Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Grading When There Are No Tests

Grading homeschoolers when there are no objective tests to give

When we started homeschooling, I worried about "proving" that a subject was learned properly.   Coming from a parochial school background, I was stuck in the "You need a grade at the end of the quarter," mindset.  Jude cured me of that pretty quickly, because if I tried to prove how well he had mastered a concept over a given three or so months, I'd be looking like a pretty lousy teacher.  It didn't seem like he learned much in the first few months, at least on paper.   However, there were a number of successes that simply could not be quantified. Most notably, he wasn't petrified of being wrong anymore.  His docs came to the conclusion that some of his behaviors in school were likely self-defense; he knew he couldn't do something, so he'd act out.  He had decided he would rather look like an idiot than look stupid.  We started homeschooling at the beginning of February; by April he was willing to take a guess at something he didn't know well.  I found for him, it is easier not to keep grades.  I will keep track of how he does on a worksheet, or a math lesson, but more so I know the answer to "Do I need to stop and go back because it's still shaky, or can we keep going?"  He doesn't get a "report card."  It works for us, especially because our state doesn't have any requirements on record keeping.

However, it gets a little more complicated for high schoolers.  Colleges like grades and transcripts.  They like knowing if a student knows what he studied, not just that he was exposed to them. Some things are easy to  to give Luke and Matthew actual grades, especially with the programs that we use.  Their math programs evaluate how well they've grasped a concept and gives me a final grade, as does their Spanish.   They are easy subjects for me to evaluate; even if I had to grade them, they have "right" and "wrong" answers.  Sciences are similar -- either you know that H2O is water and gravity wins all the time when you're on earth, or you don't.  Simple enough.  However, what about classes that require less memorizing and more critical thinking? Or classes that really don't lend themselves to scoring easily --  how do you grade a cooking course?  Luke jokes, "I assume if anybody gets food poisoning, that's an automatic F?"  Yep, pretty much, but how can he get an A?

First, there's some easy points:

-Is the assignment completed on time?
-Is it done "right"?  This means proofread and edited if necessary.  (No first drafts.)  If it's written, it better be legible.  If you're cooking, you gave me a list or went grocery shopping yourself so everything is ready to go.
-Did the student do the correct assignment?  There's no excuse for "misunderstanding" the question -- it's not like he has to wait until tomorrow to ask for clarification!

Evaluating writing assignments is fairly easy.  Each boy has a checklist of things I'm looking for in a paper that I use to grade him.We do plenty of writing -- there's no getting around it.  However, often we will have oral discussions of subjects.   I can tell how well the concept was grasped by how well he can explain it.

Oral Discussion Grading Scale

  • Does he know what he's talking about (or not), and/or is he making it up as he goes along? That's an F, maybe a D.  
  • Can he tell me enough basics about an concept that I can tell he's at least skimmed the required reading?  That's a C.  
  • A detailed conversation is in the B range.  I used to mentally lower the grade if Luke pulled out a book or a phone to look something up -- I was stuck in the "memorize and regurgitate" of the classroom.  Now, I see it as a sign of checking his accuracy.  After all, I've been known to check my facts before I say something.  (I read body language and demeanor to tell if he's adding to the conversation or trying to bail himself out!)  
  • What earns an A? A fairly detailed grasp of what he's discussing, but also the ability to connect it to another lesson, or even another subject.  I will allow him to look up fine points - for example, the specific words of a quote or a specific yet less obvious date. (It's fine if you have to look up the exact date of Lincoln's inaugurations, but you best know they were in 1861 and 1865.)
At first, many of Luke's grades were in the C or B range.  He wasn't used to oral discussion, but hated writing.  In the last year or so, however, he's managed to earn himself a steady stream of As. Some has come with maturity, and some has come from seeing that he could have had an A if he had just paid a little more attention to detail.    In addition to his oral discussion grades going up, his writing skills are getting better, because he's becoming more comfortable understanding how much "discussion" constitutes a good answer, before sitting down to write.   I know he will have to do more writing in college -- in most classes, there's really no way for a professor to do oral discussions to gauge how much a student has learned.  However, he has gotten much better at organizing his writing because he's learning to organize his thoughts before responding -- or typing.

 As for cooking, I score that based on how he does in the kitchen (mis en place, knife skills, good technique) and how well he follows the recipe/idea of the dish.   Of course, if it gets "Make this again!" reviews, it's almost automatically an A! 

Do you do grades in your homeschool?

Posts in this series:

My Secret for Stress-Free Planning
Tip for Choosing the Right Homeschool Curriculum
Grading When There Are No Tests 
Field Trips: Learning Through Experiencing
Click the image to see a list of all 55 bloggers participating in the Hop. See how they plan for the Back-to-Homeschool season.


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