When homeschool kids are younger, and someone asked about grade level, it's not uncommon for a parent to say, "Well...she is in third grade reading, 5th grade math, and can spell at a 7th grade level!" Rarely did you hear a parent come right out and say, "He is 7 years old, therefore he is in 2nd grade." However, in high school the pressure to assign grade levels can be intense.
I have 2 high school-aged children. Many of my homeschool friends think that it is desirable to have their kids on a fast track to graduation. I don't feel an urgency to get them out the door - I want to make the most of these "high school" years. Is there something wrong with keeping my son, who will be 16 in December, a freshman? He is currently doing Apologia Biology, TT Algebra I, World Views of the Western World II, etc.) If he is considered a freshman this year, that would have him graduating at age 19 with 4 years of high school... Is this wrong?
Until my children entered "high school" I didn't feel the need to slap a grade level on them. They were ahead in some areas and behind in others. And I didn't really care what other people thought of that - we just plugged away. But as soon as they hit high school age grade level seemed to be the all-important thing and everything hinges on which grade level they are. I hate it. I have specific requirements that they need to complete before they "graduate" and I don't like the pressure we're feeling to get them on a fast-track to graduation....I would love to hear your thoughts on this, Lee. Thank you!
~ Michelle in Iowa
I agree with you that grade levels can be arbitrary. I think as homeschoolers we need to focus on what we are doing for our own children, because we know what our own children need; we don't know what other children need! Focus on providing a curriculum that is challenging and not overwhelming. Be sure to keep it academically rigorous and encourage them to do their best, but guard against burn out and overwork that can lead to frustration. Instead of giving a label of freshman at this point, I encourage you to take a step back again. When do you really need to label a high school student with a grade level Junior year.
Junior year is the only time you have to say, "THIS is their grade level." In junior year, when you indicate 11th grade on the PSAT, they can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. In junior year, there are tasks that need to be completed, things that are unique to that year. You can delay making a label until junior year without consequences.
I know many homeschoolers who intentionally delay graduation. They may provide high school curriculum from the age of 14, but they continue to provide high school curriculum until the age of 19 or 20. They do that to provide additional maturity before their children move away from home. Parents are completely capable of making these choices!
There is one word of warning I can provide with my 20/20 hindsight and advanced age. Kids mature a LOT in the four years of high school. Imagine the difference between a 1 year old child and a 5 year old child. Think about the physical differences (toddling vs. biking, for example). Think about the intellectual differences (saying a few words vs. asking endless questions).
There is almost that much of a difference between the first year of high school and the last year of high school. At first it seems like your child could never possibly be ready for college at 18. And then one day it happens; they're ready!
Leave yourself some flexibility. When they look ready to move on, graduate them. When they are almost ready, make them a junior.
If your child is ready before others their age, or after others their age, it doesn't matter. Our job is to educate our individual child. You know your child best!
Is your child working ahead or behind their age level in your homeschool high school? Please share!
Please note: This post was originally published in November 2009 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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Lee, What a great article. We need to remember the freedoms we have an homeschoolers and free ourselves from the conventions of public school "credits".
Thank you for this article. Maturity level is such an important issue. Thanks for reminding me!
While this guideline may work for some students, there are those who will choose a different route and not take the PSAT.
When children hit 13-14-15-16 and are academically ready for all high school level courses, it is appropriate to label them a freshman.
For some, delaying their progress too may be a hindrance. Students may seem to need time to mature and then in a short period of time suddenly are ready. Public school circles call it "senior-itis" when they are ready to be done but haven't finished the "list" yet.
I have had both - one who was academically ready and graduated, then worked for a year before college and another whose development was on a different track and graduated at 19. One of the wonderful things about homeschooling is that there is the flexibility to individualize a child's education.
My 14yr old is at an overall 5th grade level in his academics (I pulled him out of public school in March to homeschool). He is not in a rush to be a "9th grader". Of course I have to hear the constant "he's going to be in 9th grade in the fall right!? to those people I just say yes and move on. I don't really see a need to explain that although in public school he was in 8th grade, he is not doing 8th grade level work. They seem to think that he can't possibly excel in homeschool since he is "behind".
I started homeschooling my 7yr old last week (pulled him out of 2nd grade public school)I am not going to focus on the grade placement issue with him either.
Thank you for this article and the reassurance that it's ok not focus on grade placement.
Thank you, Lee. This blog is very encouraging. I have even told my oldest he may be 19 before he graduates, and it doesn't faze him at all. I can see my youngest taking the initiative to fast track a bit. Different children means different, well, everything.
Good to hear, Jackie! I have one of those too. That's one of the many reasons we homeschool---because everybody is different.
Assistant to The HomeScholar
Thank you for republishing this article Lee. We have a child that became sick in December and having the freedom to home school has saved our dear child a lot of grief. We will do what we can and pray that healing will come. No ridicule, less pressure, and the freedom to take time. To those of you that have commented, you've blessed me as well, 8-).
Lee, could you please suggest digital media for learning the main subjects for the time being? I have the Saxon dive dvd's, Dr. Jay Wile's dvd, Excellence in Writing dvd's, and spelling for computer. What more can we do for science and History (we're using Mystery of History).
Lee often refers people to Khan Academy. I wonder if you could find science videos there. We have found lots of history videos here: http://www.history.com/videos
Assistant to The HomeScholar
I love the Biology 101 Series DVD's. They also have one for chemistry I think, but I haven't watched it (but read great reviews).
Thanks to previous advice from Lee on what "counts" as high school (high school age or high school level), I know we have the flexibility to graduate when the time is right, instead of being ruled by their age. When I realized one of my kids 8th grade age was doing several courses that were considered high school level, I started keeping track. Will these end up on their transcript and will they graduate "early"? Who knows at this point. But I've documented what I need to to include them should I choose to later.
You're doing well! And you've got a great attitude about it. You're ready for anything!
Assistant to The HomeScholar
We graduated my son from high school but felt that he needed another year of something besides academics. He took a gap year, worked with his father and became more comfortable in the adult work world. I could write much on how helpful that year was to him in terms of experience, maturity and focus. It also gave him a year of rest from an academically intense high school curriculum. He has nearly completed his first year of college and is doing very well academically, socially and most importantly, he is making good life decisions.
It's wonderful that you and his father saw what he needed, and proceeded to give your son an opportunity to learn and grow outside of academics! Well done!
Assistant to The HomeScholar
I would just like to add that we can graduate them from high school when we desire and there are many factors to consider. They can have a lot of college credit and still go to college as a Freshman. The advantage of that is they will be deemed Freshman by the college and live with other students that are Freshman age. My son is 18 years old and has 82 credits (mostly from community college) but will be leaving for college later this month as a Freshman. Also when you stack him up against other kids his age he will really shine for scholarships. (You would almost have to be homeschooled to get that many credits at 18) Many people think because he has so many credits he would have to be a transfer student....not so! He may be a Freshman but he will get to keep most all of those credits so he will likely graduate in under 4 years...maybe even in 2 years. My biggest reasons for not graduating him earlier is that I wouldn't want him to live with 20 year old kids when he is not 20, and he looks great for scholarships with so much experience. I love how we can choose!
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