More than 100 homeschool advocates filled an overflow room during a Minnesota House of Representatives committee hearing this week on Gov. Tim Walz’s education policy bill.
Students and their parent educators were in attendance seeking answers as to why the bill, HF1269, included a provision that would require homeschool providers to submit their students’ standardized test scores to local school districts.
On Friday, they received their answer.
The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has decided to pull the homeschool testing reporting requirement provision from the governor’s education policy bill altogether, and will not be re-offering it this legislative session, according to a department official who spoke with Alpha News on Friday.
The impetus for adding the provision to the broad-based bill came from feedback MDE received from social workers and educational professionals who had reported observing educational deficiencies in some students making the transition from homeschool education to the public school system, said Kevin Burns, MDE communications director.
“The [homeschool test reporting requirement] was a way [for the department] to close that gap to make sure we had a better understanding of what was going on in some of these homeschool situations,” Burns said.
Word that the homeschool test reporting requirement had been included in the governor’s education policy bill had gotten out among the homeschool community just five days before the Feb. 7 hearing in the House Education Policy Committee. But MDE officials changed their tune and pulled the provision from the bill just days later after it received a multitude of feedback from homeschool educators across the state.
“Since the introduction of the bill we have heard from many [homeschool] families and advocates expressing concerns [about the provision],” Burns said. “We concur this is probably at this point too broad of an approach, and we want more homeschool family engagement over time to make sure we understand and listen more to the concerns of the homeschool families and advocates.”
The language in the proposed homeschool testing reporting requirement — now expected to be eliminated from the bill — states the following:
“The person or nonpublic school in charge of providing instruction to a child between the ages of seven and 16 and every child ages 16 through 17 for which an initial report was filed pursuant to this subdivision after the child is 16 must submit, by October 1 of each school year, a letter of intent to continue to provide instruction under this section for all students under the person’s or school’s supervision and must also include: (1) a copy of the actual test scores sent from the testing provider of the annual nationally normed achievement test from the previous school year, unless exempt from the testing because of school accreditation.”
That language struck a nerve with Mellissa Corniea, one of several homeschool educators who visited with legislators and wrote to MDE after learning of the proposed requirement.
“This would be an entirely new requirement, and we have no idea why [MDE] wants this data and what they would use it for,” said Corniea, who homeschools her two children in Eagan, and attended the House committee hearing on Tuesday.
Minnesota Statute already requires homeschool students to take any one of more than 24 nationally normed standardized tests. Public school students who take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test — which measures proficiency in reading and math — can opt out of the exams with parent permission. But that isn’t the case with homeschool students unless their educator parents go through a costly accreditation process, Corniea said.
“Homeschool students are required to test unless they and their families jump through some serious hoops. So we already make that sacrifice,” she said. “After our children take their tests, if we now have to submit our test scores to the local school district, what is going to happen with that data? There is some underlying fear by many of us in the homeschool community about what [MDE] wants to do with those scores.”
Nearly 28,000 students are homeschooled across Minnesota. That makes up less than 3 percent of the state’s nearly 900,000 school-aged children, the vast majority of whom attend public schools.
There was little discussion among lawmakers of the proposed homeschool test reporting requirement during the House committee hearing on the education policy bill on Tuesday.
But Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said the department should keep its focus on finding ways to improve standardized test scores among its public school students, which have been in decline, according to recent reports.
“We do not need to target our homeschool students,” said Bennett, a former public school teacher. “They are doing great. Let’s target where we need to make the most efforts to give our public school students the best education we can.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.