The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents


A brief look at comparisons of standardized test results for home educated students and public school students.

© 1998 Mary Shaw

There is an assumption in Western Society that education is necessary to a higher quality of life; it is also a general belief that education and schooling are synonymous. Society also assumes that the education provided in our public schools is the best that can be experienced. A look at the results of standardized tests indicates that children taught at home by their parents perform at a higher level on such tests than their contemporaries who enjoy the benefits of traditional public schooling. Such tests are not the sole criteria in determining the efficacy of an educational program but they are a generally-accepted indicator of academic success and achievement.

The first criterion in selecting research for this paper was for findings that used the same testing instrument, in this case the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT). A second criterion was for a significant sample size; in the two examined here, one had a sample of 873 home schooled children (Wartes, J.,1988) and the second, a sample of 84 home educated students (Daane, C.J. & Rakestraw J.,1989). Both studies were summarized and reported upon in educational journals and were reviewed by the researchers' peers and other educational critics. The use of the same standardized test results allows for a ready comparison of results between two different studies, which, in this case, were from disparate areas of the U.S.

It must be noted that not everyone is in agreement about the validity of such testing. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), an organization of parents, educators and policy makers in the United States, has expressed their concerns since 1985. Their criticisms include the contention that standardized tests are not a true measure of the strengths and weaknesses of students, that there is insufficient access to testing data for independent researchers, including evidence of test reliability, and that such tests contain racial, ethnic, gender and class biases inherent in their makeup. (FairTest: Statement of Goals and Principles, 1985). Researchers also are critical of standardized tests, claiming that those home schooling parents identified as Ideologues may spend more time on workbooks and other conventional teaching modes, which "could lead to high achievement scores, but not necessarily to well-educated people." (Ray, 1988, p.27) For the purpose of this paper, it is not necessary to resolve the contestation; it is only worth noting insofar as the results of such studies are often the basis for government and school board policy decisions that have long-range implications for many students.

The Stanford Achievement Test examines basic skills in a number of areas. Scores on individual skill areas are averaged to give a final score reported as a percentile. The tests are norm-referenced, meaning that, for all students who take the test at a given time under the same circumstances, the greatest number of individual scores will be at or around the 50th percentile, or within one Standard Deviation of it. Similarly, the mean, or average for such test results for all children would be the 50th percentile. In both studies, however, the mean scores of home schooled students were much higher than their schooled peers. Both Wartes and Rakestraw drew comparisons in skills areas of reading, language, listening, and mathematics. Wartes (1988) found the mean scores of home educated children were at the 68th percentile, with scores in science, listening vocabulary and reading reaching beyond the 70th percentile. Rakestraw (1989) also concluded that "on tests of basic skills, these home-schooled children did as well or better than children in public elementary schools in Alabama." (page 26). Reviews of other studies using different achievement tests measuring the same skills reached similar conclusions. (Ray 1988, Mayberry 1988, 1989) An interesting note to the Washington state research was the mathematical skills test finding. Although median score of home schooled children was low in mathematical computation (42nd percentile) the median score for the same group in math application skills was a strong 65th percentile. (Wartes1988)

An extensive review of this and other home schooling research was written and reported by Brian D. Ray (1988). He summarizes that, "The available evidence indicates that home school youth of compulsory education age have been scoring equal to or better than their conventional school peers" (page 25). Furthermore, he claims to have found no evidence to contradict that statement. Gene Frost, Director of Education at Chicago Research and Training, was critical of some research for the reason that two of the three studies he examined were conducted by home schooling advocacy groups. (1988) However, J. Gregory Cizek, in a paper presented to the American Educational Research Association in 1993, declared that more than half of the 19 researchers who responded to his survey had not engaged in home education themselves and that almost half maintained no interest in home education research.

Do these studies have any relevance to Canadian education or is this merely an American phenomenon? Ray (1988) examined test scores from Western Australia and found similar results. He has also analyzed the performance on standardized tests of 524 Canadian homeschooled children (1994). In the Canadian study, the mean score of the home educated students, was at or above the 76th percentile with scores in a number of individual skill areas well above the 80th percentile.

It is clear, from this literature, that the fact of superior performance on standardized tests by home schooled students is not an issue and that restrictions or objections to home schooling cannot be made on the basis of academic achievements. What does remain as a matter of contention is the interpretation of this data and explorations of their greater ramifications. Ray (1988) contends that "achievement scores may not tell the whole story about home education outcomes" (page 27) and that more research should be conducted. He suggests a look at the ascertaining of parent goals for their children and whether or not these goals are achieved through home schooling. He also suggests longitudinal studies of home schooled children to examine how these children will ultimately function in society. Cheryl Wright (1988) of the University of Utah submits that "researchers need to look beyond the home environment as the sole factor in understanding home schooling functioning" (page 108). An examination of the research that has been done in areas of social skills might also flesh out the picture of home schooling success that is derived from the research into academic performance.


Cizek, J. Gregory (April 1993). Home Education Research: On the Right Road? 18 pages. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (Atlanta, GA April 12-16 1993). Citation from Resources in Education Accession Number ED360331 (Arizona Educational Information System GOLD FILE No. 696.1)

Frost, Gene (1988). The academic success of students in home schooling, Illinois School Research and Development, Vol 24, No.3, Spring 1988, pages 111-117 (Arizona Educational Information Systems GOLD FILE no. 696.1)

Mayberry, Maralee (1988). The 1987-88 Oregon home school survey: An overview of the findings. Home School Researcher, Vol. 4, No. 1, pages 1-9 (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED329329)

Mayberry, Maralee (1989). Home-based education in the United States: Demographics, motivations and educational implications. Educational Review, Vol. 41, No.2 1989 pages 171-180 (Arizona Educational Information System GOLD FILE No. 696.1)

National Center for Fair and Open Testing (1985). FairTest: Statement of Goals and Principles, 342 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139. Author.

Rakestraw, J.F. & Daane, C.J. (Spring 1989) Homeschooling: a profile and study of achievement test results in Alabama. ERS Spectrum, Vol.7, No.2, pages 22-27(Arizona Educational Information System GOLD FILE No. 696.1)

Ray, Brian D. (1988). Home Schools: A synthesis of research on characteristics and learner outcomes. Education and Urban Society, Vol 21, No.1, November 1988, pages 16-31 (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.EJ384821)

Ray, Brian D. (1994). A Nationwide Study of Home Education in Canada: Family, characteristics, student achievement. National Home Education Research Institute, 5000 Deer Park Drive, S.E., Salem, OR 97301. Author.

Wartes, J. (1988), Summary of two reports from the Washington Homeschool Research Project. Home School Researcher, Vol. 4, No.2, pages 131-142 (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.ED329329)

Wright, Cheryl (1988), Home School Research: A critique and suggestions for the future. Education and Urban Society, Vol. 21, November 1988, pages 96-113 (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.384821)