Lost in Translation – or the high school transcript for homeschoolers
These thoughts stem from JoVE’s post [on the now defunct homeschooljournal.net site] yesterday about transcripts and portfolios. What started with a discussion of “mastery” and transcripts led me to observe that the Ontario transcript, in its current form, is predicated on the notion of a LACK of mastery. (If the material in classes were “mastered” then why would we need grades?)
So, if transcripts are not meant to demonstrate mastery, but only one’s proportional lack thereof, how is a homeschooler to use a transcript? Is one necessary at all?
UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE – WHO THE IS TRANSCRIPT REALLY FOR?
Of course, the exercise of preparing transcripts is not so much for the child; it’s for some third party who will use the transcript to make assessments or evaluations of your child.
Making a transcript is simply an exercise in comparing what your child has done to provincial standards. Or in other words, which courses and grades do I reasonably expect my child, in his or her current academic state, would have walked away with had s/he studied and been evaluated according to the provincial curriculum expectations? Of course, the only reason to do this in the first place is if someone somewhere is going to ask how your child would have done in this situation, and only if you feel it’s important to tell them! 🙂
In many cases, transcripts for homeschoolers are not meaningful in and of themselves because the child didn’t follow the provincial school curriculum (including provincially-mandated forms of assessment and evalutation) and therefore the transcript may bear little resemblance to what the child actually did.
YOU DO NOT THINK LIKE THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT
Even if your child had a traditional textbook-based high school homeschooling experience, the Ontario transcript is still only a poor approximation of your child’s educational achievement. For one thing, and I can’t stress this enough, the Ontario curriculum not only mandates curriculum (what is taught) but also pedagogy (how this material is taught) and gives very specific assessment criteria.
For example, the use of graphing calculators is mandated in Ontario Grade 9 math. Ontario courses also have requirements that 30 – 40% of your final grade is determined at the end of the year by some cummulative project, assignment or examination. If your “grade 9” homeschooling math curriculum did not include specific functions on the graphing calculator, or if your method of calculating a final average did not give the requisite weight to a massive activity at the end of the course, then already the percentage grade you may have diligently calculated based on textbook work, reviews and tests doesn’t mean the same thing as a percentage grade on an Ontario transcript.
Given the above directives of the Ontario curriculum (including content, pedagogy, assessment and evaluation), it’s extremely unlikely that *any* homeschooler not actually enrolled in an Ontario credit course can actually be said to be following the Ontario curriculum. This doesn’t just apply to unschoolers, but also to those who are following what is in fact (ironically?) a more traditional program of study than that offered by our public school system.
SO WHY BOTHER WITH A TRANSCRIPT?
It’s easy to justify that any attempt at putting together a transcript resembling the provincial one is an exercise in futility: we could do it, but it wouldn’t really mean anything! Given that many people homeschool precisely to avoid the all-too-common meaningless activities in education, one could conclude that there’s no point in preparing a transcript. And therefore, one could get pretty ticked off about being asked to provide one to the universities when applying for admission.
But, how does our perspective change if we think of the transcript as an olive branch extended to a university admissions committee, as our attempt to help them do their job of ranking and comparing (not assessing and evaluating) applicants? (That was my metaphor. Joe put it a little more harshly: What if we don’t want to appear like a boorish tourist who is indignant that, while visiting a foreign country, no one speaks our language?)
I think of generating a transcript as an exercise in translation. It’s an imperfect translation to be sure, since each “language” lacks the words to represent certain key concepts in the other language. But, it’s an attempt to approximate ideas, and to facilitate communication.
Language is culture-based, and sometimes our difficulties speaking and understanding foreign languages are based on this lack of shared cultural experience. So, a transcript can seem all the more difficult to generate because not only are the cultural notions unfamiliar (credits, grades, instructional hours) but they may also be in direct opposition to the values of our own culture.
From an Ontario university standpoint, the good news is that these strange, exotic creatures (university admissions officers) are for the most part willing to deal with those for whom transcript-speak is a second language, and are tolerant of imperfect translations as long as a reasonable attempt at communication is made.
Not all Ontario universities require you to submit a transcript, and those that do are really only interested in documentation that would relate to a typical accredited school experience. The key to effectively translating your experience into transcript speak is understanding their cultural notions.
WHAT TIME IS IT. YOU MEAN NOW?
One noteworthy example is the concept of “instructional time.” The Ontario transcript, and Ontario universities measure academic study directly in hours, and only indirectly in topics of study. This can seem very foreign when your curriculum plan is based firstly on achieving certain outcomes or covering certain material and the amount of time it takes to do this is only a secondary concern, if it is a concern at all.
For example, your child may have self-studied the equivalent of Grade 12 Calculus over a period of 3 years or zipped through it all in six weeks, but the university doesn’t really care how long it took. The proper way to record this on a transcript for them is to say that the length of study was 110 hrs, one semester, or one school year. This is because the university simply wants to know what, in relation to the provincial curriculum, was accomplished.
The provincial curriculum sets aside 110 hrs (or one semester, or one year) of time for this course and the material covered within it. To claim that you studied “six weeks” of calculus is like telling the university that you studied “a chapter or two.” Similarly, to claim three years of study is akin to saying you’re ready to jump into Topology at the university level. It’s not “lying” to say that you studied 110 hrs when it reality it didn’t take that long or more likely, when you didn’t bother to log the number of hours; it’s effectively translating into transcript-speak.
“ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US”
If the goal is effective communication in this non-native language, then the first thing we have to do is understand that direct, literal translation only gets us so far. It doesn’t take very long at all in studying French to realize that “I have eight years,” and “Today, it makes nice,” are in fact the proper ways to communicate to a French speaker that you’re eight years old and it’s a nice day out. It’s no stretch to realize that the translation for “instructional hour” (a concept not used in homeschooling, and different from a 60-minute hour) is going to sound even weirder to non-native transcript speakers.
Your homeschool transcript, should you choose to create one, is going to be more about them than you. Your goal is to look through the Ontario curriculum and decide which courses (based on content) and grades (based on mastery) reasonably approximate the studying your child did throughout high school. It won’t be accurate, and it might sound incomprehensible spoken in our own, native educational language. But it’s all simply an exercise in communication, and it is one of the tasks we sign up for when we choose to assume the role normally taken by the school in our children’s education.
For reference: Ontario Student Transcript Manual, 2007