Is Grade Level Important in Homeschooling?
The quick answer? Yes, no, and maybe. Or maybe not. We need to dive deeper to really understand when grade level and homeschooling matters and when it doesn’t.
As a homeschooling parent, you’ve probably been asked what grade your child is in. If your child is behind in grade level for their age you might hate being asked about it. (Check out my article How to Answer Annoying Questions About Homeschooling for response ideas.) If you, like me, don’t spend much time considering the grade level of your homeschool kids you may wonder if you should care more about grade level and homeschooling.
Even though I don’t fret about my children’s grade levels I believe some situations warrant knowing what grade level your child has reached.
Before we dive into when grade level doesn’t matter in homeschooling and when it does, take a second to pin this article for later. Like most of my article, it’s long and you may need to come back to it later.
When Grade Level Doesn’t Matter in Homeschooling
Here are some of the situations when grade level doesn’t matter in homeschooling.
Homeschooling to Mastery
I homeschool my boys to mastery in some subjects. That means we don’t move on from a subject until they’ve mastered it.
While we take more interest-led, relaxed approach to history and science for math and language arts we work for mastery on a topic. For example, I wouldn’t begin teaching my child algebra at age twelve if he still struggled with long division. Similarly, if my six-year-old reads at a third grade level we won’t waste time on first grade sight words.
Unschooling or Interest-Led Learning
While my children work at grade levels on some subjects, they work ahead or behind grade level in others. For example, we mostly used interest-led learning for history and science, which required both elementary and college level textbooks at the same time. My boys learned most topics together and I used the same books for all three boys even though their ages span four-and-a-half years.
No State-Required Testing or Reporting
I live in a state that requires no testing or reporting. I get to decide what to teach my children and at what level they need to be taught. Homeschool parents who live in low-to-no homeschool regulation states enjoy the freedom to homeschool in a way that produces the best results for each of their children.
Many homeschool parents decide that grade levels don’t fit into their homeschool strategy and choose to put little or no emphasis on grade levels for their children.
Grade Level Work Can Put Unnecessary Pressure On Your Homeschooled Child
Children who fall behind grade level may face pressure to keep up. The stress of maintaining grade level can backfire and block a child’s ability to truly learn and store new information.
Teaching to the test becomes a tempting strategy that causes a child to memorize information for testing and advancement only to miss the opportunity for true comprehension. When memorized info slips away and can’t be recalled at the next grade level the skills have to be retaught anyway. It’s a frustrating cycle that can be avoided by ignoring a child’s grade level and simply teaching to mastery even if it takes longer.
Grade Level Work Can Stifle Your Homeschooled Child’s Potential
Another drawback to keeping your homeschooled child at grade level is that it can stifle their potential. When my eight-year-old wanted to learn about Astronomy from my college textbook, I didn’t tell him to wait until we covered it in eighth grade science or offer him an astronomy book for children. We incorporated this interest-led learning experience into our daily homeschool routine and included his ten-year-old and six-year-old brothers.
Sticking to grade-level lessons may bore children who are gifted or who learn quickly in certain subjects. My eight-year-old needed some help defining some words in the college textbook and he certainly wasn’t doing college level math, but his interest in and comprehension of scientific topics reaches far above his grade level.
When Grade Level Is Important in Homeschooling
Although my family appreciates the benefits of ignoring grade levels while homeschooling, several valid reasons exist to consider grade levels in homeschooling.
State-Required Testing or Reporting
If your state requires testing or reporting you may have no choice but to be certain your children remain at grade level as a minimum. Your opinion about grade level adherence doesn’t matter in this case. You have to follow the law or risk losing your freedom to homeschool.
Recognizing If Your Child Needs Intervention
Another good argument for why grade level matters in homeschooling concerns your child’s possible need for intervention. If your child remains below grade level without signs of improvement semester after semester it may be time to have them evaluated to see if they would benefit from outside help with learning.
Your Child Might Stop Homeschooling to Attend Traditional School
If you know that your homeschooled children will someday attend high school you probably want to keep them at grade level or above.
If you give your child the choice of attending school or homeschooling it’s wise for them to be at grade level.
When our children were younger we gave them the choice to attend school each year. They always chose to homeschool, but I kept them close to grade level on math and language arts just in case.
If you’re preparing your child for college at age eighteen they need to be on track to pass college entrance exams by that age. Keeping them close to grade level puts less stress on everyone as the deadline to enter college gets closer.
Even though I don’t encourage my children to attend college, I don’t discourage them either. So, as my oldest and middle sons moved closer to age fifteen I prepared them for the ACT. I am doing the same with my youngest son. As I wrote earlier, we’ve always used more structure when homeschooling math and language arts in case they choose to go to college.
You Care About Grade Level
Maybe you enjoy the graduations and other special transitions that come with homeschooling your child at grade level. That’s a fun reason to keep things a little more formal in regard to grade level.
If you prefer use a pre-packaged curriculum instead of creating your own homeschool curriculum your children will likely always be at grade level.
Keeping your homeschooled kids at grade level also allows for a more structured homeschool experience, which some families prefer.
Your Child Cares About Grade Level
Maybe your child wants to know if they learn at the same grade level as their public school friends. It might be important to their self-esteem or feeling of belonging if they can proudly answer those who ask what grade they’re in.
Whatever your reason for wanting to know, there are several ways to determine your children’s grade level without formal testing.
How to Determine a Homeschooler’s Grade Level
If it’s important to you to know your homeschooled children’s grade levels there are several ways to find out.
1. What Your Nth Grader Needs to Know
This series of books starts with preschool and goes through 6th grade. Each book is packed with information on what children should know about various subjects in that grade level.
If you need a guide to help you create your own homeschool curriculum or to cover anything your current curriculum might leave out, these books are what you need. I found these books valuable for exposing my kids to great works of literature for their age group.
The Spectrum Workbooks test your children on subject areas within a grade level. They also work great as a test prep for mandatory state testing.
The spectrum workbooks are so thorough that some years I’ve used them exclusively for math and language arts topics. They really cover everything your child needs to know and provide pre- and post tests to accurately place your child.
If you’re new to homeschooling and aren’t sure about your child’s grade level, try these placement tests from Internet4Classrooms. You can get a good idea of the areas where your child is at, above, or below grade level.
4. Your State’s Department of Education Learning Standards
Go to your state’s Department of Education website and check out the learning standards listed there. You’ll get insight into what’s expected of children at each grade level. Then you can determine if your child is ahead, behind or at grade level for a particular area.
Check out EdInformatics.com for information on your state’s DOE learning standards.