- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Home-schooled students have scored higher than their traditionally educated peers on the ACT, one of the nation's two major college-entrance exams, for the third consecutive year.

While the average ACT assessment score was 21 nationally, home-educated students scored an average of 22.8 yet another academic benchmark that has given the movement increasing credibility and attention.

"Parents are doing a great job of educating their own children," said J. Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va. "This explains why many highly selective colleges are recruiting their complement of home schoolers."

Mr. Smith called 2000 a "banner year" for home schoolers, citing their first-, second- and third-place finishes in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee and their second-place finish in the National Geography Bee sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

The number of home schoolers taking the ACT this year, 4,593, represents a 41 percent increase over last year, ACT officials said.

Across the nation, a record 1,065,138 high school students took the 2000 ACT exam, which includes curriculum-based achievement tests in English, mathematics, reading and science. The tests measure achievement, as well as preparation and readiness for college course work. The scale for scores is 1 to 36.

Traditionally schooled students scored 21 in 1998 and 1999. In those two years, home-schooled students scored 22.8 and 22.7.

Nationwide, ACT scores have remained constant for the last four years, but the past decade marks the first time that scores have risen consistently, ACT officials said.

"We haven't seen a decline in the national average since 1989," said Richard L. Ferguson, president of ACT Inc., formerly known as the American College Testing assessments.

Average composite scores for girls remained steady this year at 20.9; composite scores for boys rose to 21.2 from 21.1 in 1999. Overall, minority students scored slightly higher on this year's ACT exam.

New Hampshire (22.5) and Oregon (22.7) posted the highest 2000 ACT scores. The lowest were earned by students from Mississippi (18.7) and the District of Columbia (17.8.)

The ACT, much like the more popular SAT test, the other major college-entrance exam, is used not only for admissions, but for making decisions on scholarships and course placements.

ACT officials said this year's results showed that students were taking more rigorous course work in preparation for college.

"Ten years ago, fewer than half the graduates reported taking what we call 'core curriculum,' " Mr. Ferguson said. "This year's graduates set a new record in core-course participation, with slightly more than 63 percent reporting that they took a full complement of courses."

While students today are better prepared for college, they are not following labor forecasts when making career choices, said ACT officials, who noted the number of students interested in computer careers continues to lag.

In 1999, 4.5 percent of test-takers reported interest in technology careers, while in 2000 that figure rose to just over 5 percent.

"These small increases suggest that more students are realizing that the computer field offers significant opportunity, but the situation remains little changed," Mr. Ferguson said. "

Results from the 2000 SAT exam will be released Aug. 29. A spokeswoman from the College Board, which administers the SAT, said a question on home schooling was recently added to the student information section of the exam.

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