ERIC Identifier: ED435709
Publication Date: 1999-09-00
Author: Rudner, Lawrence M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Assessment and Evaluation Washington DC.
The Scholastic Achievement of Home School Students. ERIC/AE
Summarizing demographic characteristics and achievement results for 20,760
home school students, the largest study of home schooling conducted to date
(Rudner,1999a) was released in Spring 1999 with a great deal of press coverage.
This Digest highlights some of the findings, identifies limitations of the
study, and presents several conclusions.
In Spring 1998, 39,607 home school students contracted to take the Iowa Tests
of Basic Skills (ITBS; grades K-8) or the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency
(TAP; grades 9-12) through Bob Jones University Press Testing and Evaluation
Service. Students were given an achievement test and their parents were asked to
complete a questionnaire entitled "Voluntary Home School Demographic Survey."A
total of 20,760 students in 11,930 families provided useable questionnaires with
corresponding achievement tests. The achievement test and questionnaire results
were combined to form the dataset used in the study.
MAJOR FINDINGS - DEMOGRAPHICS
Home school parents in the
study had more formal education than parents in the general population; 88%
continued their education beyond high school compared to 50% for the nation as a
Many home school parents were formally trained as teachers. Almost one-fourth
of home school students (24%) have at least one parent who is a certified
The median income for home school families ($52,000) was significantly higher
than that of all families with children ($36,000) in the United States.
Almost all home school students (98%) were in married couple families. Most
home school mothers (77%)did not participate in the labor force; almost all home
school fathers (98%) did work.
Home school students watched much less television than students nationwide;
65% of home school students watch one hour or less per day compared to 25%
The distribution of home school students by grade in grades 1-6 was
consistent with that of all school children. Proportionally fewer home school
students were enrolled at the high school level.
MAJOR FINDINGS - ACHIEVEMENT
Almost 25% of home school
students were enrolled one or more grades above their age-level peers in public
and private schools.
Home school student achievement test scores were exceptionally high. The
median scores for every subtest at every grade (typically in the 70th to 80th
percentile) were well above those of public and Catholic/Private school
On average, home school students in grades 1 to 4 performed one grade level
above their age-level public/private school peers on achievement tests.
Students who had been home schooled their entire academic life had higher
scholastic achievement test scores than students who had also attended other
There were no meaningful differences in achievement by gender, whether the
student was enrolled in a full-service curriculum, or whether a parent held a
state issued teaching certificate.
There were significant achievement differences among home school students
when classified by amount of money spent on education, family income, parent
education, and television viewing.
In spite of the large size of the student
sample, there are notable limitations to the study. Foremost, home school
students and their families are not a cross-section of the United States
population. The act of home schooling distinguishes this group in terms of their
exceptionally strong commitment to education and children. As highlighted above,
there were major demographic differences between home school families in this
study and the general United States population.
This was not a controlled experiment. Students were not randomly assigned
public, private or home schools. As a result, the reported achievement
differences between groups do not control for background differences in the home
school and general United States population and, more importantly, cannot be
attributed to the type of school a child attends. Thus, the study was not
designed to compare home schools with public or private schools. Such
comparisons would be fraught with problems. Home schooling is typically
one-on-one. Public schools typically have classes with 25 to 30 students and an
extremely wide range of abilities and backgrounds. Home school parents are, by
definition, heavily involved in their children's education; the same,
unfortunately, is not true of all public or private school parents. Home schools
can easily pace and adapt their curriculum; public and private schools typically
have a mandated scope and sequence. The list of differences could continue.
It should be noted that it was not possible within the parameters of this
study to evaluate whether this sample is truly representative of the entire
population of home school students. Noting that the press had reported the
results as if the sample had been random, Welner and Welner (1999) correctly
cautioned that the results may not be an accurate portrayal of the home school
Even with a conservative analysis of the data,
the achievement levels of the home school students in the study were
exceptional. Within each grade level and each skill area, the median scores for
home school students fell between the 70th and 80th percentile of students
nationwide and between the 60th and 70th percentile of Catholic/Private school
students. For younger students, this is a one year lead. By the time home school
students are in 8th grade, they are four years ahead of their public/private
The results are consistent with previous studies of the achievement of home
school students. A 1990 national home schooling survey of 1,516 families in the
United States noted that, on average, home education families have parents with
greater formal education, more children, and higher family income (Home School
Court Report,1990).Two-parent families were the norm and they were predominantly
Christian. The average age of the children was just over eight years--a majority
of the children had never attended public or private schools. There were equal
numbers of male and female students. On standardized achievement tests, the
home-schooled students performed at or above the 80th percentile on national
norms in reading, listening, language, math, science, social studies, basic
battery, and complete battery scores.
Calvery, et al. (1992) compared the achievement of Arkansas home schooled and
public schooled students in grades 4, 7, and 10 using 6 subscales of the
Metropolitan Achievement Test. Home schooled students scored higher than their
counterparts in reading, mathematics, language, total basic battery, science,
and social studies at grade 4 and grade 7.They also scored significantly above
public school means for grade 10 in reading, mathematics, total basic battery,
science, and social studies, but scored significantly lower in language.
Ray (1997) analyzed demographic and achievement data from 5,402 home school
students in 1,657 families. While Ray used a different approach to analyze
achievement data, he noted exceptionally high average achievement levels and
that students with long histories of being home schooled had higher achievement
Home school students did quite well in 1998 on the ACT college entrance
examination. They had an average ACT composite score of 22.8 which is .38
standard deviations above the national ACT average of 21.0 (ACT,1998).This
places the average home school student in the 65th percentile of all ACT test
The superior performance of home school students on achievement tests can
easily be misinterpreted. This study does not demonstrate that home schooling is
superior to public or private schools. It should not be cited as evidence that
our public schools are failing. It does not indicate that children will perform
better academically if they are home schooled. The design of this study and the
data do not warrant such claims. All the comparisons of home school students
with the general population and with the private school population in this
report fail to consider a myriad of differences between home school and public
school students. We have no information as to what the achievement levels of
home school students would be had they been enrolled in public or private
schools. This study only shows that a large group of parents choosing to make a
commitment to home schooling were able to provide a very successful academic
ACT, Inc.(1998).The 1998 ACT High School Profile
Report National Data. Iowa City, IA, Available:
Calvery, Robert; and Others (1992).The Difference in Achievement between Home
Schooled and Public Schooled Students for Grades Four, Seven, and Ten in
Arkansas. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Mid-South Educational
Research Association (21st, Knoxville, TN, November 11-13, 1992).
Home School Court Report (Dec. 1990). A Nationwide Study of Homeschooling.
Available from ERIC Document Reproduction Service ED 381 725.
Ray, Brian (1997). Home Education Across the United States. Purcellville, VA:
Home School Legal Defense Association. Available on-line at
Rudner, L. M. (1999a). Scholastic achievement and demographic characteristics
of home school students in 1998. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7(8).
[Online]. Available: http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v7n8/.
Rudner, L.M. (1999b) Home schooling works: pass it on. Purcellville, VA: Home
School Legal Defense Association. Available: http://www.hslda.org.
Welner, K.M. & K.G. Welner (1999) Contextualizing Homeschooling Data: A
Response to Rudner. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7(8). [Online].
This digest is based on an article originally appearing in "Education Policy