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MCAS and Homeschoolers: Lobbying Against H1886

In 1997 a bill that sought to require private school students to take the MCAS exam was introduced in the Legislature. The response by Massachusetts homeschoolers is chronicled below. The bill died in committee, but a lasting result of the political controversy was a clear statement by the House Education Committee Chair that homeschoolers are not required to take the MCAS. There is neither regulation nor funding for homeschoolers to take the MCAS exams.

The H1886 bill was a particularly interesting case study in homeschool politics.

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS

MHLA Statement via email list, early April, 1997

What is H1886?

Massachusetts House Bill 1886 was filed January 1,1997 by House Education Committee Chair, Rep. Hal Lane. The full text of the bill says : "The first paragraph of section 1 of Chapter 76 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 1994 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following sentence: The school committee shall administer the statewide assessment tests in private schools in their school district."

What is MHLA’s position on the bill?

Recently the Massachusetts Home Learning Association, the Commonwealth's oldest statewide homeschool advocacy organization, received an alert from two groups calling for homeschoolers to protest Massachusetts legislation that would extend public school testing requirements to private schools. This alert was initiated by Citizens for Parental Rights, a Massachusetts group, and Concerned Women of America, a national group. Neither organization has homeschool advocacy as its primary mission, and neither of their Massachusetts information directors who are spearheading this legislative alert are homeschooling parents.

MHLA believes it is important to fight any legislative attempts that might jeopardize homeschooling freedoms. However, while we will monitor this legislation, we do not intend to participate in the protest at this time. Instead, we will try to gather information on the bill and get answers to our questions listed on this site. We believe it is important to uphold the credibility of homeschoolers by researching issues before taking any action, and acting only upon those issues that are truly a threat. Some years as many as 10,000 bills are filed before the Massachusetts State Legislature; typically only about 300 become law. Most simply die in committee. We will let you know what we find out about this bill, so that you can make an informed decision.

Finally, once a volatile e-mail begins to move through a network, various assumptions and speculations appear in subsequent posts. These both get passed on as facts and put in quotation marks as direct quotes. That's how rumors (and panics) start. Even though a posting may come from a well-intentioned homeschooler you can't automatically assume that its contents are accurate. MA Home Learning urges you to check your facts and question everything.

Questions and Answers about H1886:

How can I keep up with the fate of this bill?

1. Check the Massachusetts General Court web site. There you can monitor the progress of the bill through their bill tracking system. You can also contact your own legislators and let them know of your interest in this bill.

2. Join an "H1886 Information" email loop. Click here to enroll in the list. (Just send us your email address and any other comments you might have.)

3. Continue to check this site as we post the information we have gathered.

Answers as They Are Found -Document Sent Out via Email Loop by MHLA, April 1997

Here are some questions one might raise about H1886.

We have found the answer to question #8 and are gathering information on the others.

1) H1886 was filed on January 1, 1997, the same as most other bills. Since this bill was filed over 3 months ago, why has concern just recently surfaced? Did someone just notice it the other day and assume it was ready to be enacted?

2) "Where" is the bill? Is it currently in committee? Is it coming up for a hearing? If so, when?

3) Is it being lobbied by a particular group? Who would gain by having this bill passed?

4) How likely is it that this bill would pass? Is it just one of the thousands of bills that will die a natural death in committee?

5) Have other groups affected by this bill (notably the NE Independent Schools, the Archdiocese of Boston, and the Dioceses of Worcester, Springfield and Fall River) taken note of it and taken a position on it? How are they reacting? What advice can they give a) on this particular bill's viability and b) strategies they've used to work with legislators to oppose bills that would compromise their independence?

6) Who would pay for this? How does MA Association of School Committees feel about this piece of legislation? Do local School Committees want the responsibility of administering this test to non-public school students? Do local School Committees want to allot a portion of their budget to pay for tests to private school students?

7) Point of information...Since the Massachusetts statewide assessment tests haven't been devised yet, no one can say that "Many of the questions invade not only our children's privacy but their family's privacy as well." There ARE no questions yet!

8) Point of information...In Massachusetts a homeschooling family does not register as a private school as is in several other states. Just because home education plans are approved according to the "equal in thoroughness and efficiency" clause, the same criteria for a private school, this does not mean a homeschooling family is a private school.

9) A statement has been made that "The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 mandates that all information gathered on our children, will be stored under a private and confidential ID number, and will be made available to all government agencies and others." The Ed Reform Act is a 111-page document. I cannot find the above statement in my copy of the law. Will someone please post the reference for this statement, citing the section # that refers to this comment? Answer:Citizens for Parental Rights informed us that this provision is part of the Massachusetts General Law (not the Ed Reform Act), Chapter 69 section 1I: "Each school district shall maintain individual records on every student and employee. Each student record shall contain a unique and confidential identification number, basic demographic information, program and course information, and such other information as the department shall determine necessary."

April 26 Update:

Dear homeschoolers,

We are writing to update you on Massachusetts House Bill 1886 and the work the Massachusetts Home Learning Association, the state's oldest homeschooling advocacy group, is doing to keep the bill from infringing on homeschoolers' rights. H. 1886, a bill filed by Rep. Hal Lane (D-Holden), chairman of the education committee, would require that public schools administer new statewide assessment tests to private school students. The tests are now mandated only for public school students under the state education reform act. For more information about the bill, please see the rest of this web page.

As written now, the bill does not require that homeschoolers take the tests. We are not considered to be private schools under Massachusetts law. However, to ensure that our freedoms are protected, we are communicating closely with Rep. Lane's office about the bill's intent and progress. His staff has been very helpful and responsive. They are now researching a list of in-depth questions posed by MHLA and plan to meet with representatives from MHLA and Holt Associates shortly. We will urge Rep. Lane to refrain from adding any language which specifically mentions homeschooling to the bill.

We are particularly concerned about recommendations that Rep. Lane amend the bill to "exempt homeschoolers" from the test. On the surface, this may appear to protect us. But in fact, it creates a quagmire that could lead to more regulation and possible state control of homeschoolers. At the heart of the matter is the term "homeschool" and its legal meaning. To date, it has not been defined by the state legislature. However, if lawmakers insert the term in legislation, they will need to define it. Homeschooling opponents, some with powerful ties in the Massachusetts Legislature, are likely to push for their own definition, one that is far more restrictive than legal precedent now allows. For example, the National Education Association has publicly stated that it believes only certified teachers should be allowed to homeschool.

Currently, homeschooling is regulated at the local, not state, level within the broad guidelines set out by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the "Care and Protection of Charles." Our freedoms are better protected on the local level, where we can negotiate with local school officials. Moreover, homeschooling opponents, such as the NEA or its state affiliate, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, cannot demand that local officials exceed the broad guidelines set out in "Charles." However, once the debate reaches the state legislature, groups like the MTA can try to introduce new law that would supersede the "Charles" decision and impose greater restrictions on homeschoolers. Please take a look at what happened in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

If you agree with this position, we urge you to write, not call, Rep. Lane's office and recommend that he refrain from adding any amendments mentioning homeschooling to the bill. His address is: The Honorable Harold Lane, Jr.; Room 473-B; State House; Boston, MA 02133-1054. In addition, you could consider sending letters to all the members of the education committee. You can find their names on the General Court web site. Now would also be a good time to introduce yourself to your own legislator and inform him/her of your position on this bill.

We will keep you informed as the issue unfolds in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, a great deal of rumor and speculation is being circulated about the bill and the tests. We'll try our best to convey factual information. Check our web site for further updates. Several homeschoolers have asked us how the bill will be funded. As taxpayers, they are understandably concerned that this bill paves the way for public funding of private schools. We have not yet received answers on the funding mechanism, but will let you know as soon as we do.

The points below were recently reported to us by Rep. Lane's office.

  • The bill remains in the Education Committee with a hearing expected in May or June.
  • Rep. Lane's office says the best way for people to express their views is by way of a petition or a collected set of names that the staff can note and put on file. This is preferable to either phone calls or e-mail, as both of these tend to jam the switchboard and/or computers and make it difficult to accomplish other committee work or even to engage in dialogue about the issue.
  • It was not Rep. Lane's intention in filing the bill to include homeschoolers. He is considering an amendment that would explicitly exempt homeschoolers, although he is willing to listen to our concerns about that option.
  • The test questions have not been made public, but are based on state curriculum frameworks, which are public information. If you would like more information about the education reform act and its accompanying tests, you may want to check back issues of the Boston Globe. As for the status of the tests, the history test has not yet been developed because the history framework is still under construction. This has been reported on extensively in the Boston Globe. The English frameworks were adopted a few months ago, and tests for them are in development. The math and science frameworks were adopted some time ago and a prototype is ready to be used as a trial run only in certain public schools this year. Final versions of the test, therefore, have yet to be administered statewide.

May 7th Update

Following MHLA Meeting with Rep. Lane

I am writing with some good news following a very productive meeting today with Massachusetts state Rep. Hal Lane, author of House Bill 1886. As you're probably aware, the bill calls for statewide testing of private school students. Early in a 90-minute meeting with the Massachusetts Home Learning Association and Holt Associates, Rep. Lane informed us that he intends to rewrite the legislation to make the tests voluntary. We were very impressed with Rep. Lane's candor and thoughtful approach to the issue. He was quite willing to listen to our views and consider ways to accommodate our concerns. We found we shared a lot of common ground.The father of eight children and a former public school principal, Rep. Lane was aware of John Holt's work and respectful of homeschooling as an option. He said that he believes the needs of children are best met when public school, private school and homeschool are available choices.

He also emphasized that it was never his intention in drafting the bill to require testing of homeschoolers; it was aimed solely at private schools. During the next week, he and his staff intend to redraft the bill with new language that makes the test an option - not a requirement - for private schools, so that private schools themselves may choose to opt into the test. In addition, Rep. Lane discussed possible language that would allow non-public school students to take the statewide assessments in pursuit of a public school diploma. Some homeschoolers perceived Rep. Lane's bill as a threat to homeschooling freedoms. The redraft, as he described it, would avert that threat.

We will be in close contact with Rep. Lane's office during the next week as he reworks the legislation. The education committee will hold a public hearing on the bill at 1 p.m., May 15. During the hearing, Rep. Lane will present the redraft to the Committee. It's important to note the long road any bill must travel before it becomes law...if it becomes law. H1886 is just one of 40 education bills the committee will hear May 15. And it is one of thousands now before the state legislature, which typically only adopts a few hundred bills into law each year. Even if H. 1886 is reported favorably out of the education committee, it will probably move into another committee - possibly Ways and Means - which it must clear before being voted upon by the full House. It would then be sent to the Senate, where it once again can become tied up in committee. It's not unusual for this process to take three or four years in Massachusetts. As soon as we have the new language for H. 1886, we will post it on MHLA's homepage.

Cover Letter to All Homeschooling Families--May 8, 1997

Dear Homeschooling Family:

The Massachusetts Home Learning Association (MHLA) is the state's oldest homeschool advocacy organization and information clearinghouse. We are inclusive in membership and not affiliated with any religious or political group. Yesterday we had a cordial and productive meeting with Rep. Harold Lane. A post regarding that meeting follows. This same posting will be going out to our membership, our contacts at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and MA HOPE (the statewide Christian homeschooling ministry), the homeschooling bulletin boards on America On Line, the media, and members of the Committee on Education, Arts and Humanities. It is our hope that anyone who contacted House and Senate Committee members regarding H. 1886 will receive our update and share it with their contacts and support groups. We hope that the dissemination of this information will dispell rumors, correct misinformation and relieve apprehension.

June 4 Update

Latest word on H1886: H1886 has been reported out of the Education Committee with the revisions presented at the Hearing. MHLA has some serious concerns about the bill as written. Our letter to the Education Committee was not received before the bill was voted out of Committee.

July 4 Update

The revised H1886 is now in the Ways and Means Committee. According to two sources at the State House, the revised H1886 bill will not be heard until after the summer recess, which should begin mid July. Visit the House Ways and Means Web Page to find the names and addresses of the members of that Committee. We encourage you to contact the Committee members with your concerns on the bill. The Ways and Means web page also provides current information on the status of bills before the committee. Check for this bill under H4546. Please also read the MHLA Response on this revised bill.

Final Word

The bill was never reported out to the House floor and died in Committee in that legislative session.

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TEXT OF REVISED H. 1886, NOW H. 4546

SECTION 1: Section I of chapter 76 of the general laws, as appearing in the 1994 official edition, is hereby amended by inserting after the first paragraph the following two paragraphs: the superintendent of every public school district in the commonwealth shall on or before October 15 notify in writing the headmaster of each private and parochial school and the parent or guardian of every student who is otherwise instructed within the district of the opportunity for said private or parochial school or otherwise instructed student to voluntarily participate in the statewide assessment of students in grades 4, 8, and 10 as authorized in section 1I of chapter 69 of the general laws; provided, however, that no public funds shall be expended for any costs associated with the acquisition, distribution, or administration of said tests. Any private or parochial school or the parents or guardians of any child who is otherwise instructed who elect to have their children participate in said testing shall notify the superintendent of the decision no later than November 15. Any student who is otherwise instructed pursuant to this section and who requests a diploma from a public high school shall be required to satisfy the requirements of the competency determination established in section 1D of chapter 69 as a condition for receiving said diploma; provided, however, that the assessment instrument used to verify competency determination shall be given at state expense; and provided further that in the case of any student who is otherwise instructed and fails to meet the requirements of the competency determination, the school district shall not be required to provide a remedial plan as defined in subsection (i) of section iD of chapter 69

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LETTER TO REPRESENTATIVE LANE

MHLA Reponse to the Education Committee Following the Hearing

MHLA Response to the Revised H1886

May 28, 1997 letter to Rep. Harold Lane, Chair House Committee on Education, Arts and Humanities Massachusetts

Dear Representative Lane,

Thank you for listening to our concerns at the recent hearing on H. 1886, a bill regarding the testing of private school students. As we mentioned in our testimony before the Committee, the Massachusetts Home Learning Association would like to offer you feedback on the revised bill. First we would like to thank you for your receptivity to our concerns, as reflected in the use of the term "otherwise instructed" which already appears in legislation, rather than the term "homeschool" which does not. We are pleased that the revised bill provides for voluntary, rather than compulsory testing and that the tests are available to all students in the Commonwealth, providing equity of access for schools and individuals who desire to participate in high stakes testing. The clear statewide timetables included in the bill assure that families or private schools who wish to participate will not miss out on testing because of local variation in registration dates.

However we still have concerns about the wording of the redraft and hope that it will not be sent out of Committee yet. Specifically, we would like the Committee to consider:

  • revising the notification procedures
  • revisiting the funding issue
  • omitting grade level designations
  • clarifying the ownership of test results
  • exploring numerous issues relating to competency testing

When MHLA members discussed the bill's future after the hearing, virtually no one supported the redraft "as is," without further changes. Through discussions among ourselves and with Walt Grayum of MA HOPE, we realized that we have only begun to analyze the implications of the revision, and would like more time to pursue our investigations and perhaps meet with you for further discussion and clarification. Thus we hope that H. 1886 might be tabled for now and its central concepts revisited at a less active legislative time, when there is opportunity to develop a bill that would be agreeable to all stakeholders: legislators, private schools and parents of those otherwise instructed.

Should you decide to go ahead with H. 1886 we have provided more information on the areas of concern. Although we recognize that crafting legislation is an exercise in precision, we are submitting alternative language to address the spirit of our concerns. We thank you for all the time and energy you invested in listening to us and for respectfully soliciting our input. Finally, as parents who care deeply about the quality of their children's education, we were struck by the magnitude of the task facing the Education Committee as it endeavors to insure a quality education for all children in the Commonwealth. The comments and questions of Rep. Lane, Sen. Magnani and Sen. Antonioni demonstrated their commitment to providing both a high quality of education and equity of educational opportunity for all Massachusetts students. Insuring quality education for all students is a goal we homeschooling parents share with Committee members.

Notification Procedures: Rather than have the Superintendent contact each non-public school and homeschooling family directly we think it would be preferable simply to have a public notice posted announcing the testing. This point was brought up at the hearing by Mr. John Spillane who represented the interests of independent schools. Upon reflection MHLA considered it a wise idea. Having private schools and parents take the initiative in the notification process emphasizes the voluntary nature of the testing. While MHLA has no opinion on the dates specified in the bill, we agree that having specific dates stated is valuable. We assume that a change could be made in the bill by using whatever legislative wording commonly indicates that an agency or instrumentality is required to post a public notice. If you keep the October 15 date for posting, the text of the bill would continue as in the final sentence of paragraph 1, " Any private or parochial school....no later than November 15."

Funding: Currently, students who are otherwise instructed may, at the discretion of their local School Committee, participate in coursework and utilize public school services without incurring a fee. We believe that parents who opt to have their otherwise instructed children take statewide assessments should not be charged for this service. If, however, the wording on funding stays as is, ("no public funds shall be expended for any costs associated with the acquisition, distribution or administration of said tests"). we understand that the language means that only "said tests" would incur a charge, and that other courses and/or services in which homeschooled students participate at local discretion would still remain free. Further investigation of funding was also encouraged by Steve Perla of PACE

Grade Levels: Some students who are otherwise instructed may not be in a grade based on their chronological age. If the legislation omits the phrase, "in grades 4, 8 and 10" the wording would read, "....participate in the statewide assessment of students....as authorized in section 1i of chapter 69 of the general laws;..." This language would also be useful if the Commonwealth reconfigures the grade level designations for statewide assessments in the future. The issue of non-graded students was also mentioned by both teacher and students representing the Elliot Montessori School in Natick.

Ownership of Data: Several groups mentioned concerns regarding the storage and use of both test results and other data collected during the administration of statewide assessments. Because these tests would be taken voluntarily by students who are otherwise instructed, MHLA believes that their parents should have ownership of the test results, which could be released only at the parents' discretion. This would be similar to the way SAT scores are handled, where test results are reported to the student, who then can request that the information be disseminated to the schools or organizations of his/her choice. Chapter 69 section 1i is the section that discusses data collection. Might such a provision clarifying ownership of data be placed there?

Grade 10 Competency Testing and Diplomas: Many questions surfaced regarding the grade 10 competency testing and the right to petition for a diploma.

A.) If access to the test is clarified in paragraph 1, is paragraph 2 necessary only to insure that students who elect to take the test will not be charged for it? Could paragraph 2 be eliminated?

B.) Regarding the language in H. 1886 aligning with that of chapter 69, section 1D: the word "diploma" does not appear in the text of the law. Rather it contains the sentence: "Satisfaction of the requirements of the competency determination shall be a condition for high school graduation." Would it be better, therefore, to leave the word "diploma" out of new legislation?

C.) Some have questioned the necessity of legislation addressing competency testing for homeschoolers because up to now few homeschooled students have requested public high school diplomas. However, while up to now there have been very few homeschooled adolescents , the homeschool population is beginning to "age". There has also been an increase in the number of homeschooling families who are not adverse to public education in general but who opt to homeschool a single child for specific curricular reasons. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the number of adolescents who are homeschooled for a year or two and then return to school. If these segments of the homeschool population continue to grow there is reason to expect that increased numbers of them will request a diploma.

D.) Regarding the certificate of mastery, chapter 69, section 1D states that, "Eligibility for potential receipt of a certificate of mastery shall extend to all secondary students residing in the commonwealth." It's hard to tell what was intended by this language and what the implications are. Does this wording mean all students in the Commonwealth, regardless of their secondary program? If so, does the law already permit a private school student or homeschooler to acquire a certificate of mastery without any further legislation? If a certificate of mastery may be granted on criteria which includes high school graduation standards (of which the certificate of competency is one component) might it follow that those otherwise educated who are residents of the Commonwealth may already have the right to take the grade 10 test? If all students regardless of program were able to acquire certificates of mastery, would the lower level test determining competency be accessible to all, too? On the other hand, might a student be able to get a certificate of mastery without having acquired a certificate of competency? Who grants the certificate of mastery? The local district or the Commonwealth? If all Massachusetts students already have the ability to sit for the exam in grade 10, would only testing in grades 4 and 8 need to be addressed with new legislation?

E.) Since many people reviewing this bill are homeschoolers it is easy to lapse into the assumption that the term "otherwise instructed" is simply legislative terminology for homeschoolers. But "otherwise instructed" can encompass several other groups of students, including those dually enrolled and those in alternative programs. Clarifying the issues regarding testing, graduation requirements and diplomas, would also address the needs of these other "otherwise instructed" students.

F.) Finally, there was a great deal of discussion as to why a student who didn't attend a public high school should get a public school diploma. This is a question posed not only by homeschoolers, but by many in the general populace. Perhaps it's because, unlike in New York State where a Regent's diploma is available to both public and private school students, Massachusetts has the tradition of local control by School Committees. Private school students getting state certified diplomas is a new idea for most people in the Commonwealth. Equity of Access Equity of access has raised several questions. At the hearing, Rep. Lane stated that H. 1886 would be necessary in order for private schools to have access to the assessment tests. Is this because, in spite of local control, School Committees are only authorized to perform the statewide procedures that statutes or case law tells them they can do? That unless a statute authorized the School Committee to offer statewide tests to private schools, they probably would not be authorized to do so? Thus, we understand how the revised H. 1886 actively does something for private schools. But if there were no legislation could the tests still be offered to students otherwise instructed, whose education plans are directly approved by the local district? Some homeschoolers assumed that the option to take the test could be addressed at the local level, that homeschoolers who desired their children to be tested could simply ask the Superintendent and be allowed to do so. Would Superintendents have this discretion, or would they have to say, "I'd really love to let you take the test, but my hands are tied. I just can't do it." And If they did have discretionary power, could they then deny access? (As an extension of this line of thinking, if the tests could not be offered to those otherwise instructed, then it follows that a Superintendent could not mandate their taking the tests. Legislation to make the tests voluntary would insure that those who do not wish to take the test could not be forced to do so by their Superintendent. The voluntary nature of the legislation provides both freedom to take the test as well as freedom from taking it.) While at present there are few who would elect to take the test and petition for a diploma, MHLA regularly receives calls from parents who are removing their adolescents from public school for specific curricular reasons, but who are interested in maintaining positive relationships with their schools and accessing school coursework and other services. Although this is a fairly new homeschool constituency, one could expect this segment to show continued growth as homeschooling becomes a more acceptable (and accessible) choice for families of teenagers.

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