Many of the homeschool parents I talk to seem to get really stressed out about assigning grades to their students’ work. Parents often think there is a magic, mysterious, official formula to follow that will remove all subjectivity out of the process. But all grades have some level of subjectivity. Take a look at RateMyProfessor.com and read the comments college students make about their professors. Here are some real examples:
He's a bit of a harsh grader on assignments and quizzes.
He does grade hard on papers.
He has a very fair grading style.
Public school teachers are also subjective humans. Like you, they can only do their best to provide grades they know to be honest and true. That’s what I encourage homeschoolers to do as well—provide grades you know to be honest and true. Of course, grades are easy to calculate for courses such as math and science, but what should you do with courses such as cake decorating, choir, 4-H, or speech? Some classes don’t lend themselves to grading, yet your student should definitely get credit for them! It’s important to assign a grade for all your courses, because grades are the love language of colleges, and you want colleges to love your student!
Ideas for grading unusual classes
Most homeschoolers take piano lessons or know somebody whose kids take piano lessons. Piano lessons generally do not involve any fill-in-the-bubble tests. Usually piano teachers evaluate their students based on how well they play, how much they practice, and whether they memorize their passages.
Teachers don’t tend to give tests on piano, they evaluate piano skills. This is exactly what you want to do, too. It’s not necessary to base all course grades on tests or quizzes. An evaluation of your student’s work is definitely an acceptable method.
Homeschoolers frequently encourage mastery when teaching their children. They don’t move on to new subjects until their student understands the content. If you educate based on mastery, I encourage you to evaluate your student based on their finished product, not on the sometimes-ugly process of learning.
If your child meets your high expectations, especially if you use mastery before moving on, it’s okay to give the child an A and say that they met your expectations one hundred percent. It’s also okay to say that they did not meet your high school expectations. A grade of B or less is completely fine.
When you assign grades, be careful not to handicap your student. In both public and private school, students are graded on more than merely test scores. They’re also graded on whether they participate in the discussion, show up to class, and do their homework. In addition, teachers often give extra credit, drop low grades, and in other ways give students additional opportunities to make up work. If you only base your homeschool grades on test scores, you are handicapping your student in comparison with their schooled peers, which will put them at a disadvantage when colleges evaluate them.
If you’re having trouble assigning grades, take a step back and evaluate. Are you being honest and true with your grades? Are you considering factors besides or in addition to tests and quizzes? My own sons laughed at my “mommy grades" but when they went on to college, they realized that I graded fairly, even hard in comparison to some of their college professors. Record what you know to be true about your student’s work, and let colleges take it from there.