Total Language Plus is an innovative language arts curriculum focused on critical thinking and communication skills.

Grading Homeschool High School

So, you’ve bitten the bullet and decided not to end your homeschooling journey after junior high.  You are entering the high school years and some of the things you embraced about homeschooling are being challenged, such as not giving grades.  High school is a different animal, but not necessarily a scary monster.  You should write course descriptions and keep accurate records.  And, yes, you should give letter grades.  A transcript doesn’t carry much meaning to prospective universities if it doesn’t have grades.

Relax.  First of all, know that each school district sets its own policies regarding grades.  Sometimes principals set the grading policy for their schools; some schools allow teachers to set their own grading standard.  Some teachers break down grades into the A- and B+ levels; others use a simpler 90% and above is an A; 80% and above is a B, etc.

 What does this flexibility mean for you?  Choice.  You decide how much effort you want to put into giving grades and how specific you wish those grades to be.  There are pros and cons to both, but you are not bound to follow someone else’s standard.  Decide what will work best for your homeschool and carry it through all four years of high school.  Make your decision and stick with it.

 Do not, however, succumb to the temptation to pad your child’s grades.  Determine what he must do for each subject to earn an “A” and do not give him a grade he has not earned.  Teach him that college professors will not care how much effort he put into his project or how late he stayed up studying for the final.  The professors will have grading standards and will stick to them.  You are doing your child no favors if you grant a higher grade than he has earned.

 Nor are you being fair if you are such a perfectionist that the smallest error results in harsh consequences.  Set a standard that is fair and enforceable.

 For example let’s look at a high school study for Total Language Plus.  When you write your course description, include your grading plan.  You might say that grades will be given based on accuracy, neatness and timeliness.  Daily work (vocabulary, spelling and grammar worksheets) will be awarded points for being completed neatly and on time.  The accumulated points will contribute to 20% of the grade.  30% of the grade will come from scores on spelling and vocabulary tests.  Essays will make up 50% of the grade.

 Now, make it clear what your student must do to earn the grade he wants.  One straightforward method uses this standard:

90% and above = A     80 – 89% = B     70 – 79% = C     60 – 69% = D

 A more complex grading system usually follows this break down:

97% and above = A 

94 – 96% = A-

91 – 93% = B+

87 – 90% = B

84 – 86% = B-

81 – 83% = C+

76 – 80% = C

73 – 75% = C-

 In my next blog, I will discuss grading high school essays.

Barbara Tifft Blakey

Giving Grades for Elementary Level Part 3

In previous blogs, we discussed potential difficulties with giving grades for elementary level work.  We provided grading options.  Today we will look at two more drawbacks to evaluating students’ work by awarding letter grades.

Most children are lazy when it comes to school work.  They want to expend the least amount of effort possible to get through those pesky worksheets so that they can get on to what is more important to them, namely playing.  They like letter grades, not because the grades reward them for their efforts, but because it signals completion of a task.  For example, it takes minimal effort to memorize a list of spelling words for Friday’s test.  The test is dictated, the words spelled, the grade given – and the words promptly forgotten. If getting an “A” or “B” on the spelling test is the goal, then there is no motivation to master those words.  The child is happy because he received a respectable grade, even though actual learning may not have happened.  It is easier to memorize for the grade than to learn for life.  

Some children (mostly girls) love filling in worksheets.  It is busy work that provides a sense of accomplishment.  “See how many pages I did today.”  Completing pages does not guarantee learning. 

In these instances, the grade encourages satisfaction with busy work and minimal effort.  It also allows the child to do less than his or her best.

Mastering skills takes time.  It takes effort.  Getting a grade often signals to a child that it is time to move on to the next topic whether or not true learning has occurred.  This is not to say that children don’t want to learn.  They love to learn – about things relevant to them.  Delight-directed learning is another topic entirely, and one we won’t cover at this time, except to say that there are skills and information that a child will eagerly embrace, whether a grade is involved or not.  Conversely there are those topics that a child approaches, hoping to get through as quickly as possible, and receiving a grade signals no more effort has to be expended.

 Next week we will discuss grading high school level work and awarding high school credits.

Grading Elementary Level Students Part 2

Grading Elementary Level Work Part 2

In the previous blog, we began looking at how to grade, or evaluate, the work of elementary level students. The idea was put forth that giving letter grades is counter-productive to mastery learning and an obstacle to instilling a love of learning.

To illustrate this point further, consider a cook preparing a special meal.  She plans the menu and searches for just the right recipes.  She purchases the freshest ingredients, then makes each dish with care.  She sets the table with her finest china, and serves the food in her best dishes.  As the meal is being consumed, what does the cook crave to hear? 

            “This meat is the most tender I’ve ever eaten.”

            “How did you get these potatoes to be so fluffy?”

            “May I have more asparagus?”

Her sense of accomplishment will not be satisfied if the diners eat what is on their plates, then scoot back and say, “We give this meal a B+.”  A “B+” is a respectable grade, but by itself it is worthless.  On the other hand, an honest evaluation is priceless and gives the cook specific direction as to what worked and what didn’t.  (The meat was tender, the potatoes fluffy, but the pie crust was too dry.)

It isn’t the B+ that will motivate our chef to improve her cooking skills; it is the combination of praise for what was done well, and suggestions on how to do better that will spur her to prepare another special meal.  The cook will not care about the next meal if this one doesn’t have a moment of glory.

So what is the alternative to giving a letter grade?  You already know.

As a home-schooling mom, you are involved in your child’s learning process.  You know whether or not the material has been mastered.  When it has, let your child show off.  Let him have center-stage at the dinner table.  Host a weekly “this is what I learned” night where your children reveal a new math skill, or participate in a spelling bee, or demonstrate a science experiment in front of the family.  Host a quarterly home-school fair where essays and projects are displayed.  Choose words that praise the new skill rather than the grade.  This type of recognition will motivate and reward your student much more than any grade ever will.

Praising your child’s efforts with words of encouragement and respect develops a positive learning environment not possible through a letter grade.  When you, as the teacher, focus on what has been learned, rather than the measure of what has been learned, your children are free to learn fearlessly.

In the next blog, we will explore how letter grades encourage laziness and work against mastery learning.

Home School: Giving Grades



Over and again at conventions, through emails and phone calls homeschooling moms ask about grading their children’s work.  This blog is the first in a series focusing on giving letter grades.  Today we will begin a discussion on grading elementary level work.


Grades are an individual matter.  There is no single, absolute right way to grade students’ performance; therefore, my answers may not work for you.  That being said, as a homeschooling mom and co-op teacher, I’ve had to come up with a “philosophy” of grading that was fair and easy to apply.


Seeking a fair system forced me to consider why grades were important.  For my elementary level students, I realized they weren’t.  It was (and is) important to me to instill a love of learning in my children.  Letter grades are counter-productive to that.  When a grade is given, the focus shifts from “what did I learn?” to “what grade did I get?”


Another difficulty was finding any benefits to grading the learning process.  Walk through this with me:  your student does not know something; he takes steps to learn it; after the steps are completed, he knows the new information or skill.  What part of that process is improved by grading it?  The goal is to learn something.  Tools are provided to facilitate the learning. The “reward” is the mastering of the new skill or knowledge.  Should a child be penalized because he learns at a slow rate?  Should he be rewarded because he catches on quickly?  The way in which a child learns is important to me as his teacher because I want to provide tools useful to him, but how does grading his use of the tools assist actual learning?


If, after effort is expended to learn something, the final hurrah is the grade, then the real achievement becomes secondary to the all-important grade.  Yet, some want a measuring stick to finalize the process, such as the test at the end of the chapter.  Give the test, if you must, but remember that most of us love to learn, few like to be tested.  Most tests assess the ability of a student to take a test rather than gauge his knowledge.  As soon as the test becomes a focal point, the child will memorize facts to pass it, but real learning is side-lined.  We evaluate whether or not a skill has been mastered or knowledge acquired in order to know when to move on to the next skill, but grading the evaluation is pointless.


In my next blog, I will discuss alternatives to letter grades.