Filed under “Things That Don’t Make Sense About Me” is this puzzling fact: I worked as a college admissions professional for years and have read thousands of transcripts. I have also instructed many, many homeschooling parents on what to include on a transcript. But as a homeschooling parent myself, record keeping has overwhelmed me, and I have not done a very good job.
When my kids were younger, formal record keeping was not important. But as they moved into middle school and then high school, I continued ignoring this final task—instead piling up papers and assignments in a bureau, filing documents in folders on my laptop, and breaking for the summer with a gnawing sensation that the procrastination would come back to bite me later.
This was the summer I had to deal with my avoidance and get organized for the sake of my up-and-coming college-bound high school junior, and his far more organized younger sister who found my failure to provide grades irritating.
Fortunately, amid the pain of completing the overdue task, I found I had done some things right that made backtracking easier. I also dealt head on with some of the reasons I avoided it in the first place. And I set up systems for the coming years, so it is never again the gargantuan task it was this year.
What I Did Right
While I do not love the rearview mirror work, I’m great at mapping the journey. My laptop has a “Planning Documents” folder with a written plan of the coming year for each child. This is a working document I begin as soon as I have ideas for a subject or receive a curriculum recommendation. Even when a subject ends up looking different at the end of the year, I can look at my plan and have a good idea of what we did. I also always write a year-end summary of the work each child completed that includes areas of strength as well as places for improvement.
Although I was sometimes too busy in the moment to put a formal grade on something, I did (mostly) save tests, quizzes, papers, and projects. While I wish my piles were more organized, I was able to sort through the work my son had done for the last two years and categorize it by course.
Why the Avoidance?
Grading your child is tough. And since few of us are homeschooling more than one child in the same grade at one time, we have no one to evaluate the work against. (Especially for the first kid.)
So, I had in-depth conversations with other homeschooling moms and one private school teacher friend about how to assign grades. My teacher friend gave me the most help. She reminded me that I AM the teacher and I make the rubric, just as she does in her classroom.
She also reminded me that, in contrast to many homeschooled students, traditional high school students are not expected to turn in ALL the homework, and classroom attendance is rarely 100%. Where other schools end on a certain date, my homeschool has always ended when the work is done, the lessons learned, the coursework covered.
That is a standard I loved when I worked with homeschooled students in college admissions. But now that I am the mom, I had to be reminded this exceeds the expectations of most educators, even if it is my norm. Understanding this made a valid place in my rubric for classroom participation, attendance, and homework.
Solutions for Slackers
I do not typically assign letter grades in the elementary years. I save the best work for samples and provide a written synopsis of progress at the end of the year. But my organized, grade-loving middle school girl forced me to grade her papers and tests last year. Quickly. This helped me do the same for my son’s work. While I can’t loan her to you, I can tell you that it is much easier to grade work sooner rather than later. Set aside an hour or two every week for grading. Consider choosing curriculum that provides a good rubric so you don’t waste energy trying to figure out what you should be grading on.
Find a good spreadsheet or grading app that works for you. My favorite is a gradebook by Vertex42 (free with instructions and a demo video). It took a load off my mind to preassign point value for various assignments (and class attendance and participation) and just plug in numbers and see the grade calculate itself.
Give yourself permission to pay for a transcript service. A transcript service will make record keeping easier on you, whether you keep it updated as you move through the high school years, or wait until you need it to assemble a transcript to send off with college applications. Both HSLDA and Fast Transcripts offer affordable options. Whether you design your own transcript or use a service, be sure you know what you should include.
Lastly, learn from homeschooling parents ahead of you on the journey. I am grateful to be friends with a solid group of homeschooling moms who are a little further down the road. They advise and encourage—and occasionally, gently correct—my tendency to procrastinate record keeping.
I still prefer planning and teaching to grading and record keeping. But they aren’t quite the behemoth I let them be, and I’m finally ready for the school year that is on my doorstep.