ACT Scores and Homeschoolers: Good News and Bad News

Nurse, chef, bookkeeper, laundress, housekeeper, interior decorator, organizer, social secretary, and on and on. Moms wear so many different hats in all our various roles! Homeschooling adds a few more hats: teacher, curriculum planner, and my least favorite, guidance counselor. But with three kids in high school this year and the next (one graduates; one joins them), I might as well get used to this last one. Tim certainly puts on this counselor hat plenty, too, as he takes on most of the overall life and career direction and the college visits. The paperwork, though, is my baby. Jon's been busy with applications and scholarship essays, while the counselor documentation has been in my court. Happily, he's finished with the only two schools he really cares about, IU and Purdue, and has just this week learned that IU is offering him an attractive (basically full tuition) scholarship. We're waiting to see what Purdue comes up with now.  

Along with college prep come the dreaded standardized tests. For homeschoolers these tests (SAT, ACT, AP) often carry more weight than for traditional students. College admission officers tend to view the GPAs of homeschooled students with some skepticism, and the tests are seen as more objective. (For what it’s worth, the high school GPAs of my oldest three kids were virtually identical to their college GPAs.)

And since I’m immersed in this stuff right now, I was intrigued to read in Practical Homeschooling magazine the results of the 2011 ACT scores. Here’s a summary of the results for high school graduates and homeschoolers. (This all comes from the ACT’s 2011 The Condition of College and Career Readiness report.) The “benchmark” number is the number the ACT describes as “the minimum scores needed on the ACT subject areas to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher" in an entry college class for that discipline. (Courses noted on table above.)  In other words, they are the scores needed to be ready for beginning college courses without remedial work.

So for homeschoolers, here's the good news: Homeschooled students generally performed better than the "High School Graduate" category. Students schooled at home did better in the overall scores and in reading, English, and science. No surprise here, as various other surveys show homeschoolers routinely do better on standardized tests.

But the bad news: Both homeschoolers and general high school graduates underperformed in both science and math with homeschoolers doing even worse in math than general high school graduates!

What's the take home lesson?
While standardized tests by no means are a perfect indication of what kids know, or obviously even what we want them to learn in their school years, they can give us a hint of some basic competency. And while homeschooling parents, as a group, are doing a great job teaching their children to read and write, we could use some improvement in the areas of math and science.

There might be a zillion explanations for why homeschoolers excel in English but not so much in math and science. For one, teaching history and literature, with associated language arts, are just so much fun! As a unit-study loving mama from the beginning, I love digging into a historical era, making costumes, maps, food, and timelines, and then reading tons of "living books" to deepen our understanding of an era. For so many of us moms, teaching history has given us the education we didn't have as we've learned more of the story behind our history, and begun to catch a glimpse of the big picture of God working throughout time. But we've got to make sure that we don't get so excited about history and language arts that we forget to give our children a solid foundation in other areas. 

In addition, some homeschool philosophies emphasize the more word oriented subjects at the expense of number oriented ones. (This is one of my beefs with many applications of classical education.) Sometimes math just gets pushed a bit to the back burner. Since math is such a sequential subject, falling behind just a little bit each year, maybe not quite covering all we should, adds up over time.

All kids need a  solid grounding in mathematics, even if they are heading toward a word oriented career. And if you are raising future scientists, engineers, businessmen, OR homeschool moms, they especially need a strong preparation in math and science.  Math is important not only so our kids can handle money and deal with practical geometry applications or real life story problems, but because it teaches them to think and analyze situations with logic. As we study every area of science, from nature topics to advanced physics, we catch a glimpse of God's marvelous work of creation, and each study will lead us to see His attributes a bit more clearly.

So let's maintain the good work in teaching our children to read critically and write with clarity, but let's also work to keep math and science instruction up front and center as well.

(If time allows, I hope to publish a couple of posts with some ideas for teaching math.)


Lisa said…
Thank you for this post Anne....these are the essential nuggets of wisdom that I am grateful to be acquiring in this early season of homeschooling. Thank you for taking the time to share this eye opening information.
Anonymous said…
I can't wait to read these math posts!

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