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How to Assign Homeschool Grades without Grading Tests

Creating a homeschool transcript is vital, even when made at home. The university gave my child a full-tuition scholarship based on my "mommy grades" and said, "Your transcripts and records were the best organized and documented that I have seen." But not everyone appreciated my grading technique. My own child thought my homeschool grades were silly.

 Are Homeschool Grades Stupid?

My son thought my homeschool grades were bogus. I know it's true, because he said, "Mom, your grades are bogus!" He wondered who would believe the grades his mother gave him. Then he took his fist dual enrollment class. The professors gave credit for class attendance, participation, discussion, and homework. Students were allowed to drop a poor grade on one test if they scored poorly. A teacher declared that the highest grade on each test was the "100%" grade, no matter how many were wrong, and the students were graded on a sliding scale. That's when my son said, "You were right, Mom! Your grades were a lot tougher than college!"

Grading with Only Tests isn't Ideal 

At all high schools and most colleges, students will never be judged based on test scores alone. A test only measures what a student does NOT know, and tells you only which questions they could not answer. That's not a helpful evaluation, because it doesn't indicate what the child DOES know. In our evaluation, we are trying to express what our children DO know. A grade is usually a mix of things, and we must evaluate using a variety of things as well, otherwise we are putting our kids at a disadvantage. If you give a grade based on tests alone, then you are doing your student a disservice.

Expect Mastery 

As homeschoolers, we tend to move on after our kids have mastered the material. Homeschooling is the only high school that can ensure students learn before moving on. That's why many homeschoolers earn a very real 4.0 GPA - their parents made them learn before moving on. If you are a parent that sends papers back to the student with "please correct this" messages, then you have high expectations.

Mastery is not Perfection 

I have mastery over addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and I know I deserve an A in those topics. I also know I'm not perfect, and I sometimes make mistakes, even though I understand the concepts perfectly. When your student has met your high expectations, and they understand the concepts, you can give them 100% for that test or assignment. If it means you're giving them a 4.0 in every class, that's fine - as long as they meet your high expectations.

Evaluating without Tests 

When you don't give tests, you are evaluating like a piano teacher. They don't use tests either. Piano teachers evaluate with their senses, rather than a fill-in-the-bubble test. They pay close attention to their students' hands and listen to their work. The student tells the teacher orally what they have learned, and demonstrates reading the music to show comprehension. You can evaluate in non-traditional ways as well!

How to Evaluate

When you think of how you evaluate, think about everything they do that you call "school." In our homeschool, I only graded tests in math, foreign language, and science. That was mainly a matter of convenience for me - those were the tests that came with the curricula! For all our other classes, I used other ways to evaluate my children. What did they do in their daily work? I gave feedback on papers and sent it back to them for corrections. Once it was done to my satisfaction, then I gave them 100%.

Describe Evaluation in Course Descriptions

When I described grades in course descriptions, I tried to list every method of evaluating. I would list the title or the style of papers they had written: essay, research report, short story, or poetry. If they met my expectations on the final product, they received 100%. Each year, I listed their annual assessments as an evaluation. The areas on those tests were "vocabulary, comprehension, spelling, mechanics, and expression." For each of those areas, if they scored at grade level or above, that met my expectations, and they received 100% for each skill listed. You can download a sample course description in Homeschool Transcript Template and Record Keeping Samples.


The key is to think about how you DO evaluate your children. Just between you and me, the ways we evaluate are often the same things we nag about.

Natural Evaluation through Nagging

Are you done with your reading yet?"
(Yes? Literature Reading, 100%)

"Have you finished your vocabulary words?"
(Yes? Vocabulary Practice, 100%)

"Will you get away from the piano!"
(Daily Piano Practice, 100%)

How do you Evaluate?

You can give a grade for each test, quiz, paper, or lab report. Consider also these general evaluation areas: reading, reports, discussion, research, daily work, oral presentation, composition, practice, performance, note taking, attendance, and narration. You may want to give a grade for each activity they complete within a course. For example, you could give a grade for every activity you count as PE hours: swim team, skiing, soccer, free weights, health, and softball. For music, you might want to give a grade for lessons, practice, and performance. In history, you could give a separate grade for each report, paper, or essay they wrote on historical topics.

Balance Test Results

I did keep traditional grades in some classes, because some curriculum provided tests. Even so, my students did more for that course than just take a test, and I wanted that reflected in their grade. I supplied a numerical percentage grade for each test, grading as suggested by the curriculum supplier. The other major activity in that course was their science lab. I decided to give them a grade for every science lab they completed. If they met expectations, their grade was 100%. They didn't always meet my expectations, however. When my kids did a lab write-up, I expected them to give me a paragraph describing what they did, along with a diagram, chart, or sketch of the experiment. There were times that I felt they hadn't done their best. At times, I would give them 80%, or 90%, depending on their performance (and possibly my mood.) When they did NOT meet my expectations, I wanted their grade to reflect that.

Perfect 4.0 GPA

Homeschoolers can earn a perfect 4.0, but it doesn't always happen. Parents know best in grading, and sometimes that means a grade will be a "B" or lower. When you honestly know that your child has performed at a lower than "A" level, don't be afraid of how it will look on a transcript. Honesty will always serve our children best, and a B can demonstrate thoughtful consideration of your grades. It says that all your grades are real, and you have considered each one carefully. There are times when your honest grade will include a B (or lower) on a test, or paper. Make sure that the total grade on the transcript will accurately reflect everything your student does, and every area that you evaluate their work. If they have an "A" for effort in a variety of ways (discussion, daily work, narration, research, lab work, etc.) be sure to include everything they do. In the end, if the transcript grade is still less than an "A" then go ahead and write it down. There is no permanent damage from that! If it's honest, write it down.

Course Descriptions Support True Grades

Course descriptions show the nuances of your grades to a college, and you want to demonstrate that your "homeschool 4.0" is not a number pulled out of thin air. You want to demonstrate thoughtful consideration to the ways you evaluate your student. You want to show your standards and your method of grading. Then let the college decide how they will use the grades, knowing that you did your very best to provide them with the information they need. I know that my grading system is one of many "right ways" to do things. As the parent, you can decide the "right way" to grade your homeschool. I'm giving you this glimpse into my homeschool evaluations, because I think it helps to see what someone else has done.

Homeschool grading is an art, not a science. Don't feel like you have to do everything exactly the way I did. Parents know best - especially how to evaluate their own children. You can do this! And I'm here to help! You can learn more about grading with and without tests in my free workshop, "A Homeschool Parents Guide to Grades, Credits, and Transcripts". That one-hour workshop is completely free of charge, recorded for your convenience, so you can watch it at any time, and comes with a fantastic workbook that explains each area of the transcript.
How will you implement evaluations instead of tests this year?
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