Tips for Interpreting Diagnostic Test Results

The ACE promotional materials might seem to communicate the idea that using the diagnostic test will result in a perfect prescription of PACES, tailored to meet the needs of each individual student.

After 15 years of using the tests to help me place students in our Christian School, I have come to the conclusion that the diagnostic tests are ONE instrument in the hands of a doctor, but there may be other considerations to take into account when determining placement. Here are some guidelines for interpreting the English Diagnostic Test.

For elementary students:

1.    Do the math and English diagnostic tests and grade according to the guidelines given in the test. Start two levels lower than the student’s chronological grade and work up to the chronological grade level.

2.    Do not use the test results to place a student AHEAD of their grade level. If there are no gaps, then start at the PACE number that begins their grade level. (If you jump them ahead, you will at some point in high school run out of material. I do not advise that students finish high school early.)

3.    If there are 3 or 4 “gap PACES” needed, assign those and then begin at the beginning of a full grade level.

4.    Assign the Word Building to correspond to the same level of English but do the 12 PACES for that grade level. In other words, if a child in 6th grade had a few gap PACES at the 4th grade level and then needs to do the entire 5th level (1049-1060), I would also start him at PACE 1049 (beginning of 5th level) in Word Building.

5.    Assign Science and Social Studies at the expected grade level or back one level using their English placement as a one guide, but also having the student read aloud to determine their ability to comprehend and find answers. Unless a student is a very poor reader and struggling with learning problems, I would not place him more than one grade back from his expected enrolled grade. The vocabulary and content is geared to specific age groups and to go back too far would be “insulting their intelligence.”

Diagnostic Test

For 7th and 8th Graders just starting the PACES

1.    The diagnostic test is somewhat useful for these grades, but it is even more important to plan ahead for the high school years (see notes below).

2.    For a student entering grades 7 or 8 I would recommend having them do the diagnostic test starting back two grade levels and determine if there are any gap PACES needed.

3.    The English in 7th and 8th levels is very important for laying a strong foundation for understanding and success in 9th-12th.

4.    You don’t want students to be behind when they start 9th grade with English PACE 1097. Push them to get on track or even get ahead by a couple of PACES while in Junior High.

For high schoolers

1.    The diagnostic test is not very useful in these grades. Any teen coming in from another curriculum or from public school will probably not be familiar with all the parts of speech, labeling, and diagramming that the 9th level English “assumes” a student has mastered by that point.

2.    I will almost always have a transfer student in high school (no matter what chronological grade they come in as) work through the 8th level of the English PACES (1085-1096) to get a good thorough explanation of all the grammar needed for the rest of high school.  If they are a “struggling” type of student, I will even have them do English PACES 73-78 as quickly as possible to get some success and a quick orientation, then working through the level 8 (1085-1096) will review and reinforce and give the foundation needed for the next levels. Just so you know, the last 3 PACES (1082-1084 for Level 7, and 1094-1096 for Level 8) cover basic writing skills not grammar so you can safely skip those if your teen is already getting writing instruction and practice.

3.    I give one full high school credit for each complete level of 12 PACES a teen completes, even if they are not performing at their chronological grade level. In other words, I have had 10th graders doing the 8th grade foundational English, and then continue with 9th grade PACES in their junior year, and finish up with 10th grade PACES for their senior year. In that sequence they will miss some literature and some more advanced writing skills, but will have a strong grammar and basic writing foundation.


Case Study: Emily (entering 7th grade)

I had Emily do the English Diagnostic test and start two levels back at the beginning of 5th grade level (1049). She missed a whole section on 1062 about possessive forms of words, but that will be covered again a few more times the next few years of English and I’ve never seen a teen who didn’t easily grasp that when it was covered in the PACE; I’m not assigning that as a gap pace. On PACE 1063, however, she missed almost every question and it is about parts of speech, action vs linking verbs, and diagramming. She needs to do that as a Gap pace for sure! Ditto on 1065. She did fine on 1066, but 1067 she stumbled; verb tenses are hard for kids to remember (do YOU remember the “future perfect tense of face”?) I see that 1068 she missed almost every questions (parts of speech again, and diagramming). In 1072 she didn’t know the correct labels for the parts of a business letter, but she will easily learn that when it is covered again each of the next three years.  So I have four gap PACES for her to start the year with – 1063, 1064, 1067, and 1068. Then she will start the 7th grade level with 1073 and continue to 1084. I will encourage her to push to at least finish to 1082 this year and then do 1083-1096 for 8th grade. By 9th grade she’ll be right on target doing 1097!

Case Study: Zach (entering 11th grade)

Zach came to us from homeschooling with a literature-based curriculum. He did not know much about the parts of speech at all and had never heard of diagramming sentences. I initially placed him at the 9th grade level, but it soon became apparent that he couldn’t succeed there. It was pointless to do the diagnostic test as it would find gaps for him starting at the 4th grade level! I knew from experience with the curriculum that the 8th level covers grammar definitions and diagramming very thoroughly so I chose 8 PACES that focused on parts of speech, diagramming, etc and then filled in with a few from the 9th grade level that covered other topics. When he reached 12th grade the following year I had him do the entire 10th grade level of English which he did fine with and earned a full credit.

Case Study: Ryan (10th grader struggling with grammar)

Ryan had tried several different curricula over the years of homeschooling, but none of them “clicked” when it came to came to grammar. His dad reached out to me for advice and I put together a plan which I will explain shortly. It worked! Not only did Ryan learn the English, but he enjoyed the format of the PACES. Read their story and dad’s email summarizing their success in this article: We were so desperate we we were willing to try PACES.

Basically, I had Ryan do English PACES 1074-1081 which explain the parts of speech well and introduce diagramming. I had him skip the pages related to handwriting and dictionary skills and try to move through each PACE in one week (or a little longer). Then I had him work through most of level 8 (English PACES 1085-1093) which cycles through the same content again but with more application and “tougher” assignments.  The last 3 PACES of level 8 (1094-1096) focus on writing skills (short compositions) which he did not need.  Even though I had him work through 17 PACES in one year, I felt one full high school credit was appropriate. And he mastered the grammar much better.  For 11th grade I encouraged him to work through the entire level 9 (1097-1108) of English.

Case Study: Joelle (ESL student from Burkina Faso, speaking French and a little English)

Joelle’s dad had moved to our area from Burkina Faso almost ten years earlier to earn better money to support his wife and three children back home. Finally he had saved enough money to move them to the U.S. just as school was starting in the fall of 2017. Joelle had finished high school in Bukina Faso but not received the official “diploma” so she needed to earn the GED here in the U.S. She worked through a few English grammar PACES at the 5th grade level to get introduced to how the PACES work and the basics of grammar. Once I was confident she had laid a basic foundation I moved her into the level 8 English starting with 1085. It was definitely more challenging for her, but she was up for the challenge and learned much! As she wrote creative sentences as required by the PACES, it opened up opportunities for me to explain some of the more subtle uses of words in our English language and the nuances of correct grammar usage. In addition, she started working through American History as that is covered in the GED test. She also is working daily with Rosetta Stone to increase her English vocabulary.

If you have a question, leave a comment below and we will try to address it.

10 Comments to “Tips for Interpreting Diagnostic Test Results”

  1. This post has been incredibly helpful in placing my 8th and 10th graders into ACE English. I’m SO thankful to have found ACE, and wish we could have begun our homeschool journey years ago with it. Thank you!

    1. Be sure you download the free English Handbook as well! Glad this article was helpful to you.

      1. Thank you! I did just that, and spiral bound a copy for each of my kids to have in their drawer. Thanks so much for providing helps to make using ACE even better! 🙂

  2. I have a 10th grade son who is dyslexic, and a slow reader. I am very familiar with ACE, but I would love for some tips on how to help him with English. Your “case study: Ryan, 10thgrade, struggles with Grammar” is missing m. And I would love to see how you helped him! Thank you! -Cassie

    1. Oops! You’re right! I meant to go back and link to the recent article about his story. Just edited that page and added more of a description of the plan I recommended they follow.

  3. This is such a helpful article. In the section under High Schoolers – #3 above, you state “I give one full high school credit for each complete level of 12 PACES a teen completes, even if they are not performing at their chronological grade level. In other words, I have had 10th graders doing the 8th grade foundational English.” Can you tell me how you would list this on the high school transcript for this student?

    Would it be:

    – 10th grade: Grammar – 1 credit (or maybe Foundational English – 1 credit)
    – 11th grade: English 1 – 1 credit
    – 12th grade: English 2 – 1 credit

    for a total of 3 English high school credits?

    1. I just list it as English 9, English 10, etc. You could use descriptive titles like “Foundational English” (8th level), English Grammar and Composition I, II (for 9th and 10th), English & American Literature (11th level), British Literature (12th level)

  4. Thank you for taking the time to write about different scenarios. It is helpful to those trying to find their way in ACE. Your wealth of knowledge and willingness to share it is very, very helpful as well as appreciated!

  5. I am coming back to this article again! Each year I revisit it as I have 3 graduated children and now a 10th grade special needs child in high school. She cannot spell past a cvc word but can orally pull together a pretty decent essay. She is at the middle school level for English and Reading, but still doing probably what amounts to her 8th year with the Elementary Math. She cannot get past the 1036 Paces as she cannot memorize her math facts. She is using a calculator, but understanding the higher level thinking needed for anything beyond this seems an impossibility for her. Do you have any suggestions? I fear she won’t be able to get a job as everything out there for struggling, non-college bound students seems to involve dealing with $ or a cash register. Would you suggest moving on to a finance class or Dave Ramsey type of program?
    Thanks so much for all that you do! You have unknowingly been encouraging me for years!
    Rebecca Short

    1. Answered via PM 😉

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