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To Grade or Not to Grade: Should You Give Grades in Your Homeschool?

To grade or not to grade: It's a discussion- and sometimes even a debate- among homeschoolers. For some homeschool parents, grading is a must, an evidence that material has been learned, a goal given to kids to encourage them to do their best. For others, grading is a necessary evil because of requirements for homeschooling in their state or because of high school transcripts. And then there are some homeschoolers who are very opposed to grading for any reason and who avoid it when at all possible.

If you're struggling with the idea of giving grades in your homeschool or if you're a brand new homeschooler and trying to figure out how this whole traditional grading system ties into homeschool learning, here are some things to consider. Think through these things to determine whether or not to give grades in your homeschool. At the end of the post, I'll share with you what I, personally, do in our homeschool and why.

Grading in your homeschool
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What are your legal obligations?

Does your state/country/territory require you to give traditional grades? Different areas have different requirements when it comes to grading. If you live in the United States, you can find your state's requirements on the HSLDA website here.

My state- South Carolina- doesn't require traditional grading but does require a "record of progress." If your state or local area requires grades...you'll probably have to give traditional grades.

What are the ages of your children?

If you aren't required to give traditional grades and you're still considering it, the next consideration is that age of your children. For younger children- kindergarten and primary grades especially- grades don't really mean anything. Even if you plan to use traditional grading, it usually isn't necessary in the younger grades. And giving grades to young kids who don't really understand them could cause unnecessary stress.

Does the curricula you use have traditional tests and quizzes?

If you're using a traditional textbook-based curriculum, there will probably be tests included. If you're using the complete curriculum, including the tests, this will make it easy to give grades.

If you choose to use a different style of curriculum, one that doesn't included graded tests or projects, it isn't really necessary to make up grades to go along with it.

What does that number or letter grade that you give really mean?

This is a really important question. 

When I taught in traditional school, I gave tests at the end of each chapter/unit/lesson. These tests showed me what the kids had retained or not from what we had been learning. Unfortunately, in a class full of kids, if one child had a low test score, all I could really do was record the score and move on. I could try to take some time to go back over that information with that child, but I couldn't take much time because I had twenty other students waiting to move on to the next chapter. Knowing that that child didn't know the material didn't really do any good. It resulted in a bad grade in the grade book. But that was all.

When we finish a unit/section/lesson in our homeschool, I can find out if the kids are retaining the information in other ways- not just by using a test, but if the curriculum calls for it, they can take a test. In our homeschool, if the kids haven't grasped a concept, I don't record a bad grade in the grade book and move on. I go back over what they're not understanding. I reteach the math lesson. I reread the history chapter.

The grade, in an of itself, doesn't mean anything. Whether I record the bad grade or go over it with the kids and retest and give a different grade, what matters is that I make sure that the kids grasp the concept before we move on. What good does it do to record a grade and move on if the child doesn't understand the material? The grade is only useful if it serves as a measure of whether or not the child has mastered the topic and if I'm going to use that grade to guide what I do next. Do I move on or do I cover the material again?

How can you measure progress if you don't give traditional grades?

So how do you measure progress if you don't want to give traditional grades? Here are a few ways.

  • Projects- Have the child complete a project that demonstrates their knowledge of the material covered. After one history lesson, my oldest daughter created a puppet show that reenacted what we'd been learning about. She wrote a script and acted it out with puppets. It was obvious that she understood the material because she could reenact it.
  • Lapbooks- Lapbooks are a hands-on way that kids can demonstrate mastery of a subject. I could write a whole post describing lapbooking (If you want to know more about it, this video is a great explanation.), but the short and sweet description of a lapbook is that it is an educational scrapbook. As you're learning about the subject, kids are writing information in mini books that they arrange creatively into a file folder display. Lapbooks can demonstrate mastery of a subject as kids have to recall information to put in the mini books.
  • Discussions- Some kids don't test well with a pen and paper, short answer, multiple choice, true/false, or essay style test in front of them. They freeze up, and even though they understand the material, they can't recall or record it. But these same kids can explain the material to you thoroughly. Having good discussions about the topics you've just covered is an excellent way that you can have kids demonstrate mastery. Don't just ask yes or no questions about the material. Ask some deep questions that require kids to recall what you've been learning and to explain it in their own words.
  • Observation- As a classroom teacher with twenty or so kids in my class, there was no way that I could personally observe every student working on a regular basis. I just couldn't do it. With my kids at home, I can do it. I can watch them work math problems. If they're working a whole section of math problems correctly, I know they've grasped the concept and can move on. I don't really need a test to tell me that. If we're reading a literature book and they've been able to narrate passages and answer questions and give me a summary of what's been happening, I know that they've been listening and understanding. I don't need a comprehension test to tell me that. I can observe them and see for myself.
Grading in your homeschool

How we handle the grading question...

I don't give grades in elementary and middle school. It isn't required in our state, and I, personally don't like traditional tests and grades. There are a few curricula we've used that have tests. My younger girls are currently using Math-u-See, which has a test after each lesson. I grade these tests. If the girls miss anything on the test, I talk to them about what they missed and why and make sure they understand. I write a grade on the top of the paper- because they like me to- but I don't record grades in a grade book.

Because I am required to keep a record of progress, the kids keep a notebook. In this notebook we place all kinds of samples of work- written paragraphs, facts about a person we discussed in history, vocabulary words we've learned, copywork they've completed. This notebook- a very large binder- is divided into subjects and holds a great visual record of what the kids have learned. 

I also take time at the end of each semester to record my own notes about the kids' progress. I write down some information about concepts we've covered, and I note any concept that one of the kids had difficulty with. I may note that we've worked on the concept, and it's now understood. Or I may note that we're still working on it. These records can help me when I look back to see what each child has accomplished. They also help me comply with the legal requirement that I keep a record of progress...without giving traditional grades.

Beginning in ninth grade, I keep a record of traditional grades. At this point, I begin keeping a transcript for my kids. So far...and each child is different...we've decided to keep the transcript and grades so that the kids are prepared for a diploma according to the requirements of our state. Because we're recording classes on a transcript, I'm required to give grades.

I've chosen high school curricula that will make it easy to give grades. The curricula we use has tests and assignments that make it easy to check the material and give a number/letter grade. I average these grades at the semester and at the end of the year. After our school year is complete, I submit these grades to our legal umbrella organization. That organization keeps an official copy of each transcript. If the kids apply to college, we can have an official transcript sent.


I know other homeschoolers who do not choose to keep a transcript. Sometimes they know their kids aren't choosing to head to college. Some choose not to go the diploma route but to have kids take the GED and get a certificate. I think this is absolutely fine.

The decision about giving grades or not giving grades is one of those things that make it truly wonderful that homeschooling is so flexible. You can consider the things above and decide whether giving traditional grades is right for your homeschooling or not.


Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling


Hip Homeschool Moms


Hip Homeschool Moms


2 comments:

  1. I agree! I don't give grades until 8th or 9th grade either. I found that, since I continue having my children work on a particular topic or skill until they are proficient at it, grades aren't even helpful. In fact, once quite a few years ago, my son (who is now 20 years old) asked me, "Mom, why can't you just give me an "F" and be done with this subject like they do in public school?!" Haha!! I don't think he appreciated my approach! ;) Thanks so much for linking up with us at Hip Homeschool Moms! This post will be one of our featured favorites in tomorrow's Hop post.

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    1. Thank you for featuring me. And I agree. We use lots of the unit study approach in the younger grades, and that's just no conducive for coming up with letter/number grades. They wouldn't really mean anything. We just stay on the topic until we have fully covered it. :-)

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