How Do Homeschoolers Give Grades?

Grades have three main functions. They serve as a communication tool, ranking system and are an extrinsic motivating device. Grading homeschooled students is optional. Here are some reasons to grade and not to grade.

One of the main purposes of grades are to communicate how well a child is doing in school. When the teacher and parent are different people, grades are a valuable communication device. When the parent and the teacher are the same person, the communication provided by grades is only between the parent and student. Parents have a variety of options from which to offer feedback to their children. Instead of giving feedback with grades, some homeschool parents will tell their child they did a good job or need to redo an assignment. For example, if a child gets one problem wrong out of ten on a math assignment, parents will review the incorrect problem and move on. If however, the child gets seven problems wrong out of ten on a math assignment, the parent would redo the entire lesson until the percentage correct is within an acceptable range thereby ensuring understanding. With an exchange like this the child gains knowledge through feedback making the grading process irrelevant.

When a parent teaches with knowledge and understand as the main goal, they begin to work through material at a pace appropriate for the child. Instead of working through each assignment and giving a grade, assignments begin to be covered faster, more in depth or at a slower pace according to the needs of the child. As parents become less concerned with grade level curriculum and ranking their child they become more interested in challenging their child at their level. Requiring a child to work through an assignment below or above his capability is a much less effective way to learn than teaching the child his level. When children are challenged based on their ability and interests they commonly cover some subjects in much more depth than their public school counterparts, and stay relatively on pace with their counterparts in subjects which interest them less. Parents who do not grade don't worry about how their children compare with their public school counterparts and teach their children for knowledge and understanding. Ironically, this lack of concern with rank and status is one of the main reasons homeschool children have consistently outperformed public school children on standardized tests.

Some parents give grades because they want to send their children to public school in the future. Again, grades serve as a communication tool, but this time from the homeschooling parent to the school. While providing consistent grades during the homeschooling process can facilitate creating a transcript to communicate grades to the public school system, grades can also be given by the parent to the school in the form of a transcript when they are ready to register the child for public school. Each public school and state has their own requirements for admitting homeschooling students, so check with your district and HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Administration) if you need additional information regarding entering public school.

Grades can also serve as an extrinsic motivator. By definition, extrinsic motivation involves doing something for an external reward or to avoid a punishment. Intrinsic motivation involves doing something because it is personally rewarding to you. Many public school students study to earn good grades as opposed to studying to learn interesting material. There are homeschooling families who are at both extremes in this regard, but most are somewhere in the middle. Homeschooling families who believe exclusively in intrinsic rewards tend to teach with the unschooling philosophy of education. They expose their children to a wide variety of learning opportunities and encourage their children when they display interest, but don't require studying of particular subjects. Those falling to the other extreme tend to teach with a traditional method of education. They follow a public school like curriculum which includes tests and question/answer homework assignments which can be easily graded. Some parents tack on additional extrinsic motivators such as dollars, clothes, dinners out, or entertainment items for achieving good grades.

The vast majority of homeschooling families fall between these two extremes. Homeschoolers in the middle will have certain expectations such as reading, writing and math assignments. They loosely follow a curriculum, or pick and choose curriculum for certain subjects trying to match the curriculum to the child's interests and learning style. They will also include exposure and encouragement of non-traditional learning opportunities striving to develop a love of reading in their children and encouraging them to increase knowledge and improve skills through hobbies and interests. While children can develop a love for learning and thrive either with or without being graded, these are the primary reasons parents give or do not give grades. 

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