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March 7, 2017

Governor Signs Bill Giving Access to Pre-ACT

New Law Also Requires Notice of Sign-Up Deadline, Removes Potential Excuse for Rejection

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On March 3, Governor McAuliffe signed House Bill 2355 into law.

The new law:

  1. removes from the homeschool statute a snippet of language that had occasionally led school boards to think they had the power to reject homeschooled students seeking access to the PSAT test,
  2. gives home instruction students the right to take the Pre-ACT test through public schools, and
  3. requires schools to notify families of the deadline for signing up for the Pre-ACT, AP, and PSAT tests.

Confusing Language Deleted

SCOTT WOODRUFF
Contact attorney for Virginia

An event involving Prince William County Public Schools last year spurred HSLDA to seek legislation. The school system refused to let a 9th grade homeschooled student (whose parents were members of HSLDA) take the PSAT. School system representatives claimed that they had the authority to forbid 9th and 10th grade homeschooled students from taking the test.

Their authority for this surprising claim was a problematic snippet of language in the homeschool statute which said that school boards shall notify students “of the availability” of the PSAT. Even though the statute removes all reasonable doubt by also saying school boards “shall make” the PSAT available, school representatives said the phrase “of the availability” meant it was their prerogative to decide which homeschooled students would get access to the PSAT! Despite my many efforts to convince the representatives that they were totally misunderstanding the statute, they would not budge.

H.B. 2355 wipes out this potential misinterpretation by deleting the phrase “of the availability.” By removing this language, the core of the law is emphasized, which is that school boards must make the PSAT available. School boards no longer have any wiggle room to claim that they are entitled to decide who gets access to the test. This power belongs to parents, not schools.

Pre-ACT

The Pre-ACT test is new. It’s a practice run that gives students an opportunity to estimate how they will do on the ACT college admission test itself. Students are not required to give colleges access to their Pre-ACT scores, making it a “free shot.” It is offered only through schools, so home instruction students would not have a right to take this test if not for the enactment of HB 2355.

Deadline Notification

The new law also requires schools to tell home instruction students the deadline by which they must sign up for the tests. Public school systems had occasionally played games with home instruction students and rebuffed their requests to sign up for the PSAT until it was too late. Those games should come to an end now.

Beware: New, Possibly Confusing Test Names

The official new name for the PSAT has been changed to “Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test”—also known by its abbreviation, PSAT/NMSQT.

The folks who operate the PSAT/NMSQT recently created two new tests—the PSAT 8/9 (intended for 8th and 9th graders) and the PSAT 10 (intended for 10th graders). These tests do not qualify a student for scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship program, however. Therefore HSLDA and our partner Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) did not seek to give homeschooled students a right to take those tests.

Some schools may nevertheless decide to allow homeschooled students to take the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10. But if you want your child to take the PSAT/NMSQT and not the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10, clear communication with school representatives will be important.

If your local school insists that your 9th or 10th grader can take the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10 but not the PSAT/NMSQT, or if it seems confused about the proper names of the various tests, please notify HSLDA immediately. Because of our work last fall on the Prince William County situation, we are in a position to expedite the filing of litigation on this issue if, unfortunately, it is necessary.

Schools Must Hit the Ground Running

HB 2355 becomes effective July 1, 2017, just in time for this year’s administration of the PSAT. If they don’t dillydally, school boards have enough time between now and July 1 to adopt appropriate policies and ensure smooth implementation for this fall.

I will be sending a letter to all school boards reminding them that they need to hit the ground running and have policies that conform to HB 2355 ready to go this fall, before it is time to sign up for this year’s administration of the PSAT/NMSQT on October 11.

Our Gratitude

We greatly appreciate the work of Delegate Brenda Pogge and Senator Stephen Newman who were key legislative sponsors in this effort. If Delegate Pogge or Senator Newman represent your district, be sure to thank them! You are blessed to have such awesome folks representing you.

And of course we appreciate the excellent work of HEAV, our partner in Virginia on these bills and many others in the past. HEAV is a crucial contributor to the strength of homeschooling in Virginia.