A Homeschooler's Guide to Giving Grades

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Grading Is Arbitrary

Grading can be a struggle as a homeschool parent!

  • You're never quite sure what grade a child has earned or how to weigh grades.
  • You don’t know how to tell what is A-quality work compared to other children.
  • Maybe you've abandoned the grading system altogether. 

Why is the grading system so hard to understand and accomplish, when it seems so straightforward? Are grades even necessary? In this expose of grading, you'll see the complexity of grading and an easy way to give grades in your homeschool.

Methods for Giving Grades

There are many ways to grade, and because grading is arbitrary, they are all correct and valid. Take into consideration all these variations of grades most of us were exposed to during our school days: 

  • Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory
  • Pass/Fail
  • Percentages (usually 100% indicates all answers are correct)
  • Percentiles (standardized tests, for example, say a “child falls in the 80th percentile”)
  • Mastery Grading (a student passes once all assignments are completed)
  • Narrative Grading (a teacher writes comments on a paper or report card about their progress, instead of giving a grade)
  • GPA (a point scoring system that combines grades from all classes)
  • Weighted Grading (each assignment is given a different amount of importance and points, and the final grade is adjusted to reflect this)
  • Grading on a Curve (grades are distributed based on the total final class scores)
  • Class Rank (compares children to other students in the same grade or classes, often used to determine valedictorian status)

What Things Do Teachers Grade?

In addition, there are a lot of factors teachers pick and choose from when grading or designing a rubric:

  • Tests, Quizzes, and Pop Quizzes
  • Daily Assignments
  • Select Daily Assignments (not using all assignments, but picking some at random or pre-selecting assignments to be graded)
  • Attendance
  • Reports/Essays
  • Log-ins (to an online portal or classroom)
  • Following Classroom Rules
  • Participation
  • Oral Reports
  • Presentations
  • Group Work
  • Watching Videos
  • Reading Books
  • Extra Credit
  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Clear Handwriting
  • Activities
  • Experiments

Combine this list of things to grade with the different ways to grade from the earlier list and a teacher's subjective decision making, and you see an endless array of possibilities. So one reason grading is so hard is because there are so many different ways to approach it.

Because grading is arbitrary, they are all valid and correct at the same time.

So how should you assign grades as a homeschool parent? Let's dig a bit deeper.

What Do Grades Mean?

At its heart, all grading means basically the same thing.

When students meets the teacher's standards of excellence, they are awarded an A. For each degree of substandard work completed, the score drops by one letter grade.

Any time a student meets that expectation of A-level work, whether it be on a test, in an essay, by showing up for class, or showing their interest in the lecture, they will be granted that grade. If they don’t, a lesser grade will be given. 

This is true whether the teacher is a hard grader or goes easy on the students. It is true whether a teacher has high standards and an expectation of excellence, or is tired of teaching. If a teacher expects all students to do as well as they are able, they will have a hard time giving less than an A. If a teacher expects students to work hard and put forth maximum effort, they will have a hard time granting that A grade, and will choose harder tests and require more work. 

When Grades Are Valuable

Grading is not only arbitrary, it's also unnecessary in many situations.

However, in a public school setting, grades still have value. Teachers need to be able to keep track of which students are meeting standards and how far from meeting all the standards they really are.

While homeschooling parents are far better able to keep track of how well Kendra is doing in spelling, or whether Liam needs help with math, it is far harder for classroom teachers who may have over 200 students a day for only a few hours each per week.

So grades make sense in a classroom.

When Grades Hold Less Value

If my child were getting a C+ in math, that would not tell me whether the issue is careless mistakes, or not understanding long division, or just moving too fast through her math workbook. I would have to examine her work and look for patterns. The grade alone is not enough to tell me what the issue is. 

However, because I am monitoring her daily, I can see exactly what the issue is, and fix it immediately. I don’t need to wait until she drops to a C to see that there’s a concern. If her writing assignments have a lot of spelling mistakes, I don’t need a rubric to tell me she needs to work on spelling more.

Grades and rubrics can help parents to find problems their children are having, especially when children are working independently, but most homeschooling parents instinctively know when a child is starting to struggle with a topic and get concerned long before a child’s grades reach a 70% average. In fact, many start worrying the minute that grade drops too far below 100%. 

Giving Grades in a Homeschool Setting

Here's how I handle grading in my homeschool situation with a wide variety of grade levels in many children.

I work with my students on any areas they are having problems with, and I monitor them frequently in the subjects they do independently. If I see them doing a good job and putting forth a good effort, and I am satisfied with their work, then I give an A. 

If I see there is an issue, or they aren’t grasping the materials, then I take that to mean my work in that area isn’t done. I go back, reteach it, or find a different way to teach it they can understand better. If I see they aren’t working hard, I try to get to the bottom of why they aren’t putting in the effort, and listen to them. I either help them out more, find a way to incentivize them to work harder, or cut back or slow down their workload. When they have met my minimum expectations of A-level work, then I give an A.

There have been times I have had to modify my expectations, such as accepting spelling errors on handwritten works from my dyslexic children, or not taking off points for every time I see a math problem when they did the work correctly but mixed up the order of two numerals. But, for the most part, with adaptations and assistance, they are capable of meeting my expectations. 

Basically, I keep working with my children until they master the work and make that coveted A score.

Because of my approach to grading, at times we have had to work at a lower level than I might otherwise expect. But it has also meant my children are far stronger in those subjects than if we had just moved on. Once they are stronger, we are able to catch up more quickly. This method of grading has helped three of my students not only get into college, but do very well once they are there

While this approach to grading might not work for all families, it is easy to use, easy to keep track of, and easy to understand. 

Grading in Real Life

Most adults don’t get graded in daily life. But we are evaluated on meeting standards of excellence.

  • When people surpass our expectations of them, we feel joy, happiness, surprise, or pleasure.
  • If we drive at the speed limit set by the law and no faster than a given police officer is willing to excuse, we will not be given a speeding ticket.
  • If we surpass the minimum standards at our jobs, we may get raises or praise.

Grades really do mean what you want them to mean. If you want to set high standards and ensure your students have the tools and resources to meet them, that is an admirable goal. If you recognize that your child is struggling with learning delays and is trying their best but just can’t meet the standards and want to lower them, that is a great way to encourage your child to keep trying with their best effort.

If you are laid-back and don’t want to give grades, they really aren’t needed as long as your children are progressing.

You can download the first three weeks of Instructor's Guide from any program. Try it out!

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