You can keep track of younger kids' grades if you want to (or if your state requires you to), but in high school you must track your student's grades. The high school grades are necessary for college admissions, military admission, and sometimes for jobs, even years after graduation. Here we'll explain how to track grades and transcripts for high school homeschool. Then we'll talk about a few options for getting into college.
The first thing you must understand about grading a class is that there is no firm method or set way of doing so. There are some conventions, but each teacher can decide the criteria for her own class and how to award grades. Whatever system you do choose though should be fair and consistent. So let's start with the conventions.
- High school grades in the United States are awarded in a letter system, A through F. You probably shouldn't change that up because it's what college admissions offices understand and we do need to all speak the same language. Besides, it ain't broke.
- Generally letter grades are awarded based on a percentage out of a hundred. It's a simple and intuitive way to grade.
- The final convention is that individual grades on homework, projects, tests and so on are averaged up to make the final grade. Final grades are not arbitrarily decided on out of thin air by the teacher. If you want your child's transcript to be credible later on, you need to be able to clearly explain how grades were arrived at. "I felt he had mastered the subject" isn't really acceptable in the grown up world. "He completed all reading assignments, scored highly on essays, and participated in discussions about the reading" is much more to the point.
So let's take an example of a class and how to grade it. Math is probably the easiest subject to grade so we'll start there. Most high school (and college) teachers give full credit for completed math homework regardless of how many correct answers were arrived at. You can do the same.
Whatever math curriculum you have for high school should have tests of some sort. Grade the tests based on correct answers. Sometime teachers will give partial credit for an answer, especially if all work is shown and the student has understood the principle, but perhaps made an arithmetic error. It's up to you if you decide to give partial credit for some answers, but you need to decide how you will grade at the beginning and be consistent. Some teachers allow students to retake a test if the student does poorly, some teachers do not. Again, it's up to you, but decide your policy from the beginning and stick to it.
Math Grades At Our House
At our house we also do daily math facts practice, even through high school. I give credit for daily drilling as well. Finally, most math teachers weight the scores from homework and the scores from tests differently. For example, they might think the homework should be sixty percent of the grade and the tests should be thirty percent of the grade and attendance at lectures be worth ten percent of the grade. You can make the same judgement calls.
At our house math facts practice is given a weight of 20%, homework is 60%, and tests are 20%. Our homework is do or die. If you don't complete even one assigned problem for the day, nothing on the page counts. I do that because I want my kids to do the work, to practice, and put the effort in. It is important to have reasons for why you decide to grade the way you do.
English is a bit trickier to grade. Most English classes, especially the freshman and sophomore years, will involve more than just reading and writing papers. They will also include grammar, spelling/vocab, instruction on how to write papers, oral presentations, projects, and more. Each of these elements will be graded differently.
Grammar, Spelling, and Vocab
Grammar is usually handled though a workbook, in which case completed work gets a hundred percent and failure to finish gets a zero. Some people do grammar more on the fly, they point out errors in their kid's writing and teach a mini-grammar lesson right then and there. If that's your method, you may not want to grade grammar, but just leave it as an element of grading when you give a score on papers and other writing. Spelling and vocab can be handled similarly to grammar.
Most teachers grade reading by giving comprehension quizzes or tests on assigned reading. We don't do that at home. I have avid readers who can't get enough, so I never worry whether they've completed the reading assignment. Also, I'm sitting right there watching them read. My eagle eye never rests. So I grade based on "did it or didn't do it". Either method is fine as long as you are consistent.
Now the hardest thing in the world to grade is the paper. Grading a paper is sort of subjective. It's not like math where there's a single right answer (at least in Realsville). So what you need is a method. Karen, brilliant English teacher type that she is, has a perfect system that I've been using for years . . . she saved my bacon with this method. But it's too long to share here so I refer you this post about how to grade a paper. For grading poetry you can use this same system.
History usually has elements of reading and writing. You may have tests, quizzes, and projects too. I grade history in four elements:
- Reading (which is either you did it or you didn't)
- Writing (essays usually 1/2 to 1 page long summaries of what they've learned, which I grade like English papers)
- Projects, which are graded like the English papers as well except since there is often no actual writing involved, mechanics doesn't come into it. Following the assignment, completing it, doing your best work, and presentation all count.
- Tests or quizzes
Science consists of reading, lab work (which is sometimes more like projects than actual labs), and worksheets. Your science program might have tests or homework with written work. I weight our science reading heavily. My kids don't read science texts very often. Instead they read the works of real scientists. Tim is reading "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking right now because we're studying astronomy. So our reading is pretty substantial and important. You might have a program that emphasizes lectures and hands on labs and in that case you would weight the labs more heavily. The key is to think through which elements your program uses for teaching the subject and separate these elements into categories for grading purposes. Each of these elements will become your sub-subjects and get their own column on the grading sheet.
First, let me say that people neglect geography in high school. Other than our Layers of Learning curriculum I'm not sure I've ever heard of another homeschool geography course for teens. Geography isn't just about maps and locations, though those are very important all by themselves. It is about culture, language, governments, and current events. Geography is the study of people as they are on earth at this moment in time. So many homeschoolers are so into history (me included) but they forget that people alive right now today are the ones who are making history, and that is the study of geography.
But I digress.
Maps, Projects, and Quizzes
Geography should have elements of maps, projects, and quizzes.
Assign maps with clear guidelines - lists of what to include and clear directions on what you expect the final product to look like (neatly labeled in black ink, neatly colored with colored pencils, etc.). Grade based on those guidelines. The English paper grading method we use should give you an idea of how to set up a grading system for something like a map as well.
Projects include crafts, food, current events, and research presentations. Grade based on the criteria you gave when you explained the assignment to your kid.
Quizzes are fabulous in geography. You want a certain mastery of the countries, land forms, and features of Earth. A quiz might consist of handing your student a blank map of Africa and asking them to label the countries. Divide the number they get right by the possible points to get the percentage that you enter into the grading sheet.
Grading The Arts
The arts at our house includes great literature, plays, and poetry, painting, sculpture, music, and dance. We do an amalgamated art appreciation/art execution course perpetually. But you can also do a semester long dedicated drama course or watercolor painting course. My sub-subjects under the arts are projects and reading. Because so much of our course is art appreciation and because we use literature elements we have quite a bit of reading. You may only have projects, depending on how you do art. I grade everything in this subject as done or not done. If they basically follow the direction given and complete the project or the reading then they get full credit. You could also use quizzes.
Grading Foreign Language
You probably use a program of some sort for foreign language if you do foreign language at all. Even if you are fluent in a second language or have a neighbor who is, your kids should probably be doing grammar and written exercises in the foreign language. Generally foreign languages have daily work and drills to complete and weekly or periodic tests. Grade daily work based on completion. For a five day week award 20% for each day completed. Then the scores for all five days fit in a single box, and the student has to complete an entire week of exercises to equal the work of one test. Grade foreign language tests with simple percentages.
Grading Other Courses
Teens take a wide variety of classes from computer programming to wood shop and it would be impossible to cover all the possibilities here. But there are some basics you may have picked up in the above grading descriptions. First you decide which elements of the class are being used to teach. Is there a reading element? A testing element? A project element? Grade each of these in separate categories. Next, weight each category depending on what you believe to be the most important. Decide if an element will be graded as "done or not done" or if it can be graded with an actual percentage of right and wrong answers. Then just average your graded elements together using a weight system.
A Spreadsheet for Grading
Below you can see a screen shot of a portion of the grading template I created for my kids. I used Google Sheets, a free program that comes with a Google account. I set up simple calculations on the spreadsheet so the final grades will calculate all by themselves.
How The Template Is Organized
- To keep the sheet as simple and short as possible I created one semester per page. Typically a semester is 18 - 20 weeks. For you it may be shorter or longer.
- Enter scores as percentages, not points. Every assignment may have a different number of possible points, but there can only be one possible maximum percentage, 100%. So keeping with percentages makes things simpler.
- I included blocks of columns for eight different subjects per semester in ours. I really hope you're not trying to pursue more than that in a single semester. Each of the subjects has two or more columns within it. For example, within English there is a column for "grammar," "spelling," "writing," and "reading".
- There is also a grading scale entered near the bottom, so you can see at a glance what letter grade the percentage earned gets you.
- At the bottom of each sub-subject column the total average percentage for that column is displayed.
- Below those numbers are the weights you give each of the sub-subjects. For English they are 1 for grammar (this means ten percent of the grade comes from the grammar homework), 1 for spelling, 4 for writing, and 4 for reading (again, you can change these numbers to suit your needs). The numbers in any one subject should add up to 10. Calculate the total weighted average grade for the subject; it is displayed below. If you don't want to weight the grades you can give each sub-subject a weight of "1". But it is a bit awkward to have the grammar homework sheet equal a five page paper in importance, don't you think? Still there may be some subjects where weighting doesn't make sense. Piano or soccer, for example.
- Highlighted the final grade in a bright color below the sub-subject grades and the weights.
- At the very bottom of each column you can enter details about the materials or methods you used to complete the course. I entered some sample information for English and Math so you can see what it might look like.
Now, how to enter the grades. Each row is a week, not a day. It's unlikely you'll have more than one test or more than one paper in a single subject within a single week. If you do, you go, you maverick, whip those kids into shape! Enter the percentage grade into the box under that sub-subject for that day. Math test on week 2, 85%, for example. If you do have more than one test or project in a single week for a single subject you can add a row to accommodate it. Each grade on a paper, project, or test needs its own cell.
Put sub-subjects under each major subject. Different tasks carry a different importance (weight). Assign completion grades (all or nothing) for daily work - like reading, completing math homework, and so on. So, for a five day week of journal writing, if your student only wrote one journal entry (he was assigned five), you give him 20%. 100% divided by five is 20%. He gets 20% for each day he completed his work. If he did four of the five days he gets 80%.
Transcripts sound so very official. The good news for you is that they are. And you are perfectly qualified to write one. You may need to back it up though, which is why it's important to also keep detailed grading sheets, lists of the course materials you've used, and a portfolio of your child's best work.
I have a tabbed page for recording a transcript within the Google Sheets grading file. It has boxes that automatically calculate the GPA and total credit hours of the student.
You can buy the grades and transcripts file from us now or go read more about it.
You can also create one for yourself for free in Google Sheets or Open Office.
Getting Into College
If your kids are college-bound, there are some good options for getting in. You should definitely keep grades and prepare a transcript. You should also have them take the SAT or a similar college entrance exam.
The SAT is normally taken in the spring of the Junior year, but it can be taken a bit earlier or later. Your student can also take it more than once if his or her first try isn't the greatest. PSATs can be taken during the sophomore year or in the fall of the junior year. They provide practice and if your student does well, they can also generate scholarship offers.
This is my favorite college entrance path. Community colleges are a great gateway between homeschool and full college life. The classes tend to be small and the professors more accessible. Most community colleges let high school age kids begin taking classes. They typically have simple placement exams and an easy application process, which doesn't generally require a diploma. Once you've begun community college, it becomes easy to apply to other colleges using a homeschool transcript, an SAT score, and your community college transcript.
More and more universities are accepting just a homeschool transcript as well as an SAT score. Contact the admissions offices of several universities. Find out what they require. Do it at the beginning of your high school years. They may have specific requirements like 2 years of foreign language, 3 science credits, and so on. Find out early so you can make sure you cover those while in high school.
Some homeschool families decide to switch to an online at home charter school scenario during high school. If completed, these programs award a high school diploma at the end. Some colleges also have online programs that high school students can enroll in for credit.
You can also take the GED and use that as you apply to colleges. It is equivalent to a diploma. Some people feel it carries a stigma, but more and more colleges have adapted to the diversity of educational opportunities for kids and are treating it the same as a diploma. As of 2017 the military still requires homeschooled students to obtain a GED before they will be accepted.
Please feel free to email me, Michelle, at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. You can also leave a comment on this post. We want your high school homeschool years to be successful and would love to help. We also invite you to visit our Homeschool Helps page for lots of inspiration and solutions to problems that many homeschoolers face.
High School Curriculum
Layers of Learning is a complete curriculum for high schoolers. We use a great books and living books approach rather than a text book approach. The history and geography are thorough and in depth. Science includes links to video lectures, outside reading, and high school level experiments that you can do at home. The arts integrates poetry, literature, art principles, art appreciation, and music into one complete course.
Take a look at our curriculum guide to see if it might be for you.
I hope that some of the things we've talked about were helpful. If you have other things you'd like to bounce off another human being, send me a message. I really am on the other end of this comment form.