Homeschooling in Pennsylvania:
Making a Portfolio Step-By-Step

This page is an example of one way to do a home education portfolio. It is not the most minimal. It is not super-huge, either. It is *one* example. I have hesitated to put this here, because I don't want to give the impression that this is the only way, or the best way, or anything like that. If you were my best friend, though, and it was your first year doing a portfolio, I'd get you and some experienced homeschooling friends together for a "portfolio peek party", so you could get an idea of what various people have submitted. Please take this page in that spirit.

When I did my first portfolio, I looked at a lot of different ones, took ideas from each of them, and created my own. I encourage you, too, to talk to lots of experienced home educators to help you find the approach that is right for you - we are all different, as are our kids, so what works for one family may not work for another. However, not everyone has access to lots of different portfolios to look at, so I've decided to go ahead and offer this page as a starting place. Take what works for you and leave the rest. If what I describe here isn't a good fit for you or your family or your interpretation of the law or the way you homeschool, keep looking; you'll eventually find the approach that works for you. When you put together yours, just think about what you've been doing over the past year, read the requirements in the law, and in most cases it should flow naturally from that.

Are you ready? Here we go!

Cover Letter
(optional)

 

Some folks like to begin their portfolio with a cover letter. The cover letter is not required by law and thus is strictly optional.

A cover letter gives a professional appearance to the portfolio, and explains what is included therein. It is also a good place to mention anything out of the ordinary you want to bring to the district's attention. Perhaps your child has skipped a grade, repeated a grade, been home educated for only half the year, graduated and will no longer be home educated, etc. - mention it in your cover letter so there is no confusion.

Here is a sample cover letter to get you started. You will need to edit it a bit with your own student's information. Don't obsess about this - simple and brief is just fine. Once you've done your first cover letter it takes only a minute or two to tweak it for the current year or another child.

Evaluator's Report
(required for school district)

"An annual written evaluation of the student's educational progress ... 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."

After your evaluation, your evaluator will give you her report. Make a copy of it to include when you submit your portfolio to the school district. (Keep the original yourself.)

The evaluator's report should state that the student has done the days and subjects and made progress, and thus has had an appropriate education. Most evaluators write their own reports. There are some examples here, including one that is ready to print-and-use (handy if a friend who hasn't done evaluations before is doing yours). See also my all about evaluations page, and my list of evaluators. (In some cases, a district may also want information about the evaluator's qualifications, such as the number of their teaching certificate.)

Summary of the Home Education Law
(optional)

 

Some folks like to print out this nice page of excerpts from the PA Home Education Law and include it in the front of their portfolio. This page is not required by law and thus is strictly optional.

This page gives anyone who is reading the portfolio a quick summary of the law, hopefully helping them to learn what is and is not required to be in the portfolio. It also shows that you are aware of the law and intend to follow it. Feel free to print a copy and use it in your portfolio too. (There is a page for the elementary level and a page for the secondary level.)

Attendance Calendar or Statement
(optional)

"A child who is enrolled in a home education program ... shall be deemed to have met the requirements of section 1327 if that home education program provides a minimum of one hundred eighty (180) days of instruction or nine hundred (900) hours of instruction per year at the elementary level, or nine hundred ninety (990) hours per year at the secondary level..."

 

The <portfolio + written evaluation> should "demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring". "Appropriate education" includes "instruction...for the time required...".

Everyone has their own way of showing they've done the days or hours required for "appropriate ed" - see my discussion of the days/hours requirement for various approaches. An attendance calendar or statement is not specifically required by law.

If you would like to include an attendance calendar, feel free to use my favorite one-page attendance calendar, which a lot of people use, or one of the other options (including an attendance statement) on my Useful Forms page.

(Yes, for many homeschooling families, it is bizarre to try to separate "school" from "not school", and trying to do so can make you crazy. Do not stress about this. Many folks consult their day planner and check off days they considered more-or-less "school days" (usually including most Mondays-Fridays during September to May-ish, summer camp, special family outings, scouting events, performances, travel, etc.), typically resulting in a few more than the required 180 days. Others prefer an attendance statement, which simply states that they've done the 180 days, or that living an learning are intertwined, and thus they've done 365 days.)

Test Scores
(Required in 3rd, 5th, & 8th grades; optional in other grades.)

"...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."

In 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades you must include "results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels".

Make a copy of your child's test results for the portfolio - keep the originals at home.

Test results are only required in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades, but if you test in other grades you can include them if you like. They can be a way to speak to the idea that the student has "made sustained progress in the overall program".

See my testing page for lots of testing info. If you have not yet done testing, and it is a testing year, don't panic - there are lots of options.

Log of Reading Materials
(required)

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

The portfolio must include a "log...of reading materials".

There are many ways to approach the log requirement. (See my log page for a full discussion of this.) One way is to simply list the books you've used. You can list books your child has read to himself, books you've read to him, and books you've read together. If you like, you can also list audio books, videos, textbooks, software, music CD's, and/or other educational materials. As logs take many forms, you may want to title this list "Log of Reading Materials" to be clear.

You are supposed to keep this log "contemporaneously with the instruction". If you haven't been keeping a log, you will have to think back over the year and reconstruct one. Look over your library records and your family's bookshelves, talk to your child about what they have read, and do the best you can.

If you do a transcript/summary (see below), you may wish to integrate your log with it. If you use this approach, be sure to label it something like "Log of Reading Materials and Summary of Work in Required Subjects" so there there is no confusion about whether you have submitted a log.

Summary of Work in Required Subjects (Informal Transcript)
(optional)

"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.

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."

The <portfolio + written evaluation> should "demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring". "Appropriate education" includes "instruction in the required subjects". See my discussion of the subjects requirement for more on this.

For various reasons, some folks find it useful to create a sort of informal transcript or brief summary of things they've done, often grouped by subject. A transcript or summary of work is not specifically required by law. A summary/transcript is not a daily log - no dates are listed - nor should it attempt to list absolutely everything you have done. Don't get overwhelmed - this is usually 2-3 pages and shouldn't be too hard to write.

This approach is handy if much of what you do is not based on textbooks or workbooks, and doesn't always produce a "sample of work" you can put in the portfolio. The idea is to write a short blurb for each subject - sort of like the objectives you filed with your affidavit, but after-the-fact. For some families, especially those with younger children and a relaxed, eclectic, child-led, or unschool-y approach, it can be easier than coming up with hard-copy samples of work, and removes some of the pressure to create "portfolio fodder". It makes it clear you've covered the subjects, and as kids get older it can sometimes be useful (for other reasons) to have a transcript of sorts of what they've done. You will of course need to include some samples of work, primarily for the major subjects. But with this approach, the blurbs carry some of the load of showing "appropriate education" rather than just having the samples, and the required documentation can flow from the learning, not the other way around.

I have been collecting examples of these summaries on my portfolio summaries page. Browse through them to get some ideas before writing your own.

To construct your summary, think back over your year, and consult your day planner to help you remember. Did you use any formal curricula? Did you travel? Go to museums, parks, libraries, historical sites? Did you see plays, concerts, dance performances? Did you play on a team, take a dance or karate class, go on a ski trip? Do you take art or music lessons? What did you do with scouts or a church youth group? What did you do as a family - community service, family projects, theme parties, holiday activities, religious activities? What were your interests and how did you persue them? What kinds of things did you do when you got together with friends?

Some folks include in their summary the books and other resources they used for each subject. In this case, the summary also serves as the log of reading materials - be sure to title it accordingly so there is no confusion.

I use the following seven subject headings for the elementary grades (1-6). I find grouping the subjects this way to be much less daunting!

--ENGLISH: Spelling, Reading, Writing
--MATHEMATICS (Arithmetic)
--SOCIAL STUDIES: US & PA HISTORY / GEOGRAPHY / CIVICS
--SCIENCE
--FIRE SAFETY / SAFETY / HEALTH / PHYSIOLOGY
--PHYSICAL EDUCATION
--THE ARTS: ART / MUSIC

Samples
(required)

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

By the time a reader gets this far in the portfolio, it should be pretty clear that the student is getting an appropriate education, so you may not feel the need to include a 4" binder's worth of samples. In fact, if you've included test scores, a transcript/summary showing work in each required subject, and an attendance calendar of some kind, you've already spoken to progress, subjects, and days (the three prongs of "appropriate education" as defined in the law), so the samples don't have to carry much of the burden of these three requirements - they're pretty much just there to support what you've said in the blurbs.

What to include for portfolio fodder, er, samples of work? Traditional written work such as worksheets, tests, essays, and reports are obvious choices. But also consider notes from a science project, a photo of a hands-on history project, a brochure describing a class at the zoo, a pamphlet from a field trip, a certificate of participation from an activity, a copy of merit badges or ice skating rank patches, a diagram of the parts of the brain, the program from a play or concert, and so on. (I suggest you make copies rather than including originals of anything you don't want to lose.) Some folks go for quantity, others choose a few high-quality samples and leave it at that, especially if they have a transcript/summary that explains the overall scope of the work.