Monday, March 12, 2018

Five Lessons Learned Creating Transcripts

Lessons Learned: Creating my high schoolers' transcripts

Luke was our first graduate, and like all things with a firstborn, he was the test subject that we learned how not to do things with.  I spent a good chunk of his high school time figuring out how to do high school at home in a way that made sense for us but wasn't so crazy that colleges didn't say "Yeah, nice try. Declined." He did get into college, so I guess we did ok.

When I did his transcript, it felt like a monumental effort. It didn't help that I had no experience actually putting it together, but there are things I realized I wished I had known to do before we had gotten to the college process.  Matthew and Celia are now benefitting from all the things I've learned, so I thought I'd share five things I've learned the hard way and hopefully some other first graduates have it a little easier.

1.  Determine your graduation requirements early, and keep them handy.  

Algebra I will likely be a first "high school" level course.  If you've been homeschooling since the beginning, I'd recommend looking at requirements around the time your child is ready for Pre-Algebra - usually around the equivalent to 7th or 8th grade. This gives you time to assess interests and plan courses. Planning ahead has meant a chance to find some great things for the others, rather than just saying "I know you don't like it, but it's what I found and the clock is ticking, just do it!"

Our state does not have homeschool graduation requirements, so when Luke planned to come home,  I looked at both what the public school students are required to take and what several local colleges require.  My thinking was that if he was going to be competing for admission with students from this area, I wanted his program to be reasonably comparable.  I am glad I looked in both places because our state requirement is only one year of foreign language.  Luke's college of choice required a "minimum of two years" but strongly recommended four. That's not something I'd have wanted to find out in the middle of his Senior year!

When it was Luke's turn, I had a binder full of information.  I had a sheet with all of the requirements listed, but I had to keep hunting it down.  It was annoying. I caught on faster with Matthew -- I keep his grades in a spreadsheet that lists completed and current courses, so I wrote the requirements to one side. As Matthew has gone on, he's added "electives" within each subject area, but I've been able to make sure that our base requirements have been met.

keep a list of final course grades and state requirements together to make sure you have the right combination of courses

 Keep a grade sheet.

When I say, "Keep a grade sheet," I mean one master page that has all the courses and grades on it - think like a report card.  When I did Luke's, I had a spreadsheet that had all of his courses, with each class having its own page.  I thought I was organized, making sure I had all his grades in one file.

When it came time to put all those grades on the transcript, it was a lot of flipping around.  It added to the "this is taking forever" aspect of setting up the transcript. For Matthew, I've added the "required courses" in the side of my master grade list.  This way, when I'm updating his grades, I can keep track of what boxes we can check off.  I usually update this page when he needs a report card for karate (the "current grade" in the first column) and when he finishes the course (the 2nd column).  When it's time to do his transcript, I can just print one page and then enter it into the transcript.

3.  To have a balanced (or sort of balanced) education and transcript, keep a running tally of courses taken. 

Yep, another spreadsheet page.  No grades, just lists.  I can see at a glance what kiddo has taken, is working on, and may want to round things out.

a side-by-side list of courses taken and planned helps see areas where a student has greater interest or needs balance

You might think "But if I have a grade sheet, with requirements, why repeat myself with another page?"  You don't have to.  But I found that the course list grew, so did the page, and it was harder to see everything on one screen or page.  This way, it's all in a quick side-by-side comparison.

We aren't exactly linear in completing courses.  Matthew has been working on US History (a two part/two credit course) over three years.  Part of the hold up has been because I felt it was better to pause American History once we got past the Revolutionary War, learn about the US Government, and then go back to history once Matthew understood the framework of the government.  Our Doctor Aviation opportunity was a Crew review, and our membership had a specific ending date, so we paused for that as well.  I'm not stressing.  Since we are homeschoolers, we have four years to complete everything (five if you count in that Matthew started Algebra a year early), so as long as it's all done by next June, it's all good.

Except for English IV, all of Matthew's senior year will be electives that round out his high school experience. He's ticked off all the "must do" boxes.  You can see he definitely has a preference for Math and Science. So far, we've figured out he will be doing Calculus, Forensic Science, and Japanese, bringing him up to four full classes plus any tidying up ends.  He will have to pick one or two more classes, but seeing how math and science heavy his studies have been compared to his arts list, I think I'll encourage him to balance things out a little with something art or music related. He's ticked that box as a requirement, but with the Math and Science he's chosen, I think something unrelated would be better than another heavy course.

4. Decide on your transcript layout.

Do you want to do it by year, or by subject area?  You don't necessarily have to commit to one or the other right away, but it helps if you spend a little time setting up your document in advance.  I had a list of grades for Luke, and when it came time to write his transcript, I "only" had to pull everything together.

Only. Ha!

Ultimately I ended up writing it by subject area, with subjects in alphabetical/numerical order.

we do our transcripts by subject area, with subjects in alphabetical and numerical order

This worked for us because while he had most of his classes under overreaching subjects - Englishes, Maths, etc., it allowed us to do a section called "Electives" rather than trying to figure out where subjects like Art History belonged.  He also didn't necessarily do courses by grade, either. For example, he earned his two business credits over the course of three years.  It just made for a tidier transcript to not have him earn two-thirds of a credit over each of three years, and just award him two full credits on one line.

My thought was,  "It's only three or four courses in each area," but multiply four or five courses by seven disciplines, and suddenly, I had a lot of work to do!  I wish I had at least started the layout and just had to add on each year. What would have taken about half an hour each session to set up and then update each June became a four hours-at-one-time project.  The overall time involved was the same, but it's easier to find half hour chunks than dedicate an entire afternoon.  (And with the master grade list page, it's about ten minutes.)  Even though Matthew's transcript really is just delete-and-retype, it still helps to know I have the basics done and just need to fill in.  He has more sciences than Luke, and less languages, so there's still a little formatting to be done. 
even if you leave blanks while courses are in progress, fill in the transcript as you go rather than having to do it all in one marathon session at graduation time

5.  Go ahead and use letter grades.

At first, my thought was whatever kid earned was his grade, and it seemed a bit of a shell game to award a 92 the same credit as a 98.  However, I joke there is a reason I was an arts major...that reason is math. Trying to calculate a GPA was a literal pain in my rear -- I spent so much time trying to figure out how I was going to weight things that my tush started to hurt from sitting so long! Finally, I gave in and converted to a straight up A/B/C/D scale, no A- or B+.  That meant I could just add up points and divide by credits.  

convert to a A-B-C-D scale to make GPA calculation easier.

Luke needed to re-submit his transcript to his college to be exempted from a lower level math class.  An A in Trig was enough information for them to exempt him, so hey...if it works for them, it works for me.

Have you done a high school transcript yet? What are your tips?

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