Record Keeping for Homeschoolers
We’ve been homeschooling since 3rd grade and I feel confident about our academics, structure, and routine, but I live in a state with no real oversight, so I have never really kept records of what we do. My kiddo is already talking about what colleges they want to apply to, and I know I will likely need to keep records, work samples, course descriptions, and transcripts for high school. We also have never done any type of assessments or testing, not by me and not by an outside source. I want to start these types of things for 8th grade in the Fall so we have some time to adjust and have a good system in place before high school. Do you have any tips for how to go from no assessments, no tests, no record keeping to intentionally building in assessments, getting comfortable with test formats like the SAT and ACT, and keeping the types of records we will likely need when applying to colleges?
Homeschooling: 5 years
Child’s Grade: 8th grade
I separated my answer to give you specific information for each part of your question.
1. Going from no assessments to assessments
- The first step is to have a discussion with your child about why you are doing an assessment. Let your child know that assessments can feel critical, but that is not the intended purpose. Studies looking at the benefits of doing assessments show that they lead to real academic and cognitive growth if done correctly, fairly, and robustly.
- Remember: assessments should be done correctly and fairly. Be very clear with yourself and your child about what the assessment is based on and the purpose of it. I understand that part of the purpose is to give your child the experience of being assessed and for you to experience assessing, but that isn’t really the purpose of assessments.
The best assessments are based on current work. To accomplish this, at the start of the school year, review the first assignment in a subject. Decide what skills need to be worked on. This can be a fairly long list. There is no need to share this list with your student. In fact, if the list is long, it can be disheartening. Choose a limited number of skills from the list to be assessed. As your child gains mastery of those skills, you can add the other skills from the list and start assessing them.
The purpose of assessments is to scaffold learning based on where students are. Make sure your child has a clear understanding of what is being assessed. For example, if assessing a lab report, ask yourself what the purpose of the assignment is and what skills your child needs to work on for writing a science lab report. Perhaps you decide to weave nonfiction writing into the assignment. If you do, make sure you have conveyed that information to your student.
- Be sure that the assessment is robust. Decide on a method for assessments. You might decide to do some multiple-choice tests and assignments, but those alone are not considered robust assessments. Robust assessments offer thoughtful feedback that is both encouraging and honest. I always recommend emphasizing actual skills that a student has mastered, along with feedback about the skills and topical areas that need more work.
I recommend looking into a growth mindset approach. I use a mastery approach for assessments. While that does lead to better academic growth for learners, it is not reflective of how most colleges assess work, so you might choose a different approach. Take the time to figure this out now.
Assessing work is a skill you will be working on this year. Be fair with yourself, and let your child know you are new to this, too.
2. Learning to take a test
- Test-taking is a skill. Start by having your child take a couple of tests to see how naturally skilled they are. After they have taken the test, sit down together and look at which questions they are most skilled at answering: multiple-choice or short-answer questions. Then, work with your child to become more proficient in those sections where they need more work, prioritizing the types of questions where they are weakest. In addition, have your child take tests that use different formats: multiple-choice tests, short essay questions, prompted responses, open-book tests, tests with one page of notes, and closed-book tests with no notes permitted.
Tests are usually timed. If your child is slow when they start taking tests, don’t worry about it. Let them have the time they need as they work on the other skills needed for taking tests. Over the course of the year, slowly shorten the allotted time until it is aligned with the recommended time limit.
- Studying for tests is also a skill. Some people use notecards, others write notes, and some make outlines. Work with your child so that they can learn what works best for them.
Eighth grade is not too early to start studying for the ACT or SAT. Start by having your child take a practice test and see where they do best at and which format they prefer. You will probably want to wait until the second semester of the academic year to do this, when they have some experience with tests. Next, purchase some test prep books and slowly have your child work through them. Treat this as if it were one of the classes they are taking. Schedule your time and decide the pace. It is also a good idea to go to the website of the colleges your child thinks they might like to attend and see what test scores they require for admittance.
- Does your child suffer from anxiety? If so, address this with them. Test anxiety is real. For learners with performance anxiety, start by making the tests no pressure. And use a mastery approach for assessing tests, so your student has control over their test score.
3. Record Keeping
- I sometimes see posts where people are talking about making their teens responsible for their own organized record-keeping. Please do not do this! This should be your job. They are just kids and do not have the experience to consistently do an adequate job of record-keeping.
- Record-keeping is easier than you think; you just need to have an organized approach. The records you create are important tools when assessing work. I recommend saving one work sample a month, at a minimum. You will then be able to compare those samples over time to help monitor and assess the growth of skills.
If you are not very organized or you are worried you will fail, purchase a grading program. This is what I did. Make sure you use one that is easy to use and includes the feature of compiling records and assessments from each grade to put together in the transcript.
- For every class, write a syllabus and course description. These are not complicated. The course description for most curricula can be found on the publisher’s website. The syllabus can be taken directly from the schedule as laid out in the course. If you outsource any classes, contact the teacher and ask them to provide a course description, syllabus, and assessments if they are not already provided as part of the class.
Feel Free to Reach Out Again if You Need More Help with This, Blair!
Do you have a question for the fan-favorite column “Ask Blair” found in The SEA Homeschoolers Magazine? Please use this form to submit your homeschooling questions. The SEA team will select a few questions to be answered by SEA Homeschoolers Founder & Magazine Editor, Blair Lee, in each quarterly issue. Due to space, not all questions will be published in the magazine. Those that come in shortly after a magazine issue has been published will go on this page. These are important questions and we want to answer them for you in a timely way. Please be sure to include all pertinent information relevant to your question – examples: learner ages, grade levels, preferred resource format, topics of interest, preferred homeschool methodologies, state requirements you’re trying to meet, learning challenges, etc.
Submit your homeschooling question through this link.