The Home School Court Report
No. 3

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Jamestown Reverses Test Policy

A Home School Legal Defense Association member family in the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools district wanted to sign up their son for an Advanced Placement (AP) test in macroeconomics. They talked to the head of Jamestown High School’s guidance department in January 2007, but he was unsure if the school would allow the boy to take the test since no other student was taking that particular AP exam, and therefore the school would need to hire a proctor to administer the test for just one student.

Two phone calls later, the family was still denied a definite answer. They finally called HSLDA for help. The College Board offers AP tests in over 32 subjects once a year in the spring. The tests, with their rigorous standards and uniform content, have earned nearly universal respect among colleges and universities. A good score establishes that the student is well qualified within the nationwide group of students who took the test. Many institutions offer college credit for high-scoring students.

Although AP tests are not for everyone, they can be an important part of a homeschooling family’s overall strategy for college preparation. This is why HSLDA, Home Educators Association of Virginia, and the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers worked hard to obtain passage of a 2006 law that requires school boards to make these tests available to homeschooled students.

Staff attorney Scott Woodruff faxed a letter to the chairman of the Williamsburg-James City school board, the school board’s attorney, and the head guidance counselor. His letter explained that under the 2006 law, school boards must make AP tests available to homeschooled students.

Woodruff further explained that the new law does not permit school boards to refuse to make a test available on the grounds that only one student is taking the test. He pointed out that the cost of hiring a proctor was trivial compared to what the family pays to support a public school system they do not use.

Woodruff also reminded the school officials that it was essential for the issue to be resolved promptly, since AP tests are only offered once a year, and the deadline for schools to order the tests was quickly approaching. He stated that the homeschooled student would be irreparably harmed if the school continued to drag its feet. Woodruff also notified the state department of education about the situation.

Within two days, the head guidance counselor called the family and confirmed that their son could take the AP macroeconomics test-even if he was the only test taker.

Greene County Seeks too Much Detail

Homeschooling families were surprised to receive a letter from a Greene County Public Schools social worker indicating that she would expect them to submit a very detailed curriculum description to the school district for the 2007-2008 school year. The October 17, 2006, letter was prompted by an email the social worker had received from the state department of education. The department’s email gave the following as part of an example of an appropriate “curriculum description”:

    U.S. History: 1877 to the Present

  • This course will provide the student with an understanding of the history of the United States from the end of Reconstruction to the present.

  • The student will learn about major political, economic, and social events impacting the country during this time period and examine the political, economic, and social challenges its citizens faced.

  • The student will review and understand events and life in this country.

  • The student will review and understand maps of this country.

  • The student will use maps, pictures, and tables to learn about this country’s physical features.

  • The student will learn about this country’s natural resources, transportation, and industrial development.

  • The student will review and understand how life changed after the Civil War.

  • The student will review and understand how the United States became involved in military conflicts with other countries during this period and the challenges the country faced during and after these wars.

  • The student will review and understand other issues that impacted this country during this time period.

Virginia homeschoolers would be alarmed if they were indeed required to provide such detailed curriculum descriptions!

Underlying this situation appears to be confusion about two different concepts: course descriptions and curriculum descriptions. A course description describes the contents of a particular course, as in the example above. A curriculum description, on the other hand, simply lists the courses required to complete an educational program (e.g., for the 8th grade). The American Heritage Dictionary defines curriculum as “all the courses of study offered by an educational institution.”

There is no need for a superintendent to have a description of each course in a family’s curriculum. State law does not require homeschooling families to teach any specific course content (except for families under Homeschool Option 4a). Moreover, even if a superintendent determined that the content of a course failed to meet his expectations, he would have no lawful authority to do anything about it. Requiring a course description, therefore, would be that classic waste of administrators’ and parents’ time that we call “red tape.”

Home School Legal Defense Association’s thanks go to Celeste Land of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers for providing us with a copy of the Greene County school social worker’s letter. HSLDA Staff Attorney Scott Woodruff, along with representatives from Home Educators Association of Virginia and the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, met with representatives of the state department of education in Richmond in November 2006 to discuss the curriculum description and other issues. We will let you know if the department of education issues a revised statement.

HSLDA continues to advise Virginia families to provide their school districts with a curriculum description—not a course description.

— by Scott A. Woodruff