Have you wondered how to assign homeschool grades to your child? I do not think you need to give grades in the elementary years. I never assigned a single letter grade until high school. Even then, grades were more of a formality than a tracking measure of how well my kids were doing on a daily basis. As a homeschool parent you can let go of grades and look for better ways to measure your child’s growth in learning.
I know it feels scary not to give a grade to your kids. If you went to school you know how much emphasis is placed on a single letter grade. You cannot imagine a report card without letter grades. But remember: you are not a teacher in a classroom tracking thirty kids. You are a mother in her home, deeply invested in her children’s success, living a lifestyle of learning each day. Not only do you have the ability to, but you should, assess your children in a different way.
Think differently about homeschool grades
Here are nine reasons you should think differently about homeschool grades:
1. Grades are a communication tool between the teacher in the classroom and the parent at home. Teachers also use grades to communicate to the teacher who takes over the following year. And grades, along with test scores, hold teacher’s responsible to the principal of the school.
Homeschool moms do not need a communication tool. The moms are the teacher, and the teacher is the mom. You hold yourself personally accountable for your child’s success or failure. You know exactly how well your child is doing every single day. If they are doing poorly improve – immediately.
2. Teachers also use grades to communicate to students how well an assignment has been completed. Homeschool moms should be right beside their kids all day every day. Once you look over the paper, verbally tell your kids a few things they did well and the places they can improve. Have your child fix their mistakes right away.
I am not implying that you do not communicate at all with your kids. Of course you check to see if their work is correct or incorrect and show them their mistakes. My kids check their math lessons and mark every problem that is wrong, then correct it. And yes, my kids see their raw score – 8 wrong today! But we do not use those scores to assign a letter grade – a “C”. Would you tell your kid, “Guess you’re just an average student”? Don’t do that! Say, “You didn’t do too well today. Let’s practice these problems and then tomorrow let’s see if you can do better.” Every day try to communicate hope and optimism.
3. Classroom teachers have to grade the work of thirty kids. You do not have thirty kids to homeschool. You can respond to your kids with instant feedback. The sooner you can give feedback the better. We all get busy and may have papers that we don’t read until the afternoon or evening (or the following week – essays can be really difficult to find time to read). But the sooner the better. If your little ones are doing something you can check in an instant, do it instantly before you set them free to wage battle in the back yard.
4. Train your kids to give you their best effort every time. Do not let them get away with poor quality work. This does not happen naturally. Certain kids always try to do the least possible amount of work. Train your kids that the lowest possible level is higher than they think. How? Just tell them to do it again. Then smile. You’ll hear, “WHAT???” Stay strong. Weeks, months, possibly even years later, your kids will learn to give you their best the first time.
I put this into practice this morning. My son and I have been in a two-year battle, waged over showing his work in math. The stakes have escalated because he loves to do math in his head. When he doesn’t show his work, even if the problems are correct, he re-works the entire lesson. This morning he finished math and disappeared with a book. I checked his work – wait…there wasn’t work. But he only got two wrong. I wanted to put the math in the cupboard and forget about it. Instead, I summoned my inner resources and sweetly called him back to the table. It was a saccharine sweetness, not quite genuine, but you work with what you’ve got. There was moaning and negotiating. I smiled. And I won. Tomorrow we will have the same battle. I’ll fight it again because this is important to his long-term success.
5. I require my kids to correct and improve every assignment until it is right or we’re so tired we can’t go on. This is easy with math. Every once in a while, a child will miss so many math problems, I just have them repeat the lesson the next day. Disaster days like that are usually tied to an emotional state of mind. Copywork or spelling words are also quick fixes. Over and over until they’re right. The essay is where this sometimes breaks down. We might improve it three times. By then mom and student are sick of it. Then I feel okay about going on to the next essay even if the last one was not perfect.
6. We rely on a lot of oral narration, which I do not grade. If my kids cannot give a competent answer I ask them to reread the whole section.
7. If we instantly fix, reread, or rewrite – at what point would a grade be assigned? My kids should always be striving to do better. It is too easy to have kids who are satisfied with a quick shot at something and calling it good enough because they got a decent grade. (This is true for us, as adults too!) I am trying to train students who work hard.
8. What does it feel like to be a child who is consistently told they’re a failure by receiving an F? No child is a failure. If there are subjects your child struggles in, own up to it. Yes, this is hard for you. But we’ll work as hard as we can this year and I bet by the end, you’ll improve.
The greater burden should be on the parent to find a way of teaching that enables the child to actually learn. Provide a low stress environment so the poor kid isn’t self-sabotaging by deciding they aren’t smart any way. And find other areas the child can excel in, making sure to give ample time to grow in those areas. Offer lots of love and praise. Every child is a treasure and should be made to feel they are the very person God created them to be. God does all things well.
9. Smart kids will underachieve when they get an A too easily. Honestly, I don’t know much about getting F’s on my report cards. I don’t really know much about getting B’s on my report cards. I was an A student. But looking back, there were a lot of classes where I didn’t have to push myself much for an A. I could have tried harder, worked more, and thereby learned more if I had a challenge put before me. Lay a challenge before your kids and see if they don’t respond. Your kids will not excel in every area, but they will find one or two subjects to explore in much more detail than you would have required.
What if I am required to keep homeschool grades?
If you live in a state in which you are required to submit homeschool grades, then make a report card. Be as honest as you can. Submit it. I am a huge proponent of following homeschool laws.
Research the laws carefully. Is there another option? For example, instead of a report card could you keep a portfolio of student work? Do you have a pass/fail option? If grades are your only option, just do it. Do not stress.
Do not show the report card to your kids. Let them live in a bubble where they work hard every day for the love of learning. And success is having something interesting to say at the dinner table. Allow every little one to feel pride and accomplishment for the things they are good at.
What if my child isn’t doing well?
This should not even be a question. If your child is underperforming, assigning a D or F to their work will not change anything. You need to figure out how to help them do better. The grade is irrelevant. Here are relevant questions to ask:
Have I been a good and consistent teacher?
Is my child being lazy and do I need to be a better motivator and enforcer?
Does my child have a learning difficulty I need to address?
Does my child just need more time? Remember all children learn at different speeds. Allow space for that in your thinking. Some eight year olds are not quite ready to read. They’re not stupid, they are smart kids who need extra time. Give them three or four years and they will be reading better than their peers. What happens if that eight-year-old quits trying because reading is too hard and you give them a C in language arts? They think, “I’ll never be good at this anyway.” They never improve. And worse, what if you, as the parent, decide this is not a smart kid sitting in front of you – this is an idiot and you can’t teach them? Whether you mean to or not, that attitude will come out.
How can I measure progress?
If you are not using grades to measure progress, you need other standards of measurement. Here are things I look for in my children to determine how well school is going:
Attitude – do they do their work when you ask and complete the assignment the way you have asked them to? Are they making their corrections?
Interest – Are your kids excited about learning? Be careful here. Almost no child is crazy interested in math. Math is repetitive and hard. Do not look at every subject across the board and measure overall interest. Is there one subject they ask to do every day? Or do they ever ask to do an extra lesson? Then they are excited about learning.
Comprehension – Talk to your kids and see if they are understanding what they are learning. Talk about it in the car, on a walk, or while folding laundry. Have a low stress, casual conversation and see what your kids come up with.
Look Back – I keep every paper my kids complete over the course of year. Then I can look back and see if there is any change. Sometimes there is not as much change as I would like to see. I am quite sure I have one son whose handwriting gets worse every year. But often you can see real change over time. Maybe your son’s sentences develop from a simple subject and verb to a multi-clause descriptive sentence. Success – even if you cannot read it unless it is typed.
If you need encouragement while helping a very young child learn to read try recording their reading or making a (secret) video. Jot down the words or simple books they are able to read. Then come back to it in a couple months and see if there is any improvement. If you are discouraged, do not show your sweetie. The last thing you want is to instill is doubt.
At the end of every year I pick out my favorite papers, tuck them in a binder and put them in the garage. After 16 years of schooling I have a full box. We have a lot of fun looking back at childish writing and reading records. And best of all, it provides plenty of opportunity for laughter. Homeschool success does not always look like success.
Consistency – This is where you can grade yourself as a parent. Do you wake up and do school (almost) every day? Are your kids working on all their subjects every week? If you know you need to do grammar twice a week to finish by the end of the year, but you only get around to it once a week, there is obvious need for improvement.
If you are regularly ignoring a subject because you and your child get frustrated doing it consider cutting back for a while. Sometimes it is okay to set a difficult subject aside, not work on it at all for a little while, and come back to it later. But I think it is better to come at the subject differently and try to do just a little every single day. Keep the time short so frustration doesn’t have a chance to build. Look for ways to make it fun. Add a lot of review to build confidence. Track yourself –whatever plan you have made make sure you stick to it. Grade yourself. Devise a system with less stress and frustration. Then work consistently and you’ll be surprised by what can happen.
I’m sure there are many more ways to evaluate how well your children are learning. Ultimately, you need to trust yourself. If you love them, are committed to their success, and know you are trying your best you will be able to intuitively tell whether or not your children are learning. I promise. You understand them inside and out. You are their best teacher.
I want to assign homeschool grades
Feel free. If you love grading scales and weighted averages, go for it. Maybe you have a lot of spare time to fill. Use it on keeping grades. You don’t have to agree with me.
If fear is your reason to assign homeschool grades, then I encourage you to let go of it. Homeschooling is radically different from regular school and that can be hard to get used to. However, many of those differences are the strengths of homeschooling. Trust your instincts. Someday you will realize the fears were unfounded.
Homeschool grades in high school?
Now the day will come when you need to assign letter grades and put them on a high school transcript. Hopefully that was one of your first objections to my article. I decided to address that in a separate article because I realized I have a lot to say about it. But the short answer is, do not stress . Homeschool grades aren’t hard. Follow the same basic philosophy you did in the elementary years: keep focused on genuine learning.
When I work as a standardized test administrator for homeschoolers, there are always a few students who come in the room anxious and stressed. While we chat, waiting for testing to begin, I love to emphasize that the test is really testing their parents – to see how well the parents have been educating their child and where they need to do better. Any grade your homeschooled child deserves is ultimately a reflection on you, their teacher. Strive to be an A+ homeschool mom.