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Home-schoolers seek diplomas

October 11, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Home-schooled students Colleen and Diana Keely are on the fast track to graduate from high school by age 15.

"Their curriculum is a combination of high school and community college classes," said their mother, Jeannie Keely.

Home-schooled full time by their mother, both girls are enrolled in correspondence online high school courses and junior college courses at Hagerstown Community College. Colleen, 14, and Diana, 12, are studying meteorology and computer technology, their mother said.

"It's Diana's first semester and Colleen's fifth semester," Jeannie Keely said. "Colleen was 12 when she started taking community college courses."

"Colleen has a 4.0 and Diana is doing great," Jeannie Keely said.

The Keelys represent the steady increase in the number of home-schooled students in the United States and across the Tri-State area in the last five years. However, when it comes to meeting requirements for a high school diploma, Tri-State home-schooled students are governed by policies that differ from state to state.

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Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania's respective departments of education will not grant regular public high school diplomas to home-schooled students.

Maryland home-schooled students can receive recognized high school diplomas from accredited home-instruction programs, state home-school director Lynn Linde said. Such programs must meet the states' curriculum guidelines and have been approved by the local school system.

In neighboring West Virginia, Chris Coffinberger, home-school coordinator for Berkeley County Schools, said home schooling is approved, but the state does not recognize high school diplomas earned through correspondence programs.

Pennsylvania has approved seven home-school instruction programs where students can earn what the state calls home-school diplomas, state education representative Sarah Pearce said.

Also, under Pennsylvania law, high school diplomas earned through correspondence schools are not equal to diplomas earned in the state's public high schools and are recognized as certificates of preliminary education, Pearce said.

She said such certificates are issued to verify that a student has earned a high school diploma from an accredited high school correspondence school.

When it comes to taking the General Education Development (GED) test, which is recognized by all three states, age requirements vary from state to state.

In Maryland, students have to be 16 to take the test. In West Virginia, students must be 17. In Pennsylvania, one has to have a full-time job or be seeking admission to college to take the GED at 16. If the student does not fall into either category, they must be 18 to take the exam.

In Maryland, the Keelys have three options to meet state academic high school requirements.

The Maryland Department of Education has approved several home-instruction education programs that meet high school diploma guidelines. Home-schooled students also can enroll in an accredited home-instruction program offered through a church organization under the supervision of a local public school district, Linde said.

That was what Colleen and Diana's older sister, Sarah Keely, did, because she was too young to take the GED. Sarah was 15 when she received her high school diploma from Broadfording Christian Academy in Hagerstown in December 2003. Sarah's academic transcript fulfilled the school's curriculum requirements and no additional testing was required for Sarah, who already had scored a 1,300 on the SAT at age 13, her mother said. The school's home-instruction program is accredited by the state, Linde said. Sarah's mother said it cost $400 to enroll Sarah in the program, which accepted all but one of her courses.

"She needed an additional physical education course, which she took at home," her mother said.

In the same month, Sarah also completed requirements toward her associate's degree from HCC, making her the youngest graduate in the college's history.

The Keelys and other home-schooled students in Maryland and Pennsylvania also can be taught under curriculums modeled after public schools in the counties where they live. Compulsory school attendance laws in both states require public school officials to make periodic reviews of home-schooled curriculums to ensure students are making satisfactory progress.

However, West Virginia home-schooled students only are required to take an annual achievement test at the end of the academic year. If the achievement test isn't taken, home-schooled students can submit academic portfolios that have been reviewed by a certified teacher. The teacher has to file a narrative report indicating that the student has made progress in such major subject areas as reading, math, social studies and science, Coffinberger said.

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