A little while ago, someone posted a comment on one of my old entries asking for advice about her first homeschool portfolio review with the county. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get this post up in time for her review, but it’s still review season – maybe this will help others. Marylanders, please chime in with your experiences!
Homeschoolers in Maryland have two choices: they can register with an “umbrella group” that supervises their homeschooling, or they can have a portfolio review with the school system for the county they live in (or for Baltimore City) twice a year. Reviews usually happen in midwinter and in late spring. Umbrella groups set their own review requirements; the advice in this post applies only to school system reviews.
As you homeschool:
Know the law. Read the portion of COMAR (the Annotated Code of Maryland) that applies to homeschooling. Read this excellent interpretation of Maryland homeschooling law from National Home Education Legal Defense. Maryland law requires homeschooling parents to teach eight subjects (English, math, science, social studies, art, music, health, PE) “on a regular basis during the school year.” The law specifies that your portfolio must “demonstrate that the parent or guardian is providing regular, thorough instruction” and that it must “include relevant materials, such as instructional materials, reading materials, and examples of the child’s writing, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, and tests.”
Document as you go. If you use a packaged curriculum like Calvert or Abeka, you can skip this section. You’ll have plenty of documentation that is easily understood by your reviewer. If you use eclectic methods and/or require little or no written work, keeping documentation as you go along will save you a lot of headaches at portfolio time.
Here are some examples of things (other than workbook pages or written assignments) that can count as documentation:
- Titles of books you read to your child. (If your library gives out printed receipts, it saves a lot of list-making time.)
- Titles of books your child reads independently.
- Titles of videos with educational content.
- Lists of “manipulatives” used (pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, a balance scale, sorting toys, measuring spoons and cups, etc., depending on your child’s developmental level).
- Photos and brochures from field trips, classes, and activities.
- Photos of projects, costumes, kits, science experiments, artwork, and other learning activities. (For example, a photo of your child examining a bird’s nest could be used as documentation for science.)
- Photos of your child playing an educational board or card game, or playing with math manipulatives.
- Screenshots from educational video games.
- Topics you and your child discuss – anything from the causes of the Civil War (social studies) to why you should wash your hands after using the bathroom (health).
- Exposure to different musical genres through concerts, CDs, podcasts, or the radio.
- Songs your child learns to sing or play.
- Photocopies of the instructions for games, activities, experiments, or projects.
- Copies or photos of letters your child writes.
- Math pages you did orally.
- Photos of written work done on a whiteboard or in chalk on the sidewalk.
(By no means do you need all this stuff, or even any of it. These are just ideas, if you’re having trouble thinking of how you could document instruction in a particular area.)
Making your portfolio:
There is no prescribed format for the portfolio. I used a slim three-ring binder with dividers for the eight required subjects, but if a scrapbook or a multimedia iPad presentation fits your style better, go ahead.
Print out a copy of the COMAR homeschooling regulations and make it the first page of your portfolio. You may not need it, but if you and your reviewer have any disagreements about what is required, it’s nice to be able to refer directly to the law.
Make a sample schedule. I got this great advice from Kelly at the Baltimore Homeschool Community Center. A sample week’s schedule is the easiest way to document that the instruction you are providing is “on a regular basis,” as the law requires. You don’t need to follow the same schedule every week, and you can make your sample schedule a composite of typical activities. Here’s what Alex’s sample schedule looked like in the spring of her kindergarten year, at a time when we were using Five in a Row and doing virtually no written work.
Provide selective evidence of “instructional materials” used for each subject. If you use packaged curricula, this is easy: bring the teacher’s manual, the lesson plans, a photocopy of the table of contents, a sample workbook, or something similar. I used to bring one of the Five in a Row manuals to give my reviewer an idea of how we organized our main studies. I also supplied lists with titles like these:
- Partial List of Guided Oral Reading (books Alex read to me).
- Partial List of Independent Silent Reading (books Alex read on her own).
- Partial List of Literature Read-Alouds (books I read to Alex).
- Partial List of Books Used for Social Studies (titles with historical or cultural content, whether they were linked to a specific study or just read for fun).
- Partial List of Books and Videos Used for Science (titles with science or nature content, whether they were linked to a specific study or just read for fun).
- Partial List of Topics Discussed for Health (I divided it into sections: illness, health habits, safety).
I put a handful of titles on each list – not every single book, but a nice representative sample. If you don’t use a math book, for “instructional materials” you could supply a list of math games and materials, including math-related picture books, puzzle books, and websites.
Select 4-5 samples for each of the major subjects. You usually only need 1-2 sample pages for minor subjects like PE and health. If you use workbooks or written assignments for a given subject, this is easy. If not, choose from among your photos and other documentation. For these types of pages, I put a title on a page of a Word document, pasted in a few pictures as images, and then perhaps added a few sentences of explanation – the recipe for a cooking project, a brief description of a science experiment, etc. Sometimes I quoted Alex. It’s easy to photograph or scan your child’s artwork for inclusion in the art section – I found it better to do it that way so I wouldn’t have to punch holes in her pictures.
I’ve used a few sample portfolio pages to illustrate this post, and there’s a much larger set of sample portfolio pages here. The larger set of sample pages includes examples of ways to document outside classes, hands-on activities, conversations, and even pretend play.
Collect your portfolio pages into your binder, divided by subject. You don’t have to date your child’s work, although dates (even just the month) can be an easy way of proving that instruction occurred “on a regular basis,” as required by law.
That’s it! You should now have a beautiful portfolio to document your homeschooling. Stay tuned for Part II: Taking your portfolio through the review process.