Course Codes: To Code or Not to Code

A homeschooling mom recently asked, "I am a homeschooling parent writing the transcript for my soon-to-be high school senior. Should I use course codes on my transcript?"

Ask a question, get several plausible answers.

The answers given will depend on the perspective and experiences of the people polled. Has the person answering the question worked in a college admissions department? Did the person home educate their children and personally file applications with universities? Is the person living in your state and familiar with the state statutes regarding home education? There are many factors to consider when interpreting answers to this question.

AND, like many other home education topics, it might be best to set a few hours aside for personal research and phone calls to find out the answer. 

When I initially faced the course code dilemma--sitting at the computer creating the transcript of our first graduate--I researched, made calls. I had been given definite opinions, definite experiences. However, there were no definitive answers. Somewhat frustrated, I realized this answer likely rested in the beauty of home education in our state. It was part of that "with freedom comes responsibility" cliche.

My trail of research commenced. 

In our state, parents are considered the overseers of their children's education. In addition, our state doesn't issue diplomas to home education graduates. 

The National Center for Education Statistics prepared a paper entitled Secondary School Course Classification System: School Codes for the Exchange of Data (SCED) released June 2007. In that document the Center states, "The primary purpose of the SCED system is to make it easier for school districts and states to maintain longitudinal student records electronically, and to transmit coursetaking information from one student information system to another, from one school district to another, and from a school district to a state department of education." In doing so there is provision for

"comparison of course offerings among districts and states; ƒuse of electronic student transcripts;  longitudinal student information systems; ƒ interoperability of student information and other data management systems by providing a standard for education software designers and vendors; reduc(ing) the cost and burden of transcript studies; and ƒthe use of coursetaking information in research and evaluation of student outcomes."

In other words, this system is helpful if a student transfers from one school to another whether in the district of the state. The code points the interpreter to the state course codes directory and subsequent course synopsis or description for the purpose of determining course equivalency. Guidance counselors at the receiving school can then decide if the courses completed and validated on the transcript are "acceptably similar" to the receiving school. In addition, this process can aid school personnel in student placement. Courses are coded as to subject area, level and identifier. 

My first note to self: As an independent home educator who is overseeing the education of my children,  it is possible for our home to have our own courses based on the unique educational opportunities and resources we utilize. Hence, we have the ability to individualize any course in any subject in any year. Therefore, most likely some other entity's standardized code would not accurately describe the scope and content of our course. 

My further research discovered the course code directory of our state. 

I found much the same information and purpose for the codes in our state. The codes are used by schools within the state which issue a state diploma. In other words, schools in the state using the course codes validate the student who completed the course in their school followed the standards of that course. The course code assigned was a reference--a standard--whereby all schools could be on the same page in regards to requirements and achievement. Furthermore, the entity issuing the diploma and transcript are responsible to oversee and certify the codes issued paralleled the standards required for the course given that code. 

This system begged several questions in my mind (and perhaps the mind of the parent asking the question above).  

Our home learning was statutorily a HOME EDUCATION PROGRAM. As such, we as parents were responsible to oversee the course content taught, studied and mastered, at high school level or above, in our home. We designated completion by awarding credit and validating such on a transcript. Because the courses and content were unique to our home, study methods and educational opportunities, it seemed ridiculous to assign some other entity's course codes to my learner's courses.  Do I make up a code for our learning? And, if I did, who would understand what that code meant, unless of course, I wrote a course description (similar to state institutes) to describe the content of the course, just as other educational entities do with their courses?

More to young adult was interested in learning material not offered by the state, and hence, a course code didn't even exist. I have the statutory freedom to allow my young adult to study their interest. I asked the question again: Do I make up a code?

More to children were not receiving a diploma from the state. Technically, then, I decided I didn't have to follow the state code. 

All of my research, discoveries and pondering culminated in a conversation with an admission officer at a highly-selective university. The result..."We don't expect you to have course codes, Mrs. Bastian. You are a homeschool". 

INDEED, what I assumed, a college confirmed; why would I use course codes from an educational entity? They were not certifying the credit or validating the transcript. My home was it's own learning environment.

In the end, I decided not to add course codes to the transcripts of my graduates. This made sense to me as well as to the colleges and universities to which our young adults applied. Like many homeschooling high school dilemmas and decisions, I had to do my own research and come to my own conclusions.

If you have walked the course code road, tell us in the comments how you navigated your circumstances. 

NOTE: This blog post is not intended and should not be taken as legal counsel. 

I will be sharing more about transcripts and high school paperwork during my 2016 FPEA Convention workshop, Happy (High School) Paper Trails, Friday, May 27 at 3:55. 

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.