Grades...In High School

How do I give grades in high school?

This is one of the most common high school questions I'm asked. 

Often the question is asked with a perplexed, overwhelmed facial expression and clinched teeth.

Rest easy! Grades don't need to cause stress.

The high school years can bring out fears we didn't know we had. Like grades. Parents versed in grade giving in the elementary and middle school years stop suddenly, wondering if there is something different they need to do. Others, parents who have never given grades, panic wondering if there is some secret to this "language". 

Grading traditional objective work. I term traditional objective work as math problems or a chapter review in history. It is an answer-the-question, get-the-answer right-or-wrong, type of assignment. These assignments are objective, either right or wrong. There is no room for opinion or comparison to a group.

Grading traditional subjective work. These are assignments like essays, where opinion may play a role in the grade given. These grades can be a bit more difficult to assign. For these types of assignments, I prefer to use a rubric--a chart which states specifically how the assignment will be graded, what will be expected, and what point value will be assigned to each part of the assignment. Rubrics have been valuable to our family for traditional subjective work. The one I used when teaching a high school English course is available here for free download. 

Grading non-traditional course work. There have been some courses along the journey with four high school learners for which there were no right or wrong answers, no percentages, and no rubrics. Some parents may call this a pass-fail course. Other parents call it a completion course. 

When our son built an 8 foot x 12 foot shed (insert miniature house with plans he drew and had certified by an architect) as part of his Eagle Scout project, the final grade was determined by whether or not he received a certificate of occupancy from the city. In addition, we considered his character and work ethic proven by his communication with sub-contractors, leadership of older scouts, and his ability to progress through the project, meeting permitting deadlines toward his grade. As the parents conferring the credit and grade for this course, we felt his work definitely warranted an A, which was reflected on his transcript for the course Introduction to Building Construction. 

We've had other courses which were completed and best described by an adjective. These courses were again subjective, based on conversation or other non-definitive evaluative methods. Our students knew the adjective grading scale, hence knew what was expecting in terms of work ethic, attitude, or performance. Having such an adjective scale also allowed me to not only have a measurement tool in my mind (and in my student's minds) but also to be able to explain the grading for such courses to college personnel or employers, should they inquire. Courses we've graded in this manner included Music Theory and Performance, Care and Concern for the Elderly, and Art Appreciation. There were no tests or objective grades in these courses, no written papers. There were however, performances and lessons, conversations with elderly residents and medical professionals, visits to unique art exhibits or museums, and attendance at music competitions and professional dress rehearsals. Conversations and dialogue followed, critiquing performances, comparing and contrasting venues as well as art pieces. In addition, video texts and tutorials were utilized. Our adjective scale, which is published in my book Celebrate High School is:

A - Exceptional, Excellent, Extraordinary, Superior

B- Commendable, Praiseworthy, Above Average, Credible

C- Adequate, Average, Usual, Ordinary

D- Minimal, Fair, Insufficient, Lacking

Grades in high school don't have to cause undo stress. 

Even after fifteen years of research and twelve years of actively educating high schoolers, I remind myself grades are what educators and professionals know. They are a necessity along the high school journey. What college administrators and employers don't know is the academic abilities of my student or the caliber of study he or she has completed. Grades are a standardized means by which to express our student's accomplishments, especially the non-traditional--and often most valuable--experiences our learners have had the opportunity in which to partake.

As parent educators, therefore high school guidance counselors, we must find and use the grading means by which the student and the accomplishments can be accurately represented. And in doing so, with the encouragement of one another, we can provide grades for our high school learners. 

WE can do this!


This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children.