There is a lot of confusion about college testing. This is the second post on standardized testing for college admission. Read about SAT Subject Tests here.
Conversation about Advanced Placement or AP comes up often in the homeschool community. Passing an AP test allows homeschoolers to show college preparation and high school rigor. There are over 30 different tests that cover a wide variety of topics, not just the core courses. Homeschoolers who have a specific passion can use AP to explore topics such as art history, studio art, music theory, and computer science.
While AP is used as a general term, it is important to note that an AP course and an AP test are not the same.
AP tests vary in difficulty. The general opinion among students is that Human Geography, Psychology, and Environmental Science are the "easiest." And although there is little consensus on which are the "hardest," my son (who took 12 AP tests) says Chemistry, Foreign Language, and English. Because of these varying levels of difficulty, traditional schools often start advanced 9th grade students with Human Geography and save harder tests for juniors and seniors. Additionally, AP Tests vary in writing expectations. Human Geography and US Government, for example, require simple, short answers, while World History, US History, and English Literature require more advanced writing skills and students are expected to write full essays. Parents and students can look at released AP test questions on the College Board website to get an idea of each test's difficulty.
Homeschool students can participate in the AP program. There are a number of AP providers that offer courses for homeschoolers or parents can create a rigorous course followed by an AP test. A parent created course cannot use the term AP on the transcript (that is a trademarked by the College Board and indicates an approved course), however, a course description combined with a passing score indicates that the course was at an AP level. Be aware, however, that AP test results come out in summer so admissions officials will only see AP tests that have been taken before senior year.
AP vs Dual Enrollment
Some colleges prefer AP over dual enrollment because AP tests are standardized, and community college classes vary in quality. Some colleges and universities will offer credit for an AP exam, but not offer credit for a dual enrollment course. A community college course in world history might not give a student college credit, while a passing AP score will. This happens more often at private colleges. The University of California and the California State University system typically take dual enrollment or AP but the number of credits may vary. A student should check to see if an AP test will give a student more credits than a dual enrollment course.
Like SAT subject tests, a passing AP test score can provide A-G credit for the University of California and the California State University systems, and in some cases can provide several years of A-G credit for a single AP test.
Programs that offer College Board approved AP courses
Pennsylvania Homeschoolers http://www.aphomeschoolers.com/
Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University (CTY) http://cty.jhu.edu/ctyonline/
Blue Tent http://teacherweb.com/USA/BlueTent/Thompson/apt19.aspx
UC Scout http://www.ucscout.org/courses
APEX Learning http://www.apexlearningvs.com/courses/advanced-placement
Our most recent group tour was at the University of Southern California (USC). We had a nice size group, a private tour, and an information session by the homeschool application reader, Mr. Clay Busia. The information session included not only the usual discussion of program rigor, extracurricular activities, and college readiness, but also homeschooling information. Specifically, at USC, homeschoolers are required to submit 3 SAT Subject Tests, including the SAT Math Level 2. I looked around the room and saw a number of confused faces, then asked the group if they knew about SAT Subject Tests. It was unanimous – "No."
Most people know about the SAT and the ACT. These are test of high school reading, writing, and math, ability, but SAT Subject Tests are different.
SAT Subject Tests:
Most students take a subject test after completing a year of the high school subject. Since most tests are offered in May and June, these are the optimal time for homeschool students who follow a traditional school year. Some tests are also offered in the fall (in October and November). Subjects and times vary, so it is best to refer to the College Board for specific testing sessions.
For many colleges, SAT subject tests are required for homeschoolers. For example:
(It is always best to check with a college’s admissions counselor for updates or wavers, some will make exceptions.)
Many colleges require SAT subject tests for all applicants. Selective STEM schools such as Harvey Mudd, CalTech, and MIT typically require a math (usually level 2) and a science subject exam (physics, chemistry, or biology E/M). Several campses of the University of California recommend subject tests, although the exact test varies by campus. The College Board has compiled a list of schools that require, recommend, or consider subject tests. It is up to the applicant to check with each college for specific rules.
Additionally, California students who are applying to the University of California System can use SAT Subject Tests as one way replace A-G requirements. For California charter homeschoolers, this allows a student to take a non A-G path and still be eligible for the UCs or CSUs. Qualifying scores are minimal (yet obtaining a higher score is always a good idea).
SAT Subject Tests also offer a homeschool student the ability to show colleges that his or her grades are legitimate which can lead to a higher chance of admission and merit aid.
There are many options for showing course rigor besides the SAT Subject Tests such as AP Tests, certified AP classes, and dual enrollment, but it is important to know about subject tests early in the homeschool or independent study (charter homeschool) process.
As for our homeschool tour group, many of the students were young and just starting their high school adventure. There is time to add a few subject tests in along the way. My own son, a ninth grader, is ending his year with a Biology Subject Test and the Human Geography AP Exam. I hope they give him an admissions boost and help with merit aid (fingers crossed!).
More information on SAT subject tests can be found on the College Board website.
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.
Hidden Gems is a series of posts on great colleges that may not be on a typical family’s radar.
“To find a life changing college you must pay attention to how a college educates its undergraduates.” – Loren Pope, author of Colleges That Change Lives.
A factor that was important to Pope was selectivity: some of these schools admit B and C level students. They are welcoming to students with learning disabilities, late bloomers, and nontraditional students (such as homeschoolers). The schools on the CTCL list take students who need a more personal touch and turn them into graduates with the same knowledge and abilities as students from the Ivy Leagues.
The National Science Foundation regularly conducts a survey of those who complete PhD programs in a variety of disciplines; one question it asks is where students received their bachelor’s degree. This allows us to compare the CTCL schools to more prestigious ones, such as Ivy League and University of California universities. The results are surprising. Many of the schools on Pope’s list rank just as high or higher than their Ivy League counterparts (and most consistently outpace the few UCs that even make the list). Students from the Colleges That Change Lives show remarkable academic abilities even though they might not have had those abilities when they entered as freshman.
The National Science Foundation ranks institutions by the percentage of students who go on to complete a PhD. The following tables compare the CTCL (highlighted) to more selective institutions, such as Stanford, the Ivy Leagues, and the UCs.
Click here to see the full lists.
So how is this possible? How can schools that have lower admission standards compete with Ivy League colleges in graduate outcomes? How can they outperform schools like UC Berkeley and other University of California schools? As Pope says, the difference is in how students are educated. Each college on the list is a small school that focuses on teaching; the faculty is there because they love to teach and they love working with students. Student-professor mentoring relationships start early and professors have the opportunity to see each individual student from his or her first semester until graduation. The end result is a student who is well prepared for the next step, be it graduate school, professional school, or the world of work. Professors know their students well enough to provide career mentoring, as well as excellent references for internships, jobs, or graduate school.
As a homeschool/charter school parent, I know that my child will thrive in an academic environment where he receives significantly more attention. That’s why I homeschool, after all. Schools on the CTCL list offer a variety of educational approaches, from more rigid programs to student-designed majors. A significant number of schools on the list consider the SAT or ACT test optional and look at both GPA and holistic measures when making admission decisions. Some offer full-need-based financial aid (which can make a private school less expensive than a UC), while others offer merit aid or a mix of the two.
The goal is not to just get into college; the real prize is what you have once you’ve finished your degree. The schools on the CTCL list offer their students more than just a degree at the end of four years: they offer a truly life changing experience.
Take a moment to look at the CTCL website. The Colleges that Change Lives Tour will be coming to California at the end of the month, so make sure to check it out while it's here!
CTCL Tour - California Locations
July 30 - San Diego
July 31 - Los Angeles
August 1 - Santa Clara
August 2 - San Francisco
Last month I attended the WACAC (Western Association for College Admissions Counselors) Conference. I had an opportunity to speak with the Assistant Vice Chancellor & Director of Admissions at UC Berkeley, Amy Jarish, who I met after a session on progressive schools. While public charters are not progressive schools (these schools have a specific type of educational model), homeschool charters have alternative curriculum and progressive ideas.
The session had two college counselors from private (progressive) schools in California and Ms. Jarish. I was surprised as I listened to the administrators discussing alternative ideas, rejecting traditional AP courses for their own rigorous courses, offering their students different opportunities not just academic classes, and then having their programs validated by the Director of Admissions at UC Berkeley.
For many, it is about GPA and test scores, but Berkeley is looking for something different. The faculty at Berkeley requested that admissions concentrate on non cognitive factors such as personal qualities, character, motivation, and concern for others. Ms Jarish encouraged a look at the Berkeley website and notice that course grades and standardized tests were only 2 out of 6 factors included when choosing students. Berkeley used a holistic review which included enrichment programs, prolonged involvement in the arts or athletics, community leadership, volunteering and more. She used the example of a student who had started a cupcake business - something unique and interesting. Sure a student might have great grades and test scores, but what set that student apart...cupcakes!
After the session I spoke to the director and told her about our unique students, homeschoolers who were actually public school students, and the concern about fulfilling A-G requirements. I explained that I was a counselor and a parent, and I decided not to put my child into A-G approve classes because I wanted more freedom. However, I was worried. She told me that Berkeley was truly holistic, and a student would not be penalized by choosing classes that were not strictly A-G. I asked about admission by exception, and she said it was a term they used for students who didn't match the specified criteria. Yes, admission by exception does exist.
My conversation left me with the impression that Berkeley was friendly toward students who brought a diverse experience, and that taking a different (yet still rigorous) path would not hurt my child's opportunities. Berkeley still expects students to have highly academic courses and standardized testing; they want students who will do well once they arrive on campus, but they want students who bring more than just a high GPA and SAT score.
I followed up my conversation with an email before I published this post. Ms. Jarish replied with the following
"While we are able to look at less traditional coursework at Berkeley, I can't speak for my UC colleagues because each campus has its own process for selection of their class...there are some campuses where a lack of A-G could hurt the student."
And that folks will be discussed in a future blog post, because I did have an opportunity to speak with admissions representatives from UC Riverside and UC Davis and that discussion was quite different...
But as for Berkeley, they seem to be friendly towards students who take a non traditional path, and for our kids, that is a good thing!
Through this blog I hope to bring up to date information as I make my way through the landscape of higher education and charter school students. While we call ourselves homeschoolers, we technically are not, we are non classroom based, independent study, public charter students, and are recognized as such by the UC system, the California charter school system, and WASC. This make our students true public school students with all the hassle and benefits that come with it.
The benefits are significant.
The hassles are significant as well.
Regardless of the hassles. I have decided, as a parent, that the benefits outweigh filing for my own PSA. This is a personal choice that each family must make, but the advantages for my family, as a parent of a child with an IEP (special education), the fact that I have access to an option besides my local public school is tremendous and I am very grateful that this option exists.