by Rebecca Kocsis

A question we have heard frequently in the last couple of months, especially from new homeschooling parents is how to assign grades as a homeschool parent teacher. It’s a great question since we are so accustomed to a certain system that indicates how well our students are performing.

As a private home educator, know that you are not required to give grades during elementary school (high school is a bit different since you are creating a transcript that could be used for college admissions). The purpose of tests, grades, and report cards from a traditional classroom teacher is to communicate to a parent who is not working directly with the student academically on a day-to-day basis. It lets the parent know what the child is learning and how well they are mastering the subject matter.

However, in a homeschool environment, most parent teachers work so closely with their elementary age students that they know exactly how they are doing, so they do not need to give tests nor prepare grades for report cards. Once in high school, the method by which you arrive at a grade does not require testing either. However, though it’s not necessary to use tests in order to compile grades, it is necessary to have some type of criteria to follow. This is called subjective grading. Let’s take a look at a few options if you do want to give grades but want to do so without using tests as the basis for those grades.

The following are suggested guidelines for arriving at grades when not using tests.

If their work impresses you, they get an A
If you are pleased…                                       B
If satisfied…                                                      C
If disappointed…                                            D
If downright disgusted…                              F

When deciding upon a grade, keep in mind the goals and objectives you had at the beginning of the grading period and how close to meeting those goals your student came.

[Special Note: If this is your first year homeschooling, your goals at the beginning of the year may not have been realistic since you had no (or little) way of knowing what to expect from your child. If you find this to be true, please disregard the above statement.]

The student’s attitude and timely completion of work definitely should have an affect on the grade. Neatness also counts!

Naturally, as home educators there’s no need to settle for an unsatisfactory grade. I highly suggest you and your students take the time needed to arrive at a good level of mastery.

For elementary students, it’s not necessary to assign a letter grade unless you want to. The following grading key is sufficient:

S = Satisfactory Work, N = Needs Improvement, U = Unsatisfactory Work

A word of caution though, about S’s, N’s and U’s. It could be tempting to quickly assign these because it’s easier than thoughtfully evaluating your child’s progress. Show your children you care about their progress by giving them a careful and honest evaluation. You can provide additional feedback using a progress report of sorts–mentioning the ways in which they have done well in addition to areas they need continued work..

Another grading key you might consider for your elementary students is the WISE key. It is a little more specific than the SNU key. In any given subject:

If they have a weakness, assign a…      W
If they are improving, assign an…          I
If they exhibit strength, assign an…      S
If they excel, assign an…                           E

As a general rule, we don’t work as closely with our older students as we do with our elementary students; and for good reason. By this time they have (or should have) the skills necessary to work on their own. Also, they are covering so much academic ground that most parent teachers simply don’t have time to do everything their students are doing. Thus, when students reach junior and senior high age, tests are very useful, and in most subjects, necessary.

However, this is not to say there is no place for subjective grading. Quite the contrary. The older your student gets, the more important it is he or she is able to interpret the course material, rather than simply memorize the specifics of the material. The older they get the more important it is they learn what some educational specialists call the fourth R – reasoning. (The first three are readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic. Remember?) In order to measure how well they can interpret their material and reason (from a Biblical standpoint, I might add), you will need to assign essays and essay exams. And how do you grade them? Subjectively!

First, let me say it’s not necessary to assign a letter grade to every piece of written work your student does. The exercise of writing is valuable in itself. I use the same scale for subjective grading on my older student’s work that I do on my younger student’s work.

Often students’ writing skills and reasoning skills are not consistent. You may want to assign two grades to an essay; one for the writing and one for the content. You may want to then average the two grades and assign one overall grade. In keeping with homeschool tradition, any paper receiving a writing grade of C or less in my homeschool gets to be rewritten.

When assigning essay exams, be very specific. It’s well worth the time to thoughtfully develop questions and requirements. Have more than one possible answer in mind when you give the assignment. Most likely, your student will interpret the material a little differently than you do. Also, if for example, there are a specific number of points you expect your student to cover in the essay, the grade should reflect how many points are covered and how accurately those points are explained.

When grading writing assignments, keep in mind the specific writing skills that were covered and assign grades according to the competency exhibited in those skills.

For more in-depth coverage on subjective grading, I recommend reading Subjective Testing and Grading, written by Ronald A. Horton, published by Bob Jones University Press. Everyone teaching Junior or Senior High students will benefit from this book.