Homeschool vs. public school test scores – how does each student group fare when compared side-by-side? If you’ve started researching homeschooling, you’re probably interested in how home-educated students fare academically. In this article, we’ll investigate whether these children can keep up with (or even surpass) the test scores of public school kids.
As you read this article, keep in mind that drawing 100% conclusive results from these studies is difficult as some homeschooling families use contrasting educational approaches (that teach them to learn in different ways), consequently influencing academic outcomes. This is because most tests are based on traditional forms of education (and hence, not necessarily a problem with the homeschooler’s education, but a failure to find a test that accurately measures their accomplishments). For instance, unschoolers don’t have a set curriculum and will score poorly on traditional tests; in contrast, classically trained homeschoolers will tend to perform well above average.
Furthermore, many homeschoolers may enter and exit schools, meaning some should, perhaps, be classified as ‘partly-homeschooled’ instead of fully homeschooled. Of course, this also significantly affects the data you’re about to look at. But let’s dive in and get started!
If you’re going to homeschool your child, it’s helpful to have good reasons to back up your decision. Many people choose this mode of education because homeschoolers generally have better academic results than those found in public schools. According to a plethora of research cited below, homeschoolers (unless they’re ‘unstructured homeschoolers‘) always outperform their public school peers.
Homeschool vs. Public School Test Scores 1988
Home educated students in Lawrence Rudner’s 1988 research tests easily outperformed their public school peers, as we can see from the findings from his study here:
Major findings include: the achievement test scores of this group of home school students are exceptionally high–the median scores were typically in the 70th to 80th percentile; 25% of home school students are enrolled one or more grades above their age-level public and private school peers…[HSLDA, Lawrence Rudner, Accessed 1 Janruary, 2018.]
Rudner’s research covered over 20,000 home schools and amazingly concluded these students scored significantly higher than their public school counterparts in every subject in every grade! In addition, they significantly surpassed the scores of private school students.
Homeschool vs. Public School Test Scores 2011
Martin-Chang and Gould looked at homeschool vs. public school test scores in 2011 and found ‘structured homeschoolers’ (that is, home-educated students who were following a curriculum) easily outperformed their public school peers:
When the homeschooled group was divided into those who were taught from organized lesson plans (structured homeschoolers) and those who were not (unstructured homeschoolers [read unschoolers]), the data showed structured homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared with children attending public school. Exploratory analyses also suggest unstructured homeschoolers are achieving the lowest standardized scores across the 3 groups… [Martin-Chang & Gould, The Impact of Schooling on Academic Acheivement, 2011]
Homeschool vs. Public School Test Scores 2014
Brian Ray looked into the test scores from differently schooled populations in 2016, using a 2014 study. He said:
The SAT 2014 test scores of college-bound homeschool students were higher than the national average of all college-bound seniors that same year. Some 13,549 homeschool seniors had the following mean scores: 567 in critical reading, 521 in mathematics, and 535 in writing (College Board, 2014a). The mean SAT scores for all college-bound seniors in 2014 were 497 in critical reading, 513 in mathematics, and 487 in writing (College Board, 2014b). The homeschool students’ SAT scores were 0.61 standard deviation higher in reading, 0.26 standard deviation higher in mathematics, and 0.42 standard deviation higher in writing than those of all college-bound seniors taking the SAT, and these are notably large differences…the test scores of homeschool students are higher than the national average for all students. [NHERI, Ray, B, 2016]
Again, home-educated students prove they are by no means trailing the pack when it comes to testing scores!
Homeschool vs. Public School Test Scores 2008-2014 (Australia)
The Australian government combined their test scores of registered homeschoolers who sat the Australian government exams (NAPLAN testing). Their results showed that students who were home-educated throughout their primary and secondary school years always did the same or better than their public school peers.
These homeschoolers outperformed their public school counterparts on all occasions.
Test Score Meta-Analysis in 2017
When Brian Ray did a meta-analysis of home vs. publicly schooled students’ test scores, he found:
The homeschooled have consistently scored in these studies, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests in the United States and Canada, compared to the public school average of the 50th percentile. [Ray, B, A Review of research on Homeschooling and what might educators learn?, 2017]
Ray looked at quite a few studies (some of which were also meta-analyses on the topic) and has found home learners performed well above their publicly schooled peers in almost every study.
Why do Homeschoolers Score Better than Public Schoolers?
So, why are test scores among home-educated populations better than publicly schooled populations? There are several reasons, namely:
- smaller class sizes,
- more individualized instruction by parents,
- more academic time spent on core subjects like writing and literature studies, and
- higher parental involvement, which means children are more likely to be academically successful and reach their potential.
Of course, there are many other reasons their scores might be higher (i.e. they get adequate sleep), which can be found by going through the 100 Reasons to Homeschool article here.
While it is worthwhile looking into the testing methods and cohorts studied to determine reliability (there’s a bit of criticism of Ray’s studies – deserved or not, you’ll have to decide), I can’t remember reading a study that scored home educated students below their public school peers (and I had to read hundreds of studies in preparation for my book.)
Quite simply, home-educated students outperform their public school peers on almost every occasion. This is evidenced in so many studies that it is hard to deny. Sure these studies might not always be randomly sampled populations, but the results come out so often as significantly above their peers, it’s hard to believe there’s not something to them. Additionally, there are no contradicting studies to negate the results.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard of many home-educated students who perform well above the average. Indeed, this was the case in my family. For example, my brother and I went from being in the bottom 10% of our class in our junior years at a private Christian school (we spent our first two or three years at school before homeschooling) to the top 10% of our class when we attended university.
I credit homeschooling with giving me a love of learning which I carried into tertiary education. Hopefully, this look into homeschool vs. public school test scores has impressed you, but I hope you choose to homeschool for so many more reasons than just the academic results.