The answer to both lies for Wisconsinites - and for those in nearly every other state - within the text of the state's homeschool law. Though it might seem strange if we've subconsciously believed the myth that only institutional schools are "real," the homeschool law recognizes a child's parents as the bona fide, legal administrators of their private, independent homeschool. Therefore, as with any other legal school administrator, the parents have the legal authority to decide on each child's graduation requirements and to then create and issue legitimate, legally-binding documentation - a diploma and transcript - when the child meets those expectations.
Unfortunately, misinformation abounds in this regard. Some mistakenly believe teens must enroll in "accredited" programs during high school in order to obtain legal documentation. Others think they must hire a "professional" provider to create and "validate" a child's transcript and diploma. But - with very rare exception (i.e., for an NCAA-caliber athlete) - neither is true. Again, state law ascribes to homeschooling parents - without a need for "oversight" by others - the legal authority to independently design and implement a high school course of study and to independently create accompanying documentation. And - absent evidence that a parent has somehow failed to comply with the homeschool law - employers, military recruiters, and college admissions officers must accept parent-generated documentation.
But once you understand the legal reality, how do make those documents?
To begin with, give them a professional look. Choose appropriate fonts, include all necessary information, accurately present the content in an organized manner, spell-check (!), and print the documents on résumé-quality paper. In fact, think of a teen's diploma and transcript as his or her academic résumé so that you'll be motivated to present them in the best possible manner.
In terms of the diploma, I suggest you do an internet search for "homeschool diploma" to view a variety of options for design and wording. Look as well at your own high school and college diplomas. Then design your child's diploma using as simple a program as Word or - if you have access and know its basic functioning - Adobe Photoshop, and print it on quality paper, perhaps parchment-style. Then sign it - with the child's actual graduation date - and consider adding an embossed seal somewhere. You can present it as a rolled scroll tied with ribbon, in a diploma cover, or framed. Here are two examples, one "fancier," the other perfectly acceptable but more basic:
Creating a transcript is, of course, a bit more involved because it requires keeping track of credits and activities beginning about four years before graduation. But, assuming you developed a system for doing so along the way, putting it all together into transcript-form - using a simple word processing program and printing it out on high-quality paper - is not all that complicated. As with diplomas, doing an internet search for "homeschool transcript" will yield many possible format templates, and your own high school and college transcripts are also good models.
Essential elements for the transcript's "introduction" include:
- "School" Name: Whether you have chosen a formal name for your homeschool or simply refer to it using some iteration of your surname, place the name as the first element of the transcript's header. The header itself can be simple or "fancy." Just make it appealing and clear;
- Official Transcript: Be sure, too, to clearly indicate in the header that this is an official (final) transcript;
- Student Name: Provide your child's full legal name, including either a middle initial or full middle name;
- Date of Birth
- Gender: I consider this element optional and do not include it on my children's transcripts. Use your discretion;
- SSN: I am not comfortable including my child's social security number on a transcript, which may be somewhat widely distributed. If you will complete a FAFSA, college application(s), and/or job applications, you'll include the SSN there for tax purposes, so listing it on the transcript is unnecessary. But use your own discretion on this matter;
- Phone Number
- Parent Names: Include the full name for one or both legal guardians, generally those who have claimed the child on tax returns;
- Graduation Date: It is essential to list the day of graduation as well as the month and year;
- Test Scores: Taking standardized tests (i.e., the ACT, CLT, SAT) is not required for high school graduation, but if your child has taken them, include composite scores. On the other hand, do NOT have your child take the GED! Having a GED is completely unnecessary and ill-advised. Taking a GED signifies being a dropout, which is inaccurate of homeschooled students, who earn wholly legitimate high school diplomas;
- GPA: If the student is planning for any sort of post-secondary education, plan to include a grade point average (as well as grades for courses completed later in the document). It may be possible to submit a grade-less transcript in some cases but it is, unfortunately, still the accepted norm to include grades and GPA.
Because the transcript will include two or more pages, be sure to add a footer to help those reading it keep track of the complete document.
Next comes the "body," in which you will first list all the courses your teen has completed during his high school years. You may organize this as conventional schools do - by "grade level" (i.e., 9th Grade, 10th Grade) - or by subject area. The latter is not as common but is perfectly acceptable and may be both easier to compile and more authentic if you do not organize your homeschool around a nine-month "school year;" simply list courses chronologically in each subject area. In Wisconsin, we are required under the homeschool law to provide instruction in at least six basic areas each year - Language Arts, Reading (which is a component of Language Arts), Math, Science, Social Studies, and Health - so I suggest using those subject area designations, along with others (i.e., Fine Arts, Foreign Language, Electives), at your discretion.
Course titles may be basic or more creative; the key is to use terminology that is recognizable to those who read transcripts (i.e., college admissions officers) and factually accurate. Thus, if a course was introductory in nature, label it as such by calling it "Introduction to..." or "Basic...". Alternately, be sure to accurately label any courses that were legitimately "Advanced" or "Honors." Likewise, if a child earned some of his high school credits at another school - i.e., you pulled him from public school after a semester or more there - and/or via dual credit through classes at a college, be sure to clearly indicate that. And, rather than submitting multiple transcripts, include the information for those other entities on the final, official transcript you compile and provide copies of the other partial transcripts only if requested.
If you're unsure what to call a course, get inspiration by doing an internet search for "high school course titles." Be sure to also indicate the amount of credit earned for each course - see my guidelines for determining that HERE - and, as previously mentioned, it's probable that you'll be expected to include grades earned (which can be calculated in any number of ways, depending on the curriculum and resources you use) for each course. You will use course grades and a notation of total credits earned to determine the child's GPA. Of course, you may try submitting a grade-less transcript if you'd like to see if it will be accepted, but be prepared to add grades if/when requested.
Some transcript-building guides suggest including brief course descriptions on a transcript, but I don't recommend doing so. First, adding such information invariably makes the transcript look cluttered and, therefore, less appealing. Second - and even more importantly - doing so is not the norm. In other words, transcripts for kids attending institutional schools do not include course descriptions and we should not voluntarily provide any information beyond that which is expected of others. For various reasons, a few colleges have developed a written policy requiring textbook titles and/or course descriptions from homeschoolers. But even if your child has his heart set on applying to such a college, that information should be provided separately from the transcript itself. Likewise - because it's not the norm on other students' transcripts - there's no need to include a "grading scale" on a homeschool transcript.
One of our homeschool battle cries is to, "Count everything!" In other words, if a teen spends time on some learning endeavor or activity, we should give him "credit" for it in one way or another. However, that doesn't necessarily mean awarding academic credit for everything. It is true, of course, that almost anything could be labeled as a "course," but it makes more sense to document some activities in other ways. And, since a homeschool transcript is a sort of résumé - aiming to demonstrate that a teen has had a "well-rounded" high school experience - we can/should also consider including other categories after the course listing, where we use some of a child's activities and accomplishments to round out those categories. Specifically, consider including sub-headings for Certifications, Honors and Awards, Extracurricular Activities, Volunteer/Service Experience, and/or Work Experience. And, for integrity's sake, do not double-count. For example, if your child volunteered at a horse farm for 200 hours and learned all aspects of equestrian science in the process, list it as either a course (in science or as an elective) or as volunteer experience - depending on which would be most logical for his post-secondary goals - not both.
Finally, be sure to include a brief statement to "certify" the accuracy of the transcript along with the signature of at least one parent and the date of graduation. Some suggest having the transcript notarized, but I do not recommend doing so voluntarily, as kids who attend other types of schooling do not have notarized transcripts so neither should we be expected to provide outside "validation" of ours.
To illustrate these ideas, I've mocked up two sample transcripts to go along with the sample diplomas, above. Remember that these are not prescriptive (i.e., the way the documents "must" be formatted) because the authority to determine the design of a child's high school documentation rests solely with his own parents. But these examples - along with your own further research - may prove useful as you decide how to compile your child's records.