Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due - deciding how to award high school credit for non-traditional coursework - on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Over the past several weeks I've had a number of conversations with moms who are finishing up their first year of homeschooling a high schooler, or will be starting on that adventure in the coming year. Seems like a common discussion topic is determining how many high school credits a course is worth. Believe me, I'm not an expert - and I haven't even stayed at a Holiday Inn recently! - but I've somehow managed to get two boys (so far) through high school at home, using some non-traditional coursework; and I've seen a lot of different kinds of curriculum over the years. So for what it's worth, here are a few ideas and guidelines that I've picked up over the years about high school credits for homeschoolers. (You might want to grab another cup of coffee, because I wrote more than I expected!)

If you're using a 'standard' textbook from one of the big name publishers of homeschool curriculum, it's obvious that finishing the work in the text earns a credit. But what if you choose something less well-known? For example, we did a course in Classical Astronomy this past year. It consisted of a book - essentially the textbook - called Signs and Seasons - and an accompanying field journal. Determining the credit value and how to grade this course might not seem quite as obvious but the information is in there. In the Introduction there is a paragraph that says this:
... a special section of field activities is provided for conducting extensive field observations and creating and maintaining a field journal. . . High school students can compile the field journal to obtain high school credit.
And the Instructions in the separate Field Journal and Test Manual state that the activities it contains are 'intended to assist high school homeschoolers in recording work hours of "lab" coursework that will establish high school credit for transcript records.' The author and publisher have let you know that their intention is that the coursework would be worth one high school credit for science.
Sunrise observations for the field journal
Usually, if the intention of the author or publisher is to provide coursework for homeschoolers, they will state somewhere in the introduction or "how to use this resource" information a description of the grade level and credit value of their material. Instead of stating that completion of the course would constitute one credit or a half credit for high school, it may say something about whether the coursework would be completed in one semester or a full year. Generally, a one-semester course is a half-credit and a full-year course is one credit.

What if you don't do absolutely everything in the textbook? What if you modify or substitute some of the material? What if you combine resources? A lot of homeschoolers get used to doing all of the above during the lower grades and then may wonder how to award credits if they continue this way during the high school grades.

Generally speaking, if you leave out a couple of activities or assignments along the way, or decide not to do every quiz, that's fine and it will still be worth the credit. If you've only done about half of the material, then it really isn't. Perhaps the material is something your student struggled with and couldn't finish in the schoolyear, or perhaps there were other circumstances that interrupted the study. Or, perhaps the curriculum was a poor fit for your homeschool and you decided to drop it. At this point, there are a couple of options you could consider. If your intention is to complete the course in the next school year, you may want to wait and award the full credit for the course in the second year. This tends to make the transcript look a little more coherent, rather than half credits for the same course title. (I didn't think about this during my oldest student's high school years, and I have to say his transcript looked a little odd. It didn't cause any harm though.) If it's a course you do not intend to finish, you may be able to award a partial credit for the portion that was completed. My oldest son worked through half of Saxon Algebra 2 and earned a decent grade, but he hated it. Without that course, he still had enough credits for graduation, and enough required math credits, so we decided that he did not have to finish the course, and he would receive a half credit for what he had done.

When my students did Exploring America and Exploring World History from Notgrass, I did not assign all of the novels required for the Literature credit. I awarded a half credit in Literature for each of those courses, because they read at least half of the suggested novels and did complete all the other required reading, and the related quizzes and assignments.
Most times we don't just leave out big sections of a course without substituting related activities. And often we adjust the assignments to customize the coursework for our homeschool. For those situations, decide whether the substituted work or adjustments is generally comparable to what you left out, and if so, the course is still worth the same amount of credit. This past year my students did not complete every activity in the Field Journal for Signs and Seasons, but they did related coursework using Supercharged Science and other resources, which I considered comparable, so they earned the credit.
Combining resources and creating our own coursework can be a bit more challenging for determining credit. Comparing the scope of your customized course to a similar standard text and keeping a log of the hours spent can help. For example, if you put together a series of unit studies and resources focusing on WWI, WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and other more recent major world conflicts, that could well constitute a full credit in a history course you might call "World Conflicts in the Modern Era" or something along that line. Doing a course this way means you will need to use your best judgement and discretion as to whether the student completed a study at a high school difficulty level, and spent a sufficient amount of time in the study to earn a credit. Keeping a log of hours spent in a study of that kind will be valuable, and writing a course description will be very helpful. A course description simply states the scope of what the student will study and what they should have learned or be able to do upon completion of the course. If it's your first time doing a freeform study like that, find an experienced homeschooler or educator to give you a second opinion and advice about writing a course description and how to evaluate the coursework.

For credits in subjects such as music or Phys.Ed. or trade skills, that log of hours spent is your best resource for awarding credit. Have your student keep track of the time they spend practicing the violin and at violin lessons and their co-op orchestra, and they can earn a Music credit. A teen that plays an organized team sport and runs regularly can be earning Phys.Ed. credit. Doing the work of raising animals to show at fairs, direct involvement in running a family business or farm, doing hands-on learning in anything like auto repair or computer programming or fashion design or any number of trade or artisan skills may be worth including on a high school transcript. But keep that log of hours spent! And give it a good course title (raising animals for 4H would probably be better named "Animal Husbandry" than "Taking Care of Farm Animals" LOL) and write a course description.

Like I said at the beginning of this "tutorial", I'm not an expert. I have managed somehow to graduate a couple of boys from our homeschool, and I have seen a lot of different approaches and types of curriculum and have done my own homework by reading and researching and taking notes at homeschool conventions, and the above is just a summary of some of that. States and umbrella groups have different requirements and guidelines for high school graduation and transcripts, and every homeschooler should find out what rules apply to them. You will also want to find out what the colleges your student may be considering will require or want to see on the transcript. What may seem like a daunting task certainly doesn't have to be. Don't let it scare you away from homeschooling through high school. It is being done, and done well, by so many families that some colleges are actively recruiting homeschool students, and homeschool graduates are finding success in all kinds of careers and are valued members of their communities and churches.

Do you have tried and true advice for homeschoolers wondering about how to award high school credit? Or a related question? Please add to the comments and share your valuable experience. 

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Leah Courtney said...

I really appreciate this post! We are starting high school this year and making sure I "count" things right is a big concern of mine. I love to see how others do it.

Sharon said...

I have a daughter who is beginning the high school years and I am a bit nervous. I enjoy reading about those who have gone before me and gathering wisdom and ideas.

Kym Thorpe said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. I wish I'd known when I started with the high school years that it wasn't nearly as scary or as different as I'd feared. The big change for us was just in keeping more detailed records.

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