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October 2007

Are Homeschool Grades Stupid?

Eldest Son Kevin Playing ChessMy son Kevin thought my homeschool grades were stupid. "Who's going to believe the grades my Mom gives me?" he would say. Then he took classes at community college! The professors gave credit for class attendance, participation, discussion, and homework. If the students scored poorly on a test, they were allowed to "drop" one test. A teacher declared that the highest grade on each test was the "100%" grade, and all the other students were graded on a sliding scale. I had won Kevin over! "You were right, Mom! Your grades were a lot tougher than college!"

Grading vs. Mastery

First of all, if you give a grade based on tests alone, then you are doing your student a disservice. In high schools, as well as some colleges, students may never be judged based on test scores alone. After all, a test only measures what you DON'T know. We are trying to express what our children DO know. A grade is usually a mix of things, and if we don't grade with a mix of things as well, we are putting our kids at a disadvantage.

As homeschoolers, we tend to move on after our kids have mastered the material. If you are a parent that sends math problems, English papers or tests back to the student with "please correct this" messages, then you have high expectations. I recommend that when your student does "meet expectations" that you 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.

How do you give a grade when you don't give any tests??

The key is to think about how you DO evaluate your children. Just between you and me (don't tell!) the ways we evaluate are often the same things we nag about. Isn't that a dirty little secret? Consider these phrases: "are you done with your reading yet?" (Yes? Literature Reading, 100%.) Or "have you finished your spelling words yet?" (Yes? Spelling Practice, 100%). Sometimes the things that we nag at them NOT to do are also ways that we evaluate. For example, "Kevin, will you PLEASE leave that chessboard alone!" (Daily Chess Practice, 100%) or "Alex, get away from the piano!" (Piano Practice, 100%).

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 curricula that came with tests! For all 28 of our other classes, I used other ways to evaluate my children. What did they do in their daily work? For English, I decided to evaluate their reading and writing. For reading, I further decided to grade on areas like: reading, discussion, analysis, and research. For writing, I evaluated them on every paper, so I listed each paper by the title or topic (Emancipation Proclamation, for example.) I didn't actually "grade" the paper. I just edited it after they wrote it, and sent it back to them for corrections. Once it was done to my satisfaction, then I gave them 100%. Other times, I didn't list the actual titles of the papers they had written. Instead, I would list the KIND of papers they had written: essay, research report, short story, or poetry. Finally, I decided that the testing they did each year for their annual assessment was also an evaluation. The areas on those tests were "vocabulary, comprehension, spelling, mechanics, and expression." For each of those items, they scored grade level or above, which met my expectations (yup, another 100%!)

Whichever way I evaluated them, if they met my expectations, they received 100%. You can view a grading chart taken from a page in my son's Comprehensive Record. Just click on "Sample Course Description" on this page.

What areas do you use when you evaluate your children?

You can give a grade for each test, quiz, paper, or lab report. Consider also these general ideas: 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.

I did keep traditional grades in Biology - mostly because Apologia Curriculum provides 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 my mood. Yes, it was arbitrary! But they had NOT met my expectations, and I wanted their grade to reflect that.

Don't all homeschoolers get a 4.0?

"Mom knows best" sometimes means that 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.

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 really helps to see what someone else has done. This is just a sample, for you to look at and adapt for yourself. When I started thinking about transcripts, I loved seeing every sample I could find! If you want more samples, you may want to see our "Sample Comprehensive Record." It lists every class, course description, and grading criteria for each high school class in our homeschool.

At times it's appropriate to 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 evaluated 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.

Homeschool grading is an art, not a science. Don't feel like you have to do everything exactly the way I did. Remember! Mom and Dad know best - especially how to evaluate their own children. You can do this! And I'm here to help!

"homeschool gradingI don't think I can adequately say thank you to you (and Matt) for making this possible for us. Your services are truly a ministry in so many ways, and I want you to know that you (and Matt) have been such a blessing to us. I knew in a vague, general way early last year that I wanted to present Nate's accomplishments in the best possible light, and I believe the course descriptions and small portfolio of work does a wonderful job of capturing what he accomplished in HS. I had been expecting to buy a transcript program recommended by HSLDA, but I am so thankful that I decided instead to order your transcript e-book at Christmastime last year (I remember that the contest helped me decide!). I would NEVER have gotten this far without you, and it was so helpful to be accountable to you to do a little of the paragraphs every week during the spring and summer. It was bad enough at the end, never mind if I had not written those paragraphs yet. I probably would have given up or done something simple and not adequately reflective of Nate's high school. So the application materials are in the mail on their way to University!"

-Ann in Connecticut

Bryan Jones"Your transcripts and records were the best organized and documented I have seen"

- Bryan Jones, Associate Director of Admissions,
Seattle Pacific University