Courses, Credits, Grades, and Transcripts

Charlotte Mason High School Transcripts Courses Grades

My mother makes the best potato salad. Every time we have a family cookout, she politely asks what she can bring, knowing full well what the answer will be. “You bring the potato salad, please, Mom.”

But if you ask her for the recipe, she will hesitate. It’s not that she doesn’t want to share that information; it’s that she would have to think long and hard about what exactly she does to create that delicious dish. Making potato salad is so natural to her at this point, that it takes effort to document every step of the process and put all the details in writing for someone else to understand. Those of you who are natural cooks can understand her quandary.

Many Charlotte Mason homeschool parents face the same kind of hesitation when asked to document the learning that takes place in the high school years. Learning is happening; that you know. But sometimes it’s hard to document all the details and put it into a specific format that others need in order to understand.

So let’s take some time to answer your questions about courses, credits, grades, and transcripts in the high school years. Rest assured, it’s not as difficult as you might think.

High School Question #18: Can you give a layout of the years for 9–12th grade?

Let’s start with the end in mind. If you look at high school graduation requirements across the 50 states, you will find that typical expectations look like this:

English: 4 credits
Math: 4 credits
Social Studies: 4 credits
Science: 4 credits
PE/Health: 1–3 credits
Arts: 1–2 credits
Foreign Language: 1–2 credits
Electives: 1 (or more) credits
Total = 20–24 credits to graduate

Spread those credits over four years of high school and you come up with a typical yearly expectation something like this:

English: 1 credit
Math: 1 credit
Social Studies: 1 credit
Science: 1 credit
PE/Health: .25–.75 credit
Arts: .25–.75 credit
Foreign Language: .25–.5 credit
Electives: .25 (or more) credits
Total = 5 or 6 credits per year

Keep in mind that those expectations list general subject headings: science, social studies, English. You can customize what topics will be studied within each of those broader subjects.

For example, social studies would include things like history, geography, and government. Which history time periods are studied is up to you. Those of you living in the United States will need to include one credit of American history, but the rest is your choice.

English would include studies in literature, Shakespeare, poetry, spelling, grammar, and composition. Which books and poems and plays are covered is your choice.

So you have some leeway in determining the exact courses of study. The main thing is to keep those subjects and expected number of credits in mind as you plan your high school studies.

High School Question #19: What does earning a credit in a course truly look like?

A credit is the educational world’s attempt to standardize the amount of work that was completed. Credits can be calculated in a couple of ways.

You can calculate credits based on the number of hours the student spent interacting with the material, or you can calculate credits based on the work he accomplished, regardless of time involved.

If you calculate based on actual time spent, most authorities agree that a credit is awarded for every 120–180 hours spent on task, with 150 being average.

If you calculate based on the work accomplished, make sure the course is equal to or greater than a similar course in a traditional high school. Look at both the amount of work and the level of the material.

High School Question #20: How do you award credits using the CM method?

Feel free to do a combination approach. You can use both tools for calculating credits as they best fit the different subjects. For some subjects you can track hours of time involved; for other subjects you can simply look at the material completed.

In history and geography, for example, you will have several different living books for your student to read and narrate, rather than a set history textbook with questions, quizzes, and tests to complete. For subjects like that, with several living books and narrations, you’ll probably find it easiest to calculate the time the student spent on those readings and narrations and map studies.

The same goes for a credit in Arts. You can combine all the time spent on picture study, music study, hymn singing, art instruction, handicrafts, and such and count it toward an Arts credit.

In science and math, though, you may have a high school level course with set material to cover, such as Jay Wile’s new chemistry course or the Harold Jacob’s geometry book. In those cases, you are depending on the author to have put together substantial content that is at a high school level and similar to what a student would complete if taking the course in a traditional classroom setting.

So use both ways of calculating credits as they fit best with Charlotte Mason methods in the various subjects.

High School Question #21: With such a “light schedule” each day, how do they earn a credit in each class. I don’t see how it will amount to 120-180 hrs of class time.

Well, let’s break those credit hours down to see what they look like on a weekly and daily basis and then compare those requirements to the sample schedule we discussed last time.

Let’s take social studies, for example. That is one of the subjects in which you need 1 credit for the year, or about 150 hours of work. If you assume a 36-week school year, you can do the math for yourself: 150 hours divided by 36 weeks comes to about 4 hours of work per week.

If you look at the sample schedule from last time, you will find 30 minutes of Family History listed on four days of the week and 30 minutes of Independent History listed at another time on those same four days. That adds up to one hour per day for four days. There are the four hours you need per week.

What about that full credit of English? Well, you have the 30 minutes of literature reading each day, plus 15 or 20 minutes of dictation, poetry, or composition on various days. If you factor in the time spent on oral and written narrations, you’re easily over the one-hour mark per day.

Let’s look at that quarter credit for Arts that is needed per year. A quarter credit averages to about one hour of work per week. If you combine the 15 minutes of picture study, music study, handicrafts or art instruction, and the 10 minutes of hymn singing done twice a week, you have more than enough time involved to earn that quarter credit.

Probably the biggest difference that you will find when using Charlotte Mason methods in high school is that the credit hours are broken into smaller segments and spread out over the days and the weeks, rather than the same hour-long classes done back to back every day. Added together, those smaller segments equal the hours needed for credit. (And a case may also be made for better retention of the material when approached in that way.)

High School Question #22: How do you do a high school transcript and grade using CM methods. It seems very arbitrary. I am not sure how to assign grades when I am not testing in most subjects. Thanks for your help!

Of course, a subject like math is easy to grade. It’s either right or wrong. But you can, and should, grade your high schooler’s work in the other subjects too. You will need those grades along the way to help you create a transcript later.

Charlotte Mason’s students had exam weeks three times a year. It is helpful to follow her example, especially in the high school years. Her end-of-term exams consisted of three or four questions per book read during the term. And those questions were narration questions, inviting the student to demonstrate what he learned and retained from his readings.

You can also do end-of-term exams on picture study, music study, nature study, other Enrichment subjects. Ask the student to write about the life of the composer that was studied during the term and to tell his favorite musical work by that composer and explain why it is his favorite. Any open-ended narration question is allowed for exam weeks.

But don’t base all your grading just on exam answers. You can also grade weekly work, such as written narrations, dictations, Bible studies, and participation in picture study, music study, book discussions, etc.

How do you assign grades? The next question and answer explores those details.

High School Question #23: Do we use rubrics for exams or all pass-or-fail grading?

Since exam questions are open-ended narration questions, you’ll find it easiest to use a rubric when grading them. To create a rubric, think of the categories that you will be assessing. For example, you will probably look at such things as
Completeness: How thoroughly is the topic covered?
Accuracy: Are the facts and ideas presented correct?
Mechanics: How are the spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar?
Style: How is the overall readability of the piece? or Did the student write in the specific style requested?

Then just assign a point value for each category. You could assess each category on a 5-point scale, with 4 points being the highest and 0 being the lowest. If the student earned
Completeness: 4
Accuracy: 4
Mechanics: 2
Style: 3
He would have earned a total of 13 points out of 16 possible. To find the percentage, divide the lower number by the higher number; 13/16 = 0.81 or 81%. On a typical grade scale, that would be a B.

The more assessment points you can keep track of over the year, the better; for the goal of education is growth, and frequent assessments in a variety of areas can help you track growth and keep you encouraged over the long haul.

High School Question #24: My biggest concern is transcripts, being college ready.

A transcript is simply a report that shows your student’s earned credits and grades in a succinct format. With a summary of both credits and grades, the reader can quickly see both the quantity of work that was done and the quality of that work.

If you plan your high school studies with credit expectations in mind (as outlined above), evaluate your student’s work along the way, and compile that information into a standard transcript format, you should be ready to apply to any college, if that is the direction your student is going.

High School Question #25: One of my biggest hurdles is giving credit for courses that are long-term, e.g. my daughter reads a geography book every year and maps, hardly enough for a credit, but over the course of four years, it could add up to a semester. Not sure whether to include it on her transcript or not. One suggestion has been to cram it into one year, but that hardly seems CM. Another thought was to post it when she completes the class, but that will give the impression of having taken too many classes her senior year. My question isn’t so much how to assign a credit value, but rather how to place it on a transcript which is traditionally ordered by each year of school. A four-year long course doesn’t fit neatly in that framework.

Just as you can calculate credits in two different ways, you can also format a transcript in two different ways. You can display your student’s studies year by year or you can display them subject by subject.

Because a CM approach usually spreads studies out in smaller segments over longer periods of time, the subject-by-subject transcript is often a good fit. You can find many samples online to help you easily put one together. HSLDA has a nice sample of a transcript by subject in their helpful collection of transcripts.

Choose the format that best fits your situation. Either is perfectly acceptable.

High School Question #26: How do you express the rich feast of a CM education when applying to college?

Most colleges look at your student’s ACT or SAT score and the transcript. You could include course descriptions and a complete book list or a portfolio of your student’s work, but don’t count on the admissions officer taking the time to peruse those extra documents. It depends on the college.

What admissions officers like to see, besides the scores and grades, are the extra curricular activities your student was involved in during the high school years. It’s good to include a section on the transcript that itemizes volunteer work, travel/learn opportunities, mentoring situations, experience in a field of interest, and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Many colleges also require letters of recommendation. Including endorsements from people in a variety of fields can be a nice way to demonstrate the feast that your student has benefited from and the range of interests that have played a part in developing him as a person.

Next time let’s talk about how to tackle challenging high school courses and the dual enrollment option.


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  1. I have found the rubrics in your book “Your questions answered: Narration” to be very helpful in grading my high school student’s narrations. The format was clear so my daughter knew the expectations.

  2. Great post this week. One quick question… You mentioned in the grading example “a 5-point scale, with 4 points being the highest and 0 being the lowest”. Did you mean a 4-point scale?

    • That is tricky at first glance; I had to stop and think about it too. 🙂 If it were a scale in which 4 points was highest and 1 point was lowest, it would be a 4-point scale (1, 2, 3, or 4). Since 0 is the lowest possible points awarded, it’s actually a 5-point scale (0, 1, 2, 3, or 4). What helped me was to think of those numbers as the typical grades a student can earn in a class: 0 = F, 1 = D, 2 = C, 3 = B, 4 = A, five options. Hope this helps!

  3. Creating my son’s transcript left me feeling like a deer in headlights so I appreciate this post immensely, Sonya, and will print it as well. I also am so thankful for the teachers’ guides for Using Language Well. They have been a great help in directing my children’s progression and especially for grading written narrations, which I had previously thought of as so subjective.

  4. I’ve not yet entered the high school years with our children (they are in elementary) but it is such an encouragement to know I’ll be able to go to posts like this for help and encouragement when we do get there. Thanks for doing this series!

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