Thursday, January 9, 2014

Testing Expectations: Homeschool Vs. Public School

As many of you know, I have a Master's in Education, am a certified teacher, and have taught both public school and homeschool. The combination has sometimes put me in a strange position. I'm in one right now. I'm sorta perplexed.

This year, I'm teaching a class of 5th grade math students. The students happen to be homeschooled, but I am teaching all of their math content. I am using new curriculum* that meets the new Common Core State Standards.  With Common Core, I've often felt like the bar has been raised; a lot of the 5th grade content has been brought down from 6th grade and some of it is pretty intense. Just ask my students.**


In my state, homeschool students still take nationally normed, standardized tests. (Honestly, it's like the tests that I took through elementary school back in the 70s.) It's not based on Common Core. And it's not the state test that public schools use.  I wrote to our local homeschool test center and asked for a list of math content that my 5th grade math students will be tested on. They provided me with a list of 21 items. I compared the 21 content items to the Common Core. Here's where the 5th grade test items fell on the Common Core. (Granted, many of the 21 items were vague, but I tried to match them as best I could.)

5th grade (homeschool) math test items found on:

2nd grade, Common Core: 4 items
3rd grade, Common Core: 6
4th grade, Common Core: 5
5th grade, Common Core: 3
6th grade, Common Core: 1
Not found on Common Core (or too vague to determine): 2

So 15/21 items, or 71% of the items on the homeschool test are below Common Core grade level.

To make it more clear, I'll give a specific example: fractions. With Common Core, 5th grade students learn to:
"...apply their understanding of fractions and fraction models to represent the addition and subtraction of fractions with unlike denominators as equivalent calculations with like denominators. They develop fluency in calculating sums and differences of fractions, and make reasonable estimates of them. Students also use the meaning of fractions, of multiplication and division, and the relationship between multiplication and division to understand and explain why the procedures for multiplying and dividing fractions make sense."
On the "homeschool" (older, nationally-normed) test, students are required to:
  • Add fractions with the same denominator (which is 4th grade Common Core)
  • Identify fractional parts (which is ~ 3rd grade Common Core, maybe 2nd, depending on the fractional part)
The discrepancy makes me squirm. It means that my homeschool students have curricular and testing expectations several grades below that of their public school peers.

Please don't shoot the messenger. I'm still sorta shocked and trying to figure out what this means.

What are the ramifications?

*It's from The Math Learning Center...a non-profit organization that I've worked with for many years because I love and respect their math teaching methods. Their visual models, inquiry-based problem solving, emphasis on strategies, and hands-on methods have changed me as a teacher and learner of math.

**A student said the cutest thing this week. He was working on some rather difficult fraction story problems and suddenly said, "Either these are getting easier, or I'm getting smarter!" 


  1. I'm in a state that doesn't test homeschoolers at all - so this doesn't seem like much of an issue to me...even so, I wouldn't worry too much. I'm sure the test will eventually be brought up to standards, and in the meantime there's nothing to say parents can't teach their children above the current test level expectations. That's one of the joys of homeschooling. That being said...thanks for bringing up the subject, and alerting the rest of us to potential gaps :)

  2. Can you please state which "homeschool" test you're referring to. Thanks.

    1. My students will take the CTBS/TerraNova, a nationally-normed, standardized test. Note that I have not seen the test itself. I've only received a list of math concepts from the local company that administers the test.

    2. Can you give me your thoughts on the ITBS test. This is the test my students take each year.

    3. Hi Tiffany,
      I don't know anything about the individual tests. (Didn't know about this one until I started asking questions.) Because it's a similar type of test, I'd be willing to bet my next meal (but not my farm!) that it would have the same issues. If you can find a list of skills/concepts covered by the ITBS, you can directly compare them to the Common Core pretty easily, by grade level:


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