The Skinny on Grading (or Not) for Homeschoolers

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When people find out you are homeschooling, you tend to get asked the same questions over and over:

Let's camp out on that last question about grading. Do all homeschool parents grade homeschool work? Nope! Homeschoolers are a varied bunch. Some parents check every paper, assigning a percentage correct and providing that feedback to their kids. Other parents ignore grades altogether, considering that As, Bs, and Cs are a vestige of public schooling which has no place in an environment of self-paced, delight-directed learning.

How do we assign grades as homeschoolers? And if we aren't using some sort of grading system, how do we assess growth and progress in learning? 

To Grade or Not To Grade? 

Some parents think that grades are a necessary way to provide feedback to children about their progress. They can't imagine going to all the effort to read books and do math problems without checking their child's mastery of the material and accuracy of each answer —quantified in a tidy number or letter grade. Others consider grades a superfluous waste of energy. They say that curiosity, awe, and a passion for learning cannot be measured on a scale of 0-100 with an arbitrary rank of what is excellent and what is failing.

As you can see, homeschoolers aren't unified in how they approach grading. If you are not set in one direction or another, ask yourself these questions to formulate your own opinion on homeschool grading:

  • Are grades legally required? If not, you have more freedom to ignore grading.

  • Do grades motivate your child? If your child looks forward to receiving the positive feedback of good grades, they may be a great motivator. On the other hand, do grades demoralize your child and destroy the joy of learning?

  • Do you need a measure of progress in a particular subject? And will grading give you what you feel is a reasonable measure of that progress? Or is there another way you could assess progress without a grade?

  • Do grades turn your kids into mercenary creatures, rushing through their work for high scores versus savoring the process?
  • Is your child in high school levels when grading for transcript purposes comes into play?

  • If you want to grade only certain subjects, which ones do you feel are most important to grade?

Alternatives to Grading

If you don’t grade, then what?

Not assigning grades doesn't necessarily mean you won’t be looking at and correcting your children's work. If children are doing math and not understanding the concept, you won't pretend they got it right. Instead you work with them to understand the problems, working towards a correct answer. In the end, whether they missed 10 or 2 of their 30 practice problems won’t matter because you have worked through any mistakes and helped them master the concept. 

Maybe you have children who like to build, create, read, or draw. These ways of learning are beneficial and enjoyable but not always easy to grade. Instead of grading, you can observe the concepts and skills they are gaining along the way and note those as growth along their journey of learning.

As a homeschool parent, you are probably working very closely alongside your children. You can't help but see firsthand the type of progress they are making or the sticky spots that trip them up. If grades are not required by law or for a transcript, then there is no need to worry about grading work and assigning letter grades.

Leaving out the element of assessment and grading allows students more freedom and flexibility to think outside the box, to follow their creativity, and to find a learning path that works for them. While this is one of the great flexibilities of homeschooling, it can also be a downside when grades are needed either for state requirements, student motivation, parental need, or on a high school transcript. Unfortunately, homeschool evidence of learning doesn't always jibe with the popularly accepted view of how to measure success.

Thoughts on Grading

Grading can strike fear in children and cause them to lose the joy of their creative learning pursuits. What you think you may gain by grading work may be negated by what your children lose — a natural zest for learning. Use grading as an occasional tool without being overly critical and deflating.

The Skinny on Grading (or Not) for HomeschoolersGrading can be a motivator; some kids use percentages or letter grades as a measure of excellence to strive for.

Math is one subject that I always check assign a grade to. Why? Math is a building block subject, and I need to know that my children have mastered something before moving on. As my children get older, they use Teaching Textbooks which is self-grading. If they received a score lower than 80%, then I don’t consider that mastery. In that case, I add review of the topic before trying the lesson again and ultimately moving on. Since they are working independently, the grading is necessary for me as a measure of the competency in each concept.

The high school years are typically a time when grades become normal even for homeschoolers since transcripts require grades and a GPA (grade point average) along with the course descriptions.

Finding a Happy Medium in Homeschool Grading

I do believe there can be a balance between grading and not grading. I used to put great importance on grading every little thing my children did! It was exhausting for me and totally unnecessary, especially in the younger grades. With workbook- or textbook-based work, I now grade only the review sections, quizzes, and unit tests. 

Now with my youngest child, a fifth grader, I go over her completed math and have her rework any problems that she misses. While I may not assign a percentage correct, I am marking incorrect answers and using that information as a tool to help me pinpoint trouble spots.

Ultimately the choice to grade or not to grade is up to you, the homeschool parent. There is no real right or wrong only what works for you and your child.

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About the Author

Heidi CiravolaHeidi Ciravola has been married to her husband for over seventeen years.  Together they have three children with whom they began their homeschooling journey with in 2006 when their oldest was beginning second grade.  Heidi is a mother, taxi service, and homeschool parent by day and an avid reader and homeschool blogger whenever there is time left over. You can visit Heidi at her blog Starts at Eight where she blogs about homeschool products and unit studies, homeschool organization and general tips, and homeschooling high school, as well as many book reviews, lists, and unit studies.