High School Helpline title

with Cheryl A. Bastian

Old school fashion vintage style helpline phone with cord and twisted dial in the forest green color
Old school fashion vintage style helpline phone with cord and twisted dial in the forest green color
High School Helpline title

with Cheryl A. Bastian

We’re tackling some of the most common questions parents ask and sharing simple action steps to make it easy.

How do you assign grades for classes that are subjective?
woman writing in a notebook with her kids behind her

he clinical supervisors overseeing my undergraduate education courses expected me to match evaluation methods—grading systems—to course content and assignments. The criteria for grading and evaluation were to be clearly communicated with students in advance: percentage-letter grade, a rubric or checklist, or specific expectations.

Eighteen years later, when my first homeschooler entered high school and the weight of grading fell squarely on my shoulders, I remembered the instructions of my professors. There was one problem. Only three of my high school son’s courses and assignments aligned with objective grading with its right or wrong answers. All the others were more suitable for subjective grading.

What do you mean by subjective grading?
Subjective grading is often a good fit for home education which is interest-led and personalized, particularly for families preferring project-based assignments and discussion-based assessments (conversations).
Subjective learning encourages:
  • creativity
  • critical thinking
  • discourse
  • summarization
  • short answer responses
  • demonstration of skill mastery
Subjective assessments match well with assignments in:
  • composition
  • literature
  • debate
  • art or art history
  • performing arts
  • philosophy
  • political science
  • vocational and technical skills, and certifications

Subjective evaluation also works well when specific knowledge is applied to real-world scenarios.

Objective grading techniques—multiple choice, matching, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank—work well for subjects with right/wrong answers: mathematics, finance, grammar, vocabulary, geography, and science.

What are some subjective methods of grading?

Exceptional, Excellent, Extraordinary, Superior
Commendable, Praiseworthy, Above Average, Credible
Adequate, Average, Usual, Ordinary
Minimal, Fair, Insufficient, Lacking
  • Rubrics are assignment specific and clearly outline what is expected of the student in order to earn points. We’ve found rubrics to be particularly helpful when grading writing and projects. An online search renders many examples.
  • Predetermined outcomes—expectations—are discussed with the learner prior to setting assignments (particularly in areas where the student has a greater knowledge base than the parent). For example, one year our daughter was taking creative photography. Our predetermined goal was that by mid-semester she would have ten entries—five black and white and five color—created and mounted, ready for display and judging at the county fair creative arts exhibition. Having predetermined outcomes also helps students manage their time.
  • Completion of a certification includes things like becoming CPR, CNA, auto mechanic, or phlebotomy certified. Completion of the certification would equate to a letter grade—again, discussed with the learner prior to beginning the course. Adjective grading, explained below, works well in tandem when equating letter grades to completion.
  • Related to completion of a certification is a natural ending, culminating event, or promotion. The course is deemed complete when a specific ending achievement is met. For example, one of our high schoolers built an 8×12 utility shed, overseeing and participating in every stage from digging footers to shingling the roof. Along the way, building permits had to be received and deadlines for inspections met. The project was deemed complete—and therefore graded—when the official Certificate of Occupancy was received from the city.
  • We provide the adjective grading and letter grade equivalencies to the learner so expectations are clear. At the completion of the course, the letter grade awarded is based on the words used to describe the effort put forth as well as content mastered. We have used adjective grading in conjunction with other methods mentioned above.
Could you provide some examples of specific courses and content that might be best evaluated by subjective grading?
  • Equine Science. Shoe a horse, assist veterinarian in equine care, assist barn owner in everyday operations and equine care, oversee equine nutrition, interview a farrier about his or her career pathway, write an outline of skills learned while working or volunteering at a barn
  • Nutrition and Wellness. Assist a personal trainer, create and implement a personal fitness plan, grow an herb or vegetable garden, maintain a food forest, learn nutrition related to a specific health-related concern, food preparation and safe handling, taking blood pressure and pulse
  • String Ensemble. Perform in a string quartet for weddings or special events, mentor younger string students, offer private lessons to beginning students, perform in two recitals, enter and prepare for state orchestra competition, compile a digital portfolio for college admission
  • Introduction to Early Childhood Education. Assist a classroom teacher, prepare activities for preschool children, create a poster communicating major developmental milestones, complete CDA certification
  • Introduction to Building Construction. Mentored by a carpenter, job shadowing a project manager, renovating a home, assisting a plumber, studying for and obtaining a general contractor’s license
As parent educators, we must find and use grading systems that accurately reflect our learner’s content mastery, accomplishments, and work ethic. These aspects of learning may not be adequately determined by objective measures. Often, real-life learning and application is best evaluated with subjective methods.
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heryl Bastian has been married to Mike for twenty-eight years and began homeschooling in 1993. A mother of eight children—toddler through adult—Cheryl knows the trials and triumphs of embracing each season of life and is passionate about equipping and inspiring parents who want to nurture a desire for lifelong learning in their children.