I love homeschooling and its incredible academic benefits. On the other hand, I do not love marking, and the niggling doubts that it brings to my mind. Fortunately, where we live grades are not required, and therefore my younger children never receive them. (They do get happy faces for perfect pages, though.)
On the other hand, our older children get graded, both on tests and on projects.
Our main goal with grading is to ensure that the children master the material. Often tests show areas of weakness that need to be relearned before a student goes on. In our family, any grade below 80% means an automatic repeat of all the work that was required for that chapter or lesson. I’ve only had to enforce this once, and it was so very difficult to do this to my child! The children have to struggle to master the material, ‘t is true, but I have to struggle to be consistent and firm. I persevered, however, and our children now delight in teasing me that anything below 80% constitutes failure. (Sigh!) Of course, it’s important to ensure that this 80% goal is realistic for each individual child.
When our children head into grade 7, they begin rigorous science and grammar, as well as formal French. These courses come with tests. As the children get older, they get tested more and more. We treat our math program’s assessments as formal tests, and test our way through a world history survey course. We also give marks for projects, mostly in the upper levels of high school. On the whole, we use these grades to focus on learning rather than evaluation.
Of course, the other main purpose of grades and testing is to measure a student’s achievements by objective standards. Evaluation does have its place. We don’t really concentrate on that until we absolutely have to for university admission, which is in grades 11 and 12. Even then, we don’t rely completely on the marks I assign. Some universities think mothers give higher grades than warranted. At this one young man leaned forward and, fixing the admissions officer with a stern gaze, asked, “And what, exactly, are you saying about my mom?” (Chuckle. He did get in.) So how do we get around that problem?
Well, for Miss 17 we use all the tests that come with our formal curricula. I also make marking rubrics for projects, reports, and essays so that I can confidently stand behind the marks I assign. All of that will give me a well-backed-up set of grades, but I don’t want my children to have to confront admissions officers as that young man did. Therefore we use outside sources, especially math competitions and writing contests, to validate the marks I assign. Miss 17 is also preparing for the SAT. This outside validation is giving me huge peace of mind; we can continue to focus on in-depth learning and I need not worry excessively about grades.
As a final thought, Cathy Duffy mentioned somewhere that she’s noticed that a mom often knows what mark a student deserves even without testing, and that a mom’s off-the-cuff grade is usually identical to the meticulously documented one. Of course, that won’t satisfy admission requirements anywhere, but with a portfolio and some outside documentation, students have been admitted to prestigious institutions of higher learning without any grades at all.
All of which goes to show that, as is usual in homeschooling, a family can choose what works best for them rather than trying to fit into the ‘school’ box. What we’re doing might work for your family. It is more likely, though, that you’ve chosen another way, and that is good, too. We homeschooling parents just need to make sure we’ve thought things through, and that our children are learning what they need to meet their purpose. Then we can turn our backs on the tedious topic of assessment and focus on the joy of learning.
To read how other parents approach the topics of marks, please visit the Blog Cruise.