Determining Grade Levels

Making the Grade: Grade Levels and Homeschooling

Is “grade level” important in the homeschooling community?

Most of the time, “grade level” is not that important to a homeschooled child or his family, either academically or socially.

While some parents do choose to educate their homeschooled children by grade level, many homeschooled children operate academically at multiple grade levels simultaneously, or work significantly above or below their reported grade level. Many parents say that the ability to operate and think “outside the box” of grade level is one of the big advantages to homeschooling.

The homeschooling social world is structured around multi-aged, multi-level activities where ability, maturity, and interests are very important, but “grade level” is usually irrelevant. Many homeschooled children never even talk about their grade level unless they are asked about it by strangers. Some parents actually consider asking about grade levels to be impolite in homeschooling circles!

So what do I say when people ask me about my homeschooled child’s grade level?

Most parents pick a grade level for their child based on their child’s age, and use that grade level for reporting purposes. So if Johnny Homeschooler is eight years old, his mom and dad say he is in “third grade,” regardless of what level of schoolwork Johnny may actually be doing. This gives Johnny something socially acceptable to tell the neighbors and the lady at the grocery store. It gives Johnny’s mom something to put on forms for Cub Scouts, Little League, and Sunday School, as well as the Notice of Intent paperwork she fills out each year to comply with the Virginia home instruction statute.

I was just about to buy a “third grade” prepackaged curriculum for my child. Now I’m confused. What do I do?

Some families find that a prepackaged curriculum at a particular grade level meets their child’s needs just fine. If that works for you, by all means go ahead and do it. If it doesn’t work for you, then feel free to try something different.

You do not need to follow the exact course of study as the public schools. Just because all the third graders in your school district are studying American Indians, Greek mythology, and electricity does not necessarily mean that your “third grader” needs to study them this year too.

Keep in mind that all graded materials are not created equal. For instance, you might find that a particular “third grade” math book is a lot more challenging than the “third grade” math book published by another company. Or you might find that one textbook series teaches all the multiplication tables in third grade, while another series introduces the tables gradually over two or three years. Pick the materials that best suit your child, rather than the ones that have the “correct” grade level.

If your child is operating on multiple grade levels at once, look at your child’s academic, social, and emotional maturity when picking homeschooling materials. Pick the materials and course of study which best suit your child’s needs and interests, and don’t worry so much about the grade label on the cover. While this may require a little more time and effort than buying everything by grade level, you may find that the benefits far outweigh the initial inconvenience.

I’m pulling my academically advanced nine-year-old daughter out of school this year. Should I “promote” her to fifth grade or even sixth grade, or keep her in fourth grade?

As your daughter’s teacher, you have the right to decide how to report her grade level. You also have the right to decide at what grade level she should be educated. Sometimes, the two levels are one and the same. Often, they aren’t.

Some parents in your situation choose to report their child as “promoted” a grade or more. It makes them feel more comfortable to have their reporting level the same as their educational level. It also may make it easier to get their child into a more advanced grade if they go back to school later on – although this is by no means guaranteed.

Many homeschooling parents continue to report their child at their age-appropriate grade level, then educate them at whatever level best suits their needs. It’s not at all unusual to meet a homeschooled “fourth grader” who is doing some or all of their schoolwork at fifth, sixth, or seventh grade level.

If you report your child as being in fourth grade, she will then take the fourth grade test at the end of the year, and probably do very well. This gives you added flexibility in case illness, emergencies, or other factors beyond your control affect your educational schedule. This also protects you if your child finds the more advanced course of study too difficult for whatever reason.

Whatever you decide, keep in mind that if your child re-enters school later on, they will probably test or evaluate her to determine her grade level placement.

This is our first year of homeschooling. My son is supposed to enter sixth grade this fall, but he is very behind in his school work – as much as two to three years behind in some subjects! How do I report his grade level, and what do I do about testing?

Again, it’s up to you how you choose to report and educate your child. You do not necessarily have to educate him at the same level as you are reporting him. Some parents in your situation choose to hold back their child a year for reporting purposes, saying that they are repeating last year’s grade. This makes them feel more comfortable, and may make it easier for their child at testing/evaluation time. The potential drawback is that many children find it distressing and demoralizing to be held back a grade. Also, if you succeed in bringing your child up to or beyond grade level, then you may have to “promote” him back to his original age-appropriate grade level later on!

Other parents choose to report their child as being at grade level, then work during the year to bring him up to grade level. Some parents report that their low-achieving child thrived with a change in environment or a different approach to learning. It is not unusual to hear of a homeschooled child leaping several grade levels in a single year. Obviously your individual results may vary.

You have many options for complying with the testing and evaluation requirement in the home instruction statute. Talk to veteran homeschoolers in your community about the testing and evaluation options available to you. Many parents in your situation choose to hire a professional evaluator to review their child’s work, rather than use a standardized test. This is especially recommended if your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from the public schools, or if your child is several grades behind grade level. Whichever testing or evaluation route you take, make sure to get the results back in plenty of time before the August 1 filing deadline. This way, if your child’s results are not what you had hoped for, you will have time to retest or re-evaluate while still meeting the filing deadline.


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