“Report Cards” for Nontraditional School

by Diane Lilleberg

In this article Diane Lilleberg answers a question she has received in e-mail consultations. Although it is mainly for parents from the U.S., we hope parents of other nationalities will find it helpful. We would like to know if something like this is accepted in other countries as well.

When home schooling, how can I do a report card that will be accepted in other schools?

It is wonderful to think about assessment at the beginning of the year. In my classroom teaching, I always started a folder of work that included my students’ first printing samples, unknowingly starting a tradition of having a time at the end of the year for students to compare their final work samples with those done earlier in the year. They were amazed at their own growth. Their faces, when they looked at both, were something to photograph.

Each state in the U.S. has its own requirements for home-schooling accountability. Legal implications become more of an issue beginning with ninth grade. Our office has not heard of any U.S. public school which has not allowed children to enter the grade they are due to begin if parents have been consistently accountable to either a program or a curriculum. The schools which most often use testing to place kids in certain grades are more often private schools in the U.S. and overseas.

The best report card for elementary grades is a “portfolio assessment” as it is called today. (For higher grades, contact someone in your specific state.) This is currently a highly regarded method of assessment in education and is basically a folder that includes samples of the student’s work, a list of books read (or reading curriculum used), mathematics unit tests, etc. Writing and composition samples are helpful, too, as are the names of workbooks your student does. Be sure to include the special opportunities you have through travel or special events you participate in that your student is aware of and can discuss or write about.

In addition to work samples, it is helpful to include comments on growth and progress you’ve seen. Most teachers who have new children entering their class appreciate a portfolio as it is more meaningful than any grades are…even a percentage like 90% in reading means little.

Don’t require only perfection in portfolio choices—the portfolio will be more respected if it reflects the natural kinds of errors children make as they grow in learning.

It would be helpful to eventually include the scores of an achievement test of some sort (ITBS is good — see Ways to Assess Your Child’s Progress). I recommend using one during a student’s third-grade year for sure, as the primary years concentrate on skill development. This can help assure you of progress and help you determine whether you need something more in your curriculum to fill gaps — low score in map reading would indicate you need more instruction in that area. Many families purchase achievement tests from Bob Jones Curriculum/Educational Services (see ordering information on page 2).

When you make short comments, be honest and positive. I recently debriefed typical experiences with a few moms who finished our first-grade curriculum, and from their oral comments I’ll do a sample portfolio for an imaginary kid named George as an example of information that would have made me, as a classroom teacher, look forward with delight to teaching a great student with normal developmental struggles and responses for his age. I’m probably still too much of a teacher in writing it, but maybe this will give you an idea of how much is enough (along with some samples of their work). I would try to write something like the sample below twice a year.

Author note: Do not be afraid to not know everything and to ask questions as part of your assessment. There should always be questions when teaching children. If you do this more than once a year, your student may answer your midyear questions by the time the year ends.

Sample Portfolio

Language Arts

George learned to read (or progressed in reading) using Houghton Mifflin’s Literature Experience in first semester and Silver Burdett’s World of Reading second semester. George has an understanding of phonics and most often uses beginning sounds to give him clues to the unfamiliar words he encounters. If he misreads a word in a sentence that makes no sense, he recognizes this and tries again to correct the meaning. He is showing good progress in learning sight words that are not phonetically predictable. He is proud of being able to read stories, such as the Dr. Seuss Early Readers, to his younger siblings.

George used literature journals for beginning writing, adding to patterns modeled in stories, etc. He can write short sentences by himself, but the physical task of writing is still difficult, so writing is definitely not his favorite. He completed a first-grade handwriting program using a precursive alphabet. He occasionally reverses letters, but other times doesn’t, and seems to be improving.


George used Open Court’s Real Math curriculum. He especially enjoyed the problem-solving stories. He knows most of his basic addition facts on sight, but he has trouble with subtraction facts and hasn’t quite caught on to how subtraction facts relate to addition.

Playing the mathematics games was one of his favorite things about school. He had difficulty with U.S. money because of living with another currency, so the game format was helpful. We hesitate to confuse the two, so we are thinking we might reorganize a unit next year, waiting until just before we return to the U.S. for the 2001–02 school year and then reintroduce U.S. currency and coins.

Other Subjects

George’s science and social studies were done informally, using the literature themes and ideas to extend the themes in the literature journals. We had people from our church in the U.S. visit, and we met them on the coast and vacationed there for a few days.

They lived on the coast in the U.S. and knew a lot about the sea. They collected shells with our kids and helped them come up with a system of classifying them.

George very much wanted to be part of the action when our community dug a new well. We all learned a lot and gave up on our typical school routine a bit in order to profit from it. We helped George write a “Well Journal” that told about the day-to-day progress. We used the opportunity to help the children relate the need and importance of water to different climates.

George continually surprises us by what he can do in art, and he loves to draw. We asked a consultant for ideas and ordered some Ed Emberley drawing books. It is his new favorite thing to do in school, a great motivation to get more difficult things behind him.

Work Habits

George is the oldest and sometimes finds the formal school things we require to be unreasonable, since there are few friends he really knows who are doing similar tasks. He tends to rely too much on the one-to-one advantage, but we chose two things he could do independently — his phonics workbook and a calendar task — which he is required to do without asking for help. He is a bit of a perfectionist, so we are working on it being OK to make a mistake. Generally, though, he enjoys school and is aware of and proud of his progress.


  • Will handwriting get easier as he gets older?
  • Is there any way to help him understand the relationship between adding and subtracting?
  • George’s sister can’t wait to start school. Will that help motivation or complicate things?
  • Our lifestyle lends a fascination with globes and maps. What kinds of geography skills and resources are appropriate at this level?

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