How do the test scores of homeschool students compare to non-homeschool students?

Written Aug 27, 2016

When I started to write this answer, I thought I would be documenting the overwhelming advantages of homeschooling. However, the deeper I dug, the more I realized that the answer is not so clear.

A survey of research papers on the comparison of test results between home-schooled and traditionally-schooled students are pretty conclusive and indicate that home-schooled students do get better results. Depending on the source, the answers range from “somewhat better” to “scored in the 86th to 92nd percent statistically”. “NHERI found that 13,549 homeschool seniors participated in the 2014 SAT. Of those seniors, homeschoolers scored an average of 567 in critical reading, 521 in mathematics, and 535 in writing. In comparison, the average SAT scores for all 2014 high school seniors were 497 in critical reading, 513 in mathematics, and 487 in writing.”

Let’s break this down further.

Most of the results found on major search engines trace back to organizations that have a vested interest in promoting homeschooling. In fact, many news stories which report glowing performance by home-schooled students also trace back to these same studies. There are concerns about methodology, sample size, homogeneity of sample population, and inadequate comparison of control population.

Interestingly, the US Department of Education has conducted large studies on the demographics of homeschooling, but is silent on the topic of outcomes and results.

One interesting article by Gwen Dewar cites a Canadian study, indicating that homeschooled students in a structured curriculum did significantly better than traditionally-schooled students, while those in an unstructured homeschool environment did significantly worse.

In 5 of 7 test areas, (word identification, phonic decoding, science, social science, humanities) structured homeschoolers were at least one grade level ahead of public schoolers.

They were almost half a year ahead in math, and slightly, but not significantly, advanced in reading comprehension.”

Researchers calculated the probabilities of getting these results due to random chance alone. For science and calculation, these probabilities were 1.9% and 2.6%. For word identification, decoding, and social science, the probabilities were all below 0.07%.”

In every test area, unstructured homeschoolers got lower scores than the structured homeschoolers did.

In 5 of 7 areas, the differences were substantial, ranging from 1.32 grade levels for the math test to 4.2 grade levels for the word identification test.

Where the structured homeschoolers performed above grade level, the unstructured homeschoolers performed below it.

The chance that unstructured homeschoolers performed worse due to random factors? Less than 0.07%.”

– See more at: Homeschooling outcomes: How do they compare?

What does it all mean?

We have to be skeptical of headlines of the overwhelming advantages of homeschooling, and look carefully at the methodology of the studies.

More importantly, it is important to recognize that each homeschooling experience is different, and will produce different outcomes. (This is also one of the most important reasons for homeschooling – since each child is different, and will learn differently).

The results of a homeschool education will only be as good as the planning, effort, and curricular choices made by the students and teachers (in this case, usually the family).