A few weeks back I had a discussion with another homeschool parent. She, like me, has a child who does not do well with standardized testing, and she’d read a blog post saying more and more colleges were making the SAT or ACT an optional part of the admission process, and she was pretty excited. I’ve been around the education community for many years now, so I’ve been following this test-optional trend. And I’m excited, too! I think it’s a great trend that will probably benefit a lot of special needs students and improve diversity in higher education.
Unfortunately, while test optional schools are a great option for traditional school students, they may not be an option for our homeschooled ones.
First, a little background on optional testing. The concept is controversial; proponents say that the option to choose whether to use a test score increases diversity and offer more options for students with learning disabilities. However, others accuse schools of changing their policies to increase their ranking in publications such as the US News and World Report.
Long term research on admitted students shows that high school grade point average (GPA) is the best predictor of successful college outcomes, as measured by statistics like college GPA, first year retention rates, and graduation rates, but many studies show that using standardized test scores in addition to high school GPA increases the predictability of success. In other words, a higher high school GPA combined with a higher SAT or ACT score is a better predictor of positive college outcomes. So, yes, standardized test scores do offer useful information to colleges.
But the question we should be asking is whether there is a difference in college outcomes between students who submit a standardized test score and those who do not. Several recent studies indicate that there is very little difference in outcomes. In fact, studies show that test-optional schools do increase diversity and offer alternatives for students with learning disabilities.
So what does this mean for homeschooled students?
The research is clear. The best predictor of college success is high school GPA. But homeschooled students do not come from standard educational backgrounds and often do not have GPAs that can be verified. As homeschooling parents, we know what our students are capable of, and our students know that they work hard and learn the material. But often homeschooled students are asked to produce proof of subject mastery through testing.
This is why numerous test optional schools are not test optional for homeschool students.
I spoke to quite a few admissions officers for test-optional colleges and about homeschoolers and public charter homeschooled students. I found that the more selective a school, the more likely they were to require standardized testing from homeschooled students. For example, Pitzer, a highly selective test-optional college in Claremont, CA, requires test results from homeschooled students. Other highly selective schools, such as Bowdoin and Wesleyan University, also require tests from homeschooled students. In fact, some test-optional schools require both the SAT or the ACT and subject tests.
However, many less selective schools will take a chance on a homeschooled student. Many admissions officers proudly told me that for their schools, test optional really means test optional, and that their admissions policies are truly holistic. For example, Lewis & Clark (Oregon), Earlham (Indiana), and Allegheny (Pennsylvania) are all test optional for homeschooled students as well as traditionally educated ones.
In addition, test policies may be different for homeschool students who attend public charter schools. When I explained the homeschool charter system to admissions officers, I got a different response from several of them. I mentioned that most California homeschool charters were WASC-accredited, followed California state standards, and used credentialed teachers to supervise student work. Once I gave these details, I found more schools were willing to trust student GPAs. One admissions officer told me that the option for testing would depend on the school’s profile, a document that is provided by the school upon application. Charter homeschool students who want to apply to test optional schools may need to speak directly to the admission officer in charge of their application or have the charter guidance counselor make a call.
The number of test optional schools is growing quickly. An up-to-date list can be found on the Fairtest website.