories, but struggled with spelling and writing. No matter what program we tried or assistance we utilized, including working with professional learning centers, we never made progress. Back then, we had to submit our annual assessment results to our Participating Agency. Year after year, her spelling scores were in the single digits even though her composite score was in the 90+ percentile. It wasn’t until midway through 5th grade that we finally got a diagnosis. She has profound dyslexia, dysgraphia, and executive function challenges. We were told by Boston Children’s Hospital to not expect much for her future, to set her goals lower.

Yes, she satisfied the testing requirements to meet or exceed the 40th percentile on her composite score. However, reporting her results had nothing to do with providing her with the supports she needed to go on to future academic and personal success. Today, my daughter is an engineering student at Purdue University and has served on the university’s Engineers Without Borders team as their chief grant writer and treasurer.

I tell you this because children and their academic outcomes are more than test scores. Any score, even two years in a row, cannot adequately determine if a child is making progress. It also should not be used to evaluate the overall success or failure of a program.

Families use more than assessments to determine if an educational environment is right for their children. They consider many factors including a school’s reputation, course offerings, teacher skills, school discipline, safety, inclusion of moral values and religious traditions, class size, teacher-parent relations, college acceptance rates, extra-curricular opportunities, and more. Schools held directly accountable to families have to take all of these elements into account. Homeschooling is the ultimate in accountability to families, and HB 1263 is the complete antithesis of this concept because it makes families accountable to the state and school districts.

HB 1263 requires each and every home-educated student to meet the performance standards that no other student must satisfy. This bill requires all homeschoolers to achieve either a composite score at or above the 40th percentile on a standardized test or “progress commensurate with age and ability” on a teacher evaluation. If a child does not meet these expectations a second consecutive year, the program is terminated and the child must enroll in an alternative public, charter, or private school the following school year. This is a much higher standard and severe consequence than our public schools face.

Although private schools may administer standardized tests to students, those results are shared with families and not used by the state or local districts as permission for a student to continue at the school.

Public schools administer annual statewide assessments, but students and schools are not held to a comparable standard as would be applied to homeschoolers. This is an unbalanced expectation given that the New Hampshire 2017 statewide assessment scores show public-school students achieved only 59.29% proficient or above in English and a meager 48.00% proficient or above in math. Per the NH Department of Education, proficient is defined as “demonstrates minor gaps in the prerequisite knowledge and skills needed to perform successfully in instructional activities at the current grade level.” In other words, less than 60% of all NH public-school students demonstrate the knowledge and skills to perform at their current grade level in English. Fewer than half of NH public-school students can do so in math.

As determined by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor of No Child Left Behind, public schools and districts labeled Level 1 or Level 2 (scores below proficient) based on statewide assessment results are considered failing.

If we apply a comparable accountability standard to NH public schools, is the state closing Level 1 and Level 2 schools or districts if they have poor scores for two consecutive years? Are students in failing schools required to enroll in a successful public school, charter, or private school? No. In fact, some legislators and superintendents argue that they need more funding to improve these failing schools.

We understand that HB 1263 was filed at the request of the Berlin district superintendent. Because they presume to impose this standard on all NH homeschoolers, it is appropriate to examine their district results on recent statewide assessments. Per the state DOE website, the Berlin district’s proficiency scores were well below the state averages in 2015, 2016 and 2017. This district cannot meet the same standards they would impose upon all NH homeschoolers.

 

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If these standards were equally applied, then students who do not perform at or above the proficient level, must enroll in charter or private schools or be home educated. If this standard were equally applied, schools such as those in the Berlin district, that fail to meet these performance thresholds should close and all students required to enroll in alternatives.

HB 1263 is an unbalanced and inequitable threshold and deserves an Inexpedient to Legislate recommendation from this committee.