May 1, 2007
Sullivan County Attempts to Require Gateway Exams

In a memorandum to parents of homeschool students dated November 27, 2006, the Sullivan County Department of Education in Blountville notified homeschoolers that Gateway Exams in Algebra I, English II, and Biology would be administered on specified dates. After receiving the memorandum, a Home School Legal Defense Association member family contacted us for assistance. HSLDA Senior Counsel Dewitt Black sent a letter to the public school’s testing coordinator and explained that such tests are not required for homeschool students.

The Gateway Exams are end-of-course tests which are text-specific according to the instruction received by public school students in Tennessee. Such text-specific tests are fundamentally unfair and, in our opinion, unconstitutional. Parents of students in homeschools are free to choose any curriculum they deem appropriate for their children, and there is a wide variety of choices available and being utilized in homeschools. To require students to be tested on material in which they have not been instructed is obviously unfair and was so held by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the 1981 case of Debra P. v. Turlington, 644 F.2d 397. In that case, the court ruled that such tests violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution.

Homeschools in Tennessee are governed exclusively by the provisions of Section 49-6-3050 of Tennessee Code Annotated. This statute requires homeschool students who are also associated with a church-related school to be administered in grades 9 through 12 “an annual standardized achievement test or the Sanders Model of value-added assessment, whichever is in use by that LEA and is sanctioned by the state board of education.” Further relating to such students, the law requires parents to “adhere to the same program of the Sanders Model of value-added assessment, or other standardized achievement testing in use in the local education agency which the child would otherwise attend.” Provisions of this statute relating to homeschool students who are not associated with a church-related school require that these students be administered “the same state board approved secure standardized test required of public school students in grades five (5), seven (7) and nine (9)....” Homeschool students not associated with a church-related school are not required to take the Sanders Model of value-added assessment. Clearly, the tests contemplated by Section 49-6-3050 for all homeschool students are standardized achievement tests, not any end-of-course tests.