Pauline's Guide to Homeschooling in PA:
Creating a Homeschooling Portfolio

What "they" expect  /  What the law requires  /  So what exactly do I need to hand in?  /  Samples of Work – Ideas and suggestions  /  Turning in the portfolio: when, where, and how  / 

New--> See my "step by step" portfolio page, and my page of sample portfolio summaries!
See also my "portfolio helps" on my handy-dandy forms page!

More Portfolio Stuff

This page deals with the portfolio as a whole.  See my other pages for details on the Log, Standardized Testing, (Including lists of test suppliers), and Evaluations (including my list of evaluators).  You might also enjoy my page of Handy-Dandy Forms, many of which make putting together a portfolio easier.  It includes several attendance calendars, various log forms, and ready-to-print portfolio cover and spine label inserts for EZVue binders.

What The Law Says About Portfolios

"In order to demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring, the supervisor of the home education program shall provide and maintain on file the following documentation for each student enrolled in the home education program:"

""Appropriate education" shall mean a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program."

"Such documentation [the portfolio and written evaluation] …shall be provided to the public school district of residence superintendent at the conclusion of each public school year." [The portfolio and evaluation must be given to the school district by June 30.]

"The portfolio shall consist of

a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used,

samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student

and in grades three, five and eight results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels."

"The evaluation shall ... be based on an interview of the child and a review of the portfolio … and shall certify whether or not an appropriate education is occurring."


Required Portfolio Items

Samples of Work
"...samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student..."

Standardized Test Results
"...and in grades three, five and eight results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels..."

Evaluator's Report
"The evaluation shall also be based on an interview of the child and a review of the portfolio … and shall certify whether or not an appropriate education is occurring." ""Appropriate education" shall mean a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program."

The parents hire an evaluator of their choosing. Evaluators must meet certain legal requirements. 

The Log
"...a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used..." 


Required subjects:

Elementary school
"At the elementary school level, the following courses shall be taught: English, to include spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civics; safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art."

Secondary school
"At the secondary school level, the following courses shall be taught: English, to include language, literature, speech and composition; science; geography; social studies, to include civics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; mathematics, to include general mathematics, algebra and geometry; art; music; physical education; health; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires. Such courses of study may include, at the discretion of the supervisor of the home education program, economics; biology; chemistry; foreign languages; trigonometry; or other age-appropriate courses as contained in Chapter 5 (Curriculum Requirements) of the State Board of Education."

(Most people, including the PDE, feel that not all subjects need to be taught each year - for example, PA history is usually covered in fourth grade in the public schools. See my Required Subjects page for more details, and talk to your evaluator about her standards.)


Portfolio Tips

Take what works for you and leave the rest!

The basics:

  • Make sure you've included everything required by law.

Organize your stuff!

  • Put the attendance records, book log, evaluator's report (after the evaluation has taken place), and standardized test results up front, with the samples of work in the back - this makes it easier for the evaluator or superintendent to see that the required items are there.
  • Similarly, you might want to put math and writing up front, with the less important subjects towards the end.
  • If you have a large portfolio (and not everyone does), you can make it easy for your evaluator to find & access the information. Label the work or use subject tabs to organize pages. This helps show that you've covered the required subjects.
  • Some folks like to label each item. Their book log says "book log" at the top, and their evaluator's report says "evaluator's report". This makes it easy for the person reviewing the portfolio to understand what they're looking at.
  • Some folks like to include quotes from the law. For example, on the cover of their portfolio they quote the list of what must be included in the portfolio. This is not at all necessary, but some folks like to show that they've read the law, they know what it requires, and they're complying with it.

Choosing your samples:

  • The work should show the best your child can do. There's no reason to include poorly completed work.
  • Don't go overboard and make your portfolio too complicated. Be selective about what you include. You don't need to bury anyone in paper.

Handy-Dandy Stuff:

  • If you use a binder, plastic sheet protectors are a great way to include a variety of items. Just slide in a workbook page, a zoo map, or the program to a play. If you like, you can also easily slip in a small piece of paper with a caption explaining the item.
  • If you use a scrapbook or photo album, try heavy-duty photo corners for programs, brochures, and tickets.

Keep your audience in mind:

The evaluator and the district don't have to agree with what you're doing. On the other hand, it can reduce the (unlikely) chance of a hassle if you anticipate their concerns when you choose items for your portfolio.

  • In some cases, you can choose samples of work that make what you do look like school. Of course, you know that homeschooling doesn't look like school, but the district is probably more comfortable with things that do. So you can include, for example, a math worksheet. Maybe it's the only one your child did all year, or maybe they do one every day, it really doesn't matter.
  • In other cases, though, it's fun to emphasize the ways that homeschooling is not at all like school. Did your kids really go to a pond to do pond studies, instead of reading about one in a textbook? Include a picture! Did they do geography by going abroad? Mention it!
  • Since some people are concerned that homeschoolers won't have opportunities to interact with other kids, some folks like to include pictures or other mention of group activities in their portfolio.

Homeschoolers have a lot of choices available to them.

Please take the information you find useful from these pages and ignore the rest.

Many people, including me, will give opinions on the PA homeschooling law. 
I believe that
everyone should read the law for themselves, read a few opinions about it,
and decide for themselves what approach makes sense for their family.

The Law

I might be wrong! I am not a lawyer!  Please double-check legal information with appropriate sources!

This Web Page by Pauline Harding for Art Nurk, askpauline@comcast.net
Contents may be copied if credit is given.


The Pennsylvania home education law requires that you create a portfolio for your home educated child.

There is much controversy about a number of the items required in the portfolio.  General practice varies widely, from evaluator to evaluator, and school district to school district.  On this page I express my opinion, which may vary from that of your evaluator, and/or school district.  I strongly suggest that you read The Law for yourself and read a number of interpretations before you decide what approach your family will be using.

Generally speaking, the portfolio tells a story of your child's homeschooling year.  There are MANY WAYS to do a portfolio, and every one will be different because there's a different story to tell.  The important thing is to not feel bullied or pressured about it (as much as possible) and to find a way to comply with The Law that suits YOU and what you do and how you do it.

There are several required parts to the portfolio – The Log, the samples, and the test scores.  (See right).  You can use all of these to tell the story of your homeschooling year, but you don't have to go overboard on any/all of them.

  • Some families will tell their story mainly through the list of books their child has read during the year.  Another will have many samples of their child's work and pictures of the child's activities.  Another will have great test scores.
  • On the other hand, some families will use mainly textbooks - their log may be brief.  Another will do lots of hands-on activities and field trips - they may have few samples of their child's written work.  Another family may have children who do not score well on tests - they may include lots of samples of the work that has actually been produced.
  • Some families include a detailed description of what they've been doing, such as a day-to-day record of instruction in their log.  Others prefer to let the finished work tell the tale - their log may be a bare bones list of reading materials used.
  • What's important is to use all of the required elements in whatever way works best for you to tell the story of your child's homeschooling year.
  • Some families are very private, and they may wish to keep most of their story private, providing only the minimum required by law.  They may choose “generic” school work, rather than personal expression, and may choose not to include photos.  Others have a friendly relationship with their district, and have no problem with sharing a more in-depth, personal look at their story.  Either way, consider that many folks urge that you not "raise the bar" for other homeschoolers by producing an amazing-beyond-belief document -- something that even you may not be able to sustain over the long term, especially in years with a new baby, a move, illness in the family, etc.

I have given many ideas on my site to help you see ways that you can tell the story of your child's year.  Please don't get overwhelmed!  You do not need to do all of these things!  You can choose the best way to tell the unique story of your child's year - the way that's best for YOU!

What "They" Expect:

There is considerable variation in what evaluators and school districts expect to see from homeschoolers, and how they interpret the law.
I cannot tell you what your particular evaluator or district will expect - only they can tell you that.

What does my evaluator expect to see?

Your evaluator must be satisfied that your child is being educated in the subjects required, for the time specified by law, and is making "sustained progress".  Evaluators have different standards for portfolios, and you will want to be sure before hiring an evaluator to understand what they will require.  In particular, get a sense in advance of the number of samples of work you'll need, and be sure your evaluator is comfortable with your method of keeping your log.  See my All About Evaluations & Evaluator List page for more info.

What does my district expect to see?

The superintendent of your school district also has to determine that your child is being educated in the subjects required, for the time specified by law, and is making "sustained progress".  If the super determines that this is not the case, he must ask for more documentation.  If the additional documentation does not convince him, he must hold due process hearings.

Most people try to construct their portfolio to make it clear that they have been in compliance with the law, and that their child is doing just fine, without going overboard.

Actual practice varies widely.  Some districts don't want to see the portfolio at all; others demand considerable documentation.  It is wise to find out what other homeschoolers in your district have been handing in.

For example, if the other homeschoolers in your district hand in 4" thick binders with tons of samples of work and detailed records of what they've done on every one of the 180 days, you may have some problems if you hand in a pocket folder with a brief log, a few samples of work and a brief statement from the evaluator.  This may be true even if every required item is there!  On the other hand, some districts just want to see the evaluator's report; they really don't want to see your portfolio, so you can avoid spending days on end getting it just right!  Most districts are somewhere in the middle, and will not hassle you so long as you give them what is required by law.

(In some cases, a district will ask for MORE than is required by law. Many times a polite discussion, where you point out what the law really says, will suffice.  In other cases, you may need to respond in writing.  See my Complying with the PA Homeschooling Law page for people to contact for further help if you have problems.)

Will anyone else need to see your portfolio?

There may be other considerations when preparing the records that make up your portfolio.  You may need records for an umbrella school, diploma program, or for college applications.  You may have special circumstances, such as a custody battle, where you may have to defend your homeschooling program.  Most people do not need to keep extensive records, but consider your situation carefully before deciding how to document your child's homeschool year.  You may or may not decide to share all of these records with your district.

What You Need To Hand In (In Plain English)

So what exactly do I need to hand in?

At the end of the year, you must produce several things.  They are Samples of Work, Standardized Test Results, Written Evaluation Report, and The Log.

The required items are usually put into a three-ring binder, scrapbook, or folder to be presented first to the evaluator, then to the superintendent.  (One family recently submitted their portfolio on CD.)

Every portfolio is different - one will have lots of books listed in the log, another lots of photos of hands-on work, another will have lots of worksheets.  Please don't get overwhelmed by the number of things I've suggested here!

Samples of Work

“...samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student..."

During the year:

As you go through the year, keep an eye out for things that may be useful for the portfolio. There are two general methods:

  1. Save stuff now, organize it later:
    As you go along, save samples of your child's work for the portfolio in a box.  You don't have to save every piece of paper, just the best work.  In the spring, you can go through it all to put together your binder of samples.  The advantage to this method is that you can save the work until the spring, when the bulk of your school year will be finished and you may have more time to devote to it.
  2. Organize weekly or monthly:
    Take a few minutes every week or two to go through your child's work.  Put stuff worth keeping into a binder or scrapbook.  The advantage to this method is that you can look at what you've done and feel like you're accomplishing something.  It also may show any weak areas while you still have time to work on them.

Don't get overwhelmed by the need for samples!  Most homeschoolers include at least one item for each subject required by law.  That's only about 16 things.  For the more important subjects (writing, math, etc.) you may wish to have several items. (Some districts or evaluators may want more.)  As a general rule, if you save one or two items a week you should easily have enough by the end of the year.  (Check with your evaluator about her standards.)  It's a good idea to keep in mind the subjects required by law, so you can be sure to keep a sample or jot down a note about the minor ones when they come up during the course of the year.

It's easy to hate doing this, but keeping a portfolio can be much more than meeting a state requirement.  Your children will have something concrete to pull out when they want to show someone what they've done - especially useful when applying for a job or for college.  Best of all, your family can look through & relive the year's accomplishments- a real boost when you hit a rough spot in schooling.

Putting it all together: Thoughts about the portfolio format

  • Presentation is important.  You are a professional, and you want to be treated like one, so act like one.  However, that doesn't mean you need to have a fancy lacy binder, or that you need to snow them with tons of stuff.  The portfolio is, bottom line, paperwork.  It doesn't have to be an art project, unless you want it that way.
  • Some folks use a three-ring binder, others make a scrapbook, others use a pocket folder.  Some portfolios are three or four inches thick, others are less than an inch.  Some folks manage to fit the whole thing into a pocket folder!  More is not always better!  Check with your evaluator about her expectations and standards, and determine common practice in your district.
  • Put in enough work to demonstrate progress.  (Ask your evaluator about her standards.)
  • Some evaluators/districts look for something from each of the required subjects, to see that you've covered each of the subjects required by law.  This can include a worksheet, a photo or description of an activity, brochures from a field trip, a book on the topic in your book log, or whatever.  Another approach is to write a brief summary of what you've done over the year in each of the various required subjects.  (Many people, including the PDE, interpret the law to mean that not all subjects must be taught each year.  However, many folks generally touch on these subjects at some time during the year anyway, so they mention them.)
  • If your child is not doing well in a particular subject, don't panic.  Your child does not have to be a super achiever to homeschool.  However, do make sure the work and instruction done in that area are well documented.  If, for example, test scores are low in a particular subject, you can write about what you've done to improve, and what progress has been made.

Examples of things you may wish to include:

  • Writing Samples:  You can include thank you letters to relatives (just photocopy them before you mail them), book reports, short answer essays, worksheets, writing exercises, and/or journal entries.  Writing samples can also cover another subject - for example an essay about the solar system, or a worksheet about the Constitution, or a report on a book about the human body.
  • Math Work:  A useful thing to include is a worksheet of basic math problems at your child's grade level.  (If you don't usually do math this way, you may want to do a page just for the portfolio.)  Math can also include designs and patterns, logic problems, a list of math books, recipes, photos of block castles or tangram designs, a list of board games, and other things.
  • Samples for each of the major subjects:  These can be worksheets, essays, tests (if you use them), photos or descriptions of activities or projects, etc.  In some cases you might want to create a worksheet specifically for the portfolio, even if you don't usually do worksheets.  (You can also show that you've covered a subject by an entry in your log.)
  • Brochures and programs:  An easy way to document activities is to gather brochures and programs from museums, plays, community events, library programs, classes, etc.  They can be put into a sheet protector or put into a scrapbook.  This is a useful way to show activities for subjects such as music, which doesn't generate much paper.  On the other hand, some folks just include a list of such activities, or mention them in the log.  Since these items are not, strictly speaking, "samples of work" (though of course they show educational activities), you will probably want to include some actual paper-and-pencil work somewhere in the portfolio.
  • Certificates and awards:  These can come from any programs or classes your child completed, such as scouts, Science in the Summer, etc.  You can also print out the summary pages/awards from educational software programs.
  • Pictures:  If it won't fit in the binder, take a picture!  Take pictures of hands-on projects such as artwork, science projects, collections, and displays.  Take pictures at fieldtrips & presentations.  You may also wish to include pictures of your kids working & playing with other kids.  Pictures are a good way to document things that don't generate paper!
  • Captions:  Some homeschoolers write descriptions of the items in the portfolio.  "Johnny liked the trip to the nature center". "Susan earned several Girl Scout badges this year."  "Mike went skiing for the first time."  This helps explain what the item is and why it's there.  If you use sheet protectors, you can put the caption on a small slip of colored paper and slip it into the bottom.
  • List of Activities:  Some folks include a brief list of activities they've done in a particular subject area.  This is a way to show the scope of their activities without having to generate a piece of paper for each one.  It is particularly good for younger children, who may do many hands-on activities that don’t produce written work.  If you plan to do this you should keep notes throughout the year -- you'd be surprised what you forget, and the years begin to run together after a while!

Again -- every portfolio is different - one will have lots of books in the log, another lots of photos of hands-on work, another lots of worksheets.  Please don't get overwhelmed by the number of things I've suggested here!

The "Disposable Portfolio"

Concerned about the district losing your portfolio? Hate to have them keep it for several months? Here's your answer! Some folks make a "disposable portfolio" to submit to their district. They make copies of the things they want to submit, and keep the originals at home. The copies can be stapled together, bound using brads or a report cover, or put into a pocket folder. Because copying everything in a huge portfolio would be a big pain, these portfolios are usually fairly slim, but still contain all that is required by law. Such a portfolio usually consists of:

  • Title page and/or cover letter
  • Evaluator's letter, test scores (if required), and possibly a 1-page attendance chart,
  • Brief log, listing textbooks and/or other books,
  • 8-20 samples and/or descriptions of work (including math, writing, science, social studies (geography, history, civics), fire safety, health/physiology, and perhaps phys ed, music, and art)
  • Some folks also include a brief (2-3 sentences) description of the student's work in each subject - this is not required by law but is an easy way to show that the subjects have been covered and to assure the reader that the student's work was much more extensive than just the samples of work shown.

If you choose this approach, you may wish to show your evaluator a larger portfolio. If you are only assembling the more minimal version, be sure you hire an evaluator who will accept such a portfolio (some will, some won't).  You may also want to consider whether your district has accepted such a portfolio before, or if it is dramatically different than the general practice of homeschoolers in your district. 

A personal note - my district once lost one of my children's portfolios - they found it again two-and-a-half years later, held together with a rubber band instead of the nice binder I had used. (This, despite the fact that it had "please return to:" with my name, address, and phone number on the cover!) While this kind of thing certainly doesn't happen often, needless to say, I'm a fan of the disposable portfolio!

What if my district asks for more than the law requires? 

Some school districts have a history of asking homeschoolers for things that are not required by law.  In this case, see Handling School District Problems.  Also, there is no substitute for reading The Law for yourself!

Turning in Your Portfolio

When should I submit my portfolio?

Your portfolio is due by June 30. The Home Education Law says : (h) Such documentation required by subsection (e)(1) [the portfolio] and (2) [the evaluation] shall be provided to the public school district of residence superintendent at the conclusion of each public school year. The date June 30 comes from 24 PS 1-102 Definitions, which says: "School year" shall mean the period of time ... between the first day of July of one year and the thirtieth day of June of the following year.

Where and how should I turn in my portfolio to the district?

Call your district to find out where you should submit your portfolio. There are three ways you can submit your portfolio - in person, by appointment, or by mail.

In person - Call ahead to find out where and when you should submit your portfolio.  (Some district offices keep summer hours.)  Be sure to get a receipt to show that you have turned it in - every year a few go missing.  If you have not made a "disposable" portfolio, ask when you can expect to get it back.  Get the name and phone number of a contact person so you can call to check on it if you don't hear from them.

By appointment - Some folks schedule an appointment with the superintendent, so that he can review the records during the appointment and return them immediately.  You will want to ask for some kind of written confirmation that your records have been reviewed.  Remember that there is no need for the district to see or interview your children.  You are NOT required to meet with the superintendent, and you should carefully consider whether doing so will create the expectation that others will do so too. If you are not comfortable with this approach, do not have to do it.

By mail - Call ahead to find out where to address your portfolio.  Talk to the post office about the best way to send it - you want to be sure you get a receipt to show that it was received.  You may wish to include a self-addressed envelope if you wish to have your portfolio returned to you.

Other tips - Some people recommend that you include a privacy statement & a record sheet to be signed by the people who look at your portfolio.  This way you will know who has handled your materials.  It is also wise to put your name and phone number on the portfolio.