The more I talk about grading with my fellow homeschool moms, the more misconceptions I find. It’s easy in our quest to be different, to deinstitutionalize learning, to customize our student’s education to misunderstand our obligation to evaluate our students as objectively as possible.
What do we mean by evaluate? To evaluate simply means to judge, to assess. As parents, we constantly assess our children’s progress physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Sometimes we are more intentional about this than others. It’s easy to turn around and suddenly realize they grew up, seemingly overnight!
To grade is to evaluate a student’s academic progress against an objective standard and communicate that progress to the student and other concerned authorities by means of numerical, alpha, or other scale.
That’s my definition, and I’m sticking with it.
We are familiar with grading at school. Our teacher told us at the beginning of the year what the objective was for the course (for example, the math class would be over algebra and simple geometry), what would be the standard (in this case, correct answers and thorough proofs that conformed to the teacher’s examples), and what would be the grading scale (how the grade would be communicated — a four point scale; A, B, C scale, or percentage grade). Then we knew what to expect, and after a few papers marked in red we thoroughly understood how the teacher evaluated progress, and we conformed as much as possible to her standard to receive the best grade we could. If you have taught in a school, you remember going through this process with your class.
Homeschooling High School Students Must Be Evaluated
Now, before you panic and demand I turn in my homeschool grad card, hear me out. I said evaluated, not standardized. Let me explain what that does and does not mean.
What Grading High School Homeschool Means
1. We are evaluating our student’s work against a standard.
That standard could mean any number of things. We just need to pick our own standard, communicate it clearly to the student, and then remain faithful to it.
The standards should vary by subject. While the standard for math is perfection (the answer is right or it’s not), history is graded on content, communication, and application. Whether the evaluations are oral, written, project-based, or essay, the student needs a means of demonstrating and evaluating that he is progressing.
2. We are communicating to our student how he can grow.
No high school student knows everything, though they think they know lot! Grading helps keep the student teachable and humble as they see where they need to improve.
3. We are measuring our student’s progress regularly.
Whether the student takes tests or writes papers, completes projects or gives speeches, regular evaluation helps update his progress and encourage him to keep learning.
4. We are recording the student’s accomplishments in an area of study.
This record is legally required in many states and will definitely be required when the student applies to college. By communicating the standard, adhering to it throughout the course, and recording the progress over time, we create a history of the student’s learning that others can appreciate and understand.
I have found, however, that it is easy for even the best-intentioned homeschool moms to misunderstand the importance of grading for high school. Let’s take a look at what we don’t mean by grading.
What Grading High School Homeschool Does Not Mean
1. We are not institutionalizing homeschool.
We can evaluate and record our student’s progress without doing school at home. The key is to pick your own standard and even pick your own way of recording that standard. No one says that has to look like any other school or even like any other homeschool.
Now, if you can translate you standard of measurement — at least the course end grade — to an A/B/C grade, colleges will understand the transcript better. But there is no reason to feel obligated to school-at-home high school just for evaluating learning.
2. We are not conforming to an arbitrary standard.
We are, however, communicating clearly to our student — and to whomever receives his transcript — what our standards of learning are. We can’t be too clear on that.
3. We are not treating our students as commodities.
Someone told me on social media recently that grading students was like treating them like eggs to be graded. That made me scratch my head.
For the entirety of adult life, we are evaluated on our conformity to a standard. Our boss gives us a raise or fires us depending on whether we do his work to his standard. We are given a “safe driver discount” or higher insurance premiums based on our adherence to the laws of driving. Every occupation has moral, legal, and industry standards by which are measured success or failure.
So, while our students are not commodities, their work is. It is the product of the combination of training, ability, effort, and character put into the task. We may not like it that their — and our — work is graded, but it is.
Even by God.
4. We are not killing a love of learning.
We could, if we evaluate in a haphazard, negligent, or cruel manner. But if we clearly communicate the standard, consistently apply that standard, and regularly measure progress against the standard, we are only going to help our students love the proces more.
How do you evaluate your homeschool students?
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