AP exams for Homeschoolers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

A great way for homeschooling high school students to “prove” their academic prowess in specific subject areas is through writing Advanced Placement examinations

The problem with AP exams for homeschoolers in Ontario has always been that these exams must be written in accredited high schools who have registered to offer AP examinations. The chances of your local Ontario high school offering AP exams aren’t all that great, since the Advanced Placement program isn’t nearly as popular here as it is in the U.S.

And, even if a school near you does hold AP examinations, there’s no guarantee that they will allow outside students to write exams at their school. They are not required to open their testing doors to everyone, and some schools have very reasonable restrictions on external students on exam day.

For example, one of the leading AP schools in the province is an all girls school, and they do not allow outside students to write AP exams with their own students. How fair would it be to have their female students suddenly surrounded with boys on high stakes exam days? How fair would it be to say that only female homeschoolers can join the girls for these exams? You can obviously appreciate that there can be reasonable justifications for what may at first seem like unreasonable, exclusionary policies.

I think for a couple of years now I’ve been casually mentioning on various message boards that there’s “some school just west of Toronto” who has been open and welcoming to having homeschoolers participate in their AP exams. Allow me to now formally share the details:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your awareness of Bronte AP program, we are offering a wide range of AP exams (about 27 different exams out of 39 exams offered by College Board) we are proud of being the first school offering AP exams for external students in GTA. Each AP exam will cost $150 and we are also offering AP exam preparation sessions for three months prior to exams schedule (Once a week) a copy of our AP exams tutorials for 2008 is attached. If you have any more inquiries don’t hesitate to contact me

Regards,

Dr. N. Gouda
Head of Student Governance
BRONTE COLLEGE OF CANADA
88 Bronte College court Mississauga Ontario L5B 1M9
Tel. 905 270-7788 ext.2042 Fax. 905 270-7828
ngouda@brontecollege.ca
http://www.brontecollege.ca

Dr. Gouda has been personally recommended to me both by the head of the Ontario Council of AP Schools in Ontario and by a homeschooling mom whose daughter took a few AP exams at Bronte College and was very impressed with the whole examination environment and proctoring at Bronte.

Unlike the SAT and ACT tests, AP examinations are held only once per year. Also unlike the SAT/ACT, AP examinations cover first year university level, subject-specific material. In other words, you don’t have the luxury of writing it over a few times a year until you get the score you like (although, you may write again the following year – there is no restriction on rewriting) and the material is much more challenging. Both of these elements combined can make for a pretty stressful exam day! Knowing that you’re in good, competent hands and that every effort will be made to provide optimal test-taking conditions is worth its weight in gold. . . or at the very least, $150! 😉

Like the SAT/ACT, however, the exam can be written “cold.” You are not required to take any AP “classes” before writing the exam. The review classes offered by Bronte College are available to but not required of homeschoolers. Just as with any standardized test, familiarity with the test format and types of questions generally asked is just as important than the content covered by the test itself. So, I don’t actually recommend writing the test with no prep, but preparation can be as simple as a $20 AP exam prep book from Chapters or Amazon (or free from the library).

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Gouda for being a model of accessibility. For many students, AP exams are a fantastic alternative to Ontario high school credit courses. It’s great that Bronte College is promoting this option to a group of students who can really benefit from it.

If Mississauga is a bit too far for you to travel for an exam, you can visit www.ap.ca to find a list of AP schools in Canada.

If you need reminding why the AP program is a path to university that you definitely want to check out, have a look at the university-by-university AP credit policies and how many university credits can be earned for success on an AP exam.

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Lost in Translation – or the high school transcript for homeschoolers

These thoughts stem from JoVE’s post [on the now defunct homeschooljournal.net site] yesterday about transcripts and portfolios. What started with a discussion of “mastery” and transcripts led me to observe that the Ontario transcript, in its current form, is predicated on the notion of a LACK of mastery. (If the material in classes were “mastered” then why would we need grades?)

So, if transcripts are not meant to demonstrate mastery, but only one’s proportional lack thereof, how is a homeschooler to use a transcript? Is one necessary at all?

UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE – WHO THE IS TRANSCRIPT REALLY FOR?

Of course, the exercise of preparing transcripts is not so much for the child; it’s for some third party who will use the transcript to make assessments or evaluations of your child.

Making a transcript is simply an exercise in comparing what your child has done to provincial standards. Or in other words, which courses and grades do I reasonably expect my child, in his or her current academic state, would have walked away with had s/he studied and been evaluated according to the provincial curriculum expectations? Of course, the only reason to do this in the first place is if someone somewhere is going to ask how your child would have done in this situation, and only if you feel it’s important to tell them! 🙂

In many cases, transcripts for homeschoolers are not meaningful in and of themselves because the child didn’t follow the provincial school curriculum (including provincially-mandated forms of assessment and evalutation) and therefore the transcript may bear little resemblance to what the child actually did.

YOU DO NOT THINK LIKE THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT

Even if your child had a traditional textbook-based high school homeschooling experience, the Ontario transcript is still only a poor approximation of your child’s educational achievement. For one thing, and I can’t stress this enough, the Ontario curriculum not only mandates curriculum (what is taught) but also pedagogy (how this material is taught) and gives very specific assessment criteria.

For example, the use of graphing calculators is mandated in Ontario Grade 9 math. Ontario courses also have requirements that 30 – 40% of your final grade is determined at the end of the year by some cummulative project, assignment or examination. If your “grade 9” homeschooling math curriculum did not include specific functions on the graphing calculator, or if your method of calculating a final average did not give the requisite weight to a massive activity at the end of the course, then already the percentage grade you may have diligently calculated based on textbook work, reviews and tests doesn’t mean the same thing as a percentage grade on an Ontario transcript.

Given the above directives of the Ontario curriculum (including content, pedagogy, assessment and evaluation), it’s extremely unlikely that *any* homeschooler not actually enrolled in an Ontario credit course can actually be said to be following the Ontario curriculum. This doesn’t just apply to unschoolers, but also to those who are following what is in fact (ironically?) a more traditional program of study than that offered by our public school system.

SO WHY BOTHER WITH A TRANSCRIPT?

It’s easy to justify that any attempt at putting together a transcript resembling the provincial one is an exercise in futility: we could do it, but it wouldn’t really mean anything! Given that many people homeschool precisely to avoid the all-too-common meaningless activities in education, one could conclude that there’s no point in preparing a transcript. And therefore, one could get pretty ticked off about being asked to provide one to the universities when applying for admission.

But, how does our perspective change if we think of the transcript as an olive branch extended to a university admissions committee, as our attempt to help them do their job of ranking and comparing (not assessing and evaluating) applicants? (That was my metaphor. Joe put it a little more harshly: What if we don’t want to appear like a boorish tourist who is indignant that, while visiting a foreign country, no one speaks our language?)

EXCUSEZ-MOI?

I think of generating a transcript as an exercise in translation. It’s an imperfect translation to be sure, since each “language” lacks the words to represent certain key concepts in the other language. But, it’s an attempt to approximate ideas, and to facilitate communication.

Language is culture-based, and sometimes our difficulties speaking and understanding foreign languages are based on this lack of shared cultural experience. So, a transcript can seem all the more difficult to generate because not only are the cultural notions unfamiliar (credits, grades, instructional hours) but they may also be in direct opposition to the values of our own culture.

From an Ontario university standpoint, the good news is that these strange, exotic creatures (university admissions officers) are for the most part willing to deal with those for whom transcript-speak is a second language, and are tolerant of imperfect translations as long as a reasonable attempt at communication is made.

Not all Ontario universities require you to submit a transcript, and those that do are really only interested in documentation that would relate to a typical accredited school experience. The key to effectively translating your experience into transcript speak is understanding their cultural notions.

WHAT TIME IS IT. YOU MEAN NOW?

One noteworthy example is the concept of “instructional time.” The Ontario transcript, and Ontario universities measure academic study directly in hours, and only indirectly in topics of study. This can seem very foreign when your curriculum plan is based firstly on achieving certain outcomes or covering certain material and the amount of time it takes to do this is only a secondary concern, if it is a concern at all.

For example, your child may have self-studied the equivalent of Grade 12 Calculus over a period of 3 years or zipped through it all in six weeks, but the university doesn’t really care how long it took. The proper way to record this on a transcript for them is to say that the length of study was 110 hrs, one semester, or one school year. This is because the university simply wants to know what, in relation to the provincial curriculum, was accomplished.

The provincial curriculum sets aside 110 hrs (or one semester, or one year) of time for this course and the material covered within it. To claim that you studied “six weeks” of calculus is like telling the university that you studied “a chapter or two.” Similarly, to claim three years of study is akin to saying you’re ready to jump into Topology at the university level. It’s not “lying” to say that you studied 110 hrs when it reality it didn’t take that long or more likely, when you didn’t bother to log the number of hours; it’s effectively translating into transcript-speak.

“ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US”

If the goal is effective communication in this non-native language, then the first thing we have to do is understand that direct, literal translation only gets us so far. It doesn’t take very long at all in studying French to realize that “I have eight years,” and “Today, it makes nice,” are in fact the proper ways to communicate to a French speaker that you’re eight years old and it’s a nice day out. It’s no stretch to realize that the translation for “instructional hour” (a concept not used in homeschooling, and different from a 60-minute hour) is going to sound even weirder to non-native transcript speakers.

Your homeschool transcript, should you choose to create one, is going to be more about them than you. Your goal is to look through the Ontario curriculum and decide which courses (based on content) and grades (based on mastery) reasonably approximate the studying your child did throughout high school. It won’t be accurate, and it might sound incomprehensible spoken in our own, native educational language. But it’s all simply an exercise in communication, and it is one of the tasks we sign up for when we choose to assume the role normally taken by the school in our children’s education.

For reference: Ontario Student Transcript Manual, 2007

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Homeschool Diplomas – Fact vs. Fiction

Diploma:

1. an official or state document
2. a writing usually under seal conferring some honor or privilege
3. a document bearing record of graduation from or of a degree conferred by an educational institution

It’s not exactly clear-cut, but the implication behind the word diploma is that it has been awarded to the recipient by someone with the explicit power to do so.

WHY I TAKE ISSUE WITH THE PHRASE “HOMESCHOOL DIPLOMA”

Here’s why I don’t like the phrase “homeschool diploma” (and I know many people find my site by searching that phrase, so I’m not just making this up!):

The family unit does have the power to confer some honor or privilege upon a child who has, in the family’s mind, successfully completed high school.

But, the family unit does not have the power to confer upon said child an award that others outside the family are forced to acknowledge.

It is misleading, I believe, to represent yourself as having earned a “high school diploma” because that phrase carries with it the understanding that a government-approved organization assessed and granted diploma status. In other words, if it came off your own printer, how “official” can it really be?

HOW DO HOMESCHOOLERS GET A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA?

When I speak on the topic of university admissions, I’m often asked how homeschoolers “get a high school diploma.” The reality is, many homeschoolers do not get a high school diploma. And in fact, by definition (according to the universities), if you have a high school diploma, you are not a homeschooler!

If you go through the homeschool admission policies of the Ontario universities, you’ll notice that while you may be asked to provide a transcript, or portfolio, you will not be asked to submit a “diploma.” That’s because universities do not recognize diplomas unless they come from a government-accredited source.

And most importantly, a homeschooled applicant is one who by definition does not possess a government diploma. So, the university is not expecting you to present any diploma whatsoever. This is why you’re considered a homeschooler, and this is why you’re presenting a portfolio, or standardized test results or some other requirement that is not required of traditionally-schooled applicants.

BUT MY CHILD IS ENROLLED IN AN OUTSIDE PROGRAM LEADING TO A DIPLOMA. AM I STILL CONSIDERED A HOMESCHOOLER?

Now, I have had this discussion with others re: “diplomas” that come at the end of comprehensive curriculum programs, mostly those available out of the U.S. and completed through distance studies.

One mother was adamant that her child’s university “accepted” this diploma. The reality is, and it’s a fine distinction so bear with me, the university accepted the child, who happened to have this diploma when he applied.

While the university took this diploma into consideration, and subsequently decided to admit the student, this does not mean that this program’s diploma is “recognized” or “accepted.” The university is not allowed to recognize a non-government-accredited diploma as fulfilling the “does this kid have a high school diploma?” requirement. Note that a government approved diploma can be from *any* government, not just a Canadian province. But, it does have to be awarded by ultimately an organization that is under the jurisdiction of a country’s own education system, not a private curriculum company.

That being said, there are some correspondence diplomas from the U.S. that are government accredited. In fact, the very first time I spoke at the KW conference, we discovered that two members of the audience were following a program that led to an official state diploma from the U.S. This meant that, in the eyes of the universities, these students were not homeschoolers because they had a government diploma to present. So, the specific program you’re following makes a huge difference. (More about these U.S. programs later.)

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT DIPLOMAS, AND WHY YOU’RE OFTEN ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS AND THEREFORE GETTING THE WRONG ANSWERS

Here are some of the misconceptions I’ve encountered over the years:

FACT: A diploma is ultimately just a piece of paper signifying an academic honor or achievement. The diploma is not the high school education itself. If you homeschool, you may not receive a diploma for your work. To put it bluntly, get over it! What I mean is, separate the diploma from the education in your mind, and focus not on achieving the diploma at all costs, but rather achieving your life goals (e.g. university admission), then decide whether the diploma is absolutely necessary. Recognize that not every life goal requires a high school diploma, and in fact, some goals are more easily attained without said diploma. When you’re on my website, remember that my primary concern isn’t earning you a diploma — it’s getting you into university, and all advice is given within that context.

FACT: A diploma carries with it the underlying assumption that whoever issued the diploma has been approved by the government to hold the power to certify and acknowledge academic achievement, and this is what allows diplomas to carry universal recognition. This is why not everyone can have a diploma for doing just anything, no matter how worthy it is. Again, get over it! You are not entitled to a government’s seal of approval if you did not do what they specifically require for a high school diploma. The good news is, people like me have been working for years so that this lack of a diploma isn’t an obstacle when applying to university.

FICTION: You need a high school diploma before entering post-secondary studies, so even if you’re 23 with a lot of life experience, you should be figuring out how to go back and get those high school credits that you’re missing so that you can apply to university.
FACT: Apply as a mature student, or to an open university. Don’t waste your time with high school credits unless you really feel you are lacking the academic knowledge/confidence and specifically want to study at the high school level.

FACT: When universities use the phrase “high school diploma” they mean only diplomas issued by government accredited organizations. It’s important to realize that, in Ontario as in many other government jurisdictions, there is only one recognized high school diploma – the government one. All accredited schools (public, private, independent, correspondence) issue this same diploma, not an “equivalent” diploma, but the exact, same one. That’s what being accredited means — given the authority to issue the government diploma.

FACT: People will prey on your innocence/ignorance surrounding diplomas. A few years ago, I overheard one vendor at a large homeschooling conference in Ontario describing his program’s “diploma” to a parent. Words and phrases like “equivalent” and “our kids get into university just like everyone else” are misleading when the audience doesn’t realize two key points. First, there is no such official thing as an “equivalent” diploma. That’s not an official term and no one regulates what is “equivalent” to ensure that it really is like the original. In other words, having an equivalent diploma still means that you don’t have the traditional, government high school diploma. Second, while students with these equivalent diplomas may “similarly get into university” they certainly do not “get into university in a similar way” to kids with the government diploma. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using an unaccredited program for your high school years, there *is* something very wrong with using verbal sleight of hand to make people think that your diploma “counts” as what we have come to know as a “high school diploma.” And, this is a huge difference. It’s the difference between applying as a homeschooler and applying with the traditional high school diploma (which, if you had, would make you not a homeschooler in the eyes of the universities).

FICTION: All Ontario high schools offer the government diploma, in other words, the one that is recognized.
FACT: In Ontario, all schools that have chosen to “register” with the government will be listed in database which can be searched here. But, not every school listed is permitted to issue high school diplomas. In other words, not every “registered” school (here’s my application fee) is an “accredited” school (permitted to grant the government high school diploma). Look for the indication “Offers credits towards the Ontario Secondary School Diploma” in their listing.

FICTION: Any correspondence diploma from the U.S. is one way to “get around” not having an Ontario high school diploma.
FACT: In the US, there is an extra layer involved in government accreditation. There are about half a dozen “accrediting organizations” that have government approval to accredit individual schools and school boards. So, when using a curriculum from the United States, it’s important to first find out which organization issues the school’s accreditation, and then determine whether this organization is one of the government ones. There are accrediting bodies in the United States who have not received government approval to accredit schools for the government diploma, meaning that the individual school or program can claim “certification” for its diploma, but just not government certification, which is what Ontario universities will demand. Be careful, there are some well-known names out there whose diplomas are not recognized by universities. This doesn’t mean that the universities won’t consider the academic achievement involved in obtaining them, but these diplomas are not stand ins for a government diploma.

FICTION: You need a high school diploma to put on your resume after graduating from college, university or other post-secondary education/training.
FACT: If you are continuing on to post-secondary education/training, that is the education that should be represented on your resume. Not having a high school diploma when you already have a university degree or college diploma should not ordinarily present any problems to you in the job market.

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