The right to test? Homeschoolers still fighting to gain access to certain college exams 

Taking a three-hour college placement exam may not sound appealing to most high schoolers – unless you’re a homeschooled student who’s been denied access. 

Such a scenario occurred…

Taking a three-hour college placement exam may not sound appealing to most high schoolers – unless you’re a homeschooled student who’s been denied access. 

Such a scenario occurred this fall when the Georgia Home Education Association (GHEA) began receiving reports from dozens of homeschool families. Public schools in Georgia’s second-most populous county, Gwinnett County, had told the parents their children were not eligible to take the PSAT/NMSQT test (PSAT) from the College Board. 

“They were informed that the district had said homeschoolers were no longer allowed to test, and they cited safety,” said GHEA board member Mary Beth Morris. “It was very distressing, because these tests can only be taken at a brick-and-mortar school.” 

Denying access to the PSAT puts college-bound students at a disadvantage in many ways. It takes away a chance to prepare for the SAT, a test widely used in college admissions, and can cost thousands of dollars in lost scholarship opportunities. 

“Taking the test helps students prepare for the SAT, which many colleges use when evaluating applicants for admission,” wrote the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) on its website. “The PSAT is also the only means by which students can compete for education funds through the National Merit Scholarship Program — which can total more than $50,000 for some students.” 

Reversing the ban 

Morris of the GHEA knows firsthand the difficulties of gaining access to the PSAT. Her two youngest children tried to register for the PSAT in 2017, only to be turned away by her local school. 

She reached out to school officials, asking them to reconsider their decision. Although they backtracked and allowed her children to take the test, the district’s leadership and school board has turned over since then, she said. 

The College Board also switched the PSAT to a digital format this year, which may have caused the district to conclude it was too difficult to include homeschoolers in the testing, Morris said. 

At this point, HSLDA got involved. Its senior counsel, Will Estrada, worked with GHEA and the College Board to reverse the ban on homeschoolers testing in the county. 

“To the district’s credit, they responded and corrected the situation quickly,” Morris said, adding Gwinnett County schools went so far as to include a test day just for homeschoolers. 

Estrada also praised the district’s turnaround, but he called on other schools to ensure homeschoolers gain access to these exams more consistently nationwide. 

“We are pleased with the favorable outcome,” he said. “But we realize this is just a temporary fix.” 

Working on ‘a long-term solution’ 

While HSLDA is celebrating its victory in Gwinnett County, it notes other homeschool families in different Georgia districts and nationwide are still struggling to find available venues to take the PSAT. 

For example, one public school district in North Carolina has not yet responded to the association’s request that a member family’s teen be permitted to take the PSAT. 

“As long as we have to rely on public or private schools, homeschoolers will be at a disadvantage when it comes to gaining access to the tests,” Estrada said. “We are working with leadership at the College Board to find a long-term solution.” 

Another alternative exists in local and state-based organizations partnering with private schools to offer these tests to homeschool students. 

For example, the Midwest Parent Educators (MPE) nonprofit worked with St. Thomas Aquinas High School in the Kansas City area to let homeschoolers take the PSAT in October. 

However, this arrangement still has disadvantages, such as limiting the maximum number of students who can register each year. 

Some families may need to travel hours just to arrive at these private schools. 

“Solving the problem in Gwinnett County was a great start,” she said. “But it’s just the beginning of what we need to do.”