A portfolio is a form of academic assessment intended to evaluate and measure students’ progress. We recommend that every homeschooling parent create a portfolio of their child’s work each year, and maintain it in their permanent record. Some states require home educators to have a portfolio of their child’s work reviewed by a certified teacher, often at the end of the school year. We recommend that home educators have their child’s portfolio reviewed by a certified teacher even if it is not required in their state.
In the field of education, portfolios are used for a variety of different functions. What a person includes in a portfolio will differ depending on what the portfolio is going to be used for. For example, a student might create a portfolio that showcases their artistic ability, which would include only their very best artwork. Or, the same student might create a portfolio that showcases their artistic progress, which would include dated artwork of varying quality, showing their improvement in art over time.
The Glossary of Education Reform defines portfolios as follows:
A student portfolio is a compilation of academic work and other forms of educational evidence assembled for the purpose of (1) evaluating coursework quality, learning progress, and academic achievement; (2) determining whether students have met learning standards or other academic requirements for courses, grade-level promotion, and graduation; (3) helping students reflect on their academic goals and progress as learners; and (4) creating a lasting archive of academic work products, accomplishments, and other documentation. Advocates of student portfolios argue that compiling, reviewing, and evaluating student work over time can provide a richer, deeper, and more accurate picture of what students have learned and are able to do than more traditional measures—such as standardized tests, quizzes, or final exams—that only measure what students know at a specific point in time.
If you are creating a portfolio for an end-of-the-year assessment, your portfolio should include evidence demonstrating that your child has met the learning standards for their grade, or the learning outcomes you have created for them (see more on this here). Your child’s portfolio will need to include some form of evidence. The individual items in your child’s portfolio are called learning artifacts or simply artifacts. Artifacts are typically assignments or products that your child has completed while being homeschooled, but they could include a variety of other items as long as they provide evidence of your child’s learning.
Some states require parents to have a portfolio of their child’s work evaluated each year by a certified teacher; other states’ homeschool statutes make no mention of student portfolios at all. You can find your state’s requirements here. We recommend that home educators create a portfolio for each student they homeschool each year, regardless of whether this is required in their state. Before we look at what you might include in your child’s portfolio, we’ll look at several state statutes that provide suggested lists of portfolio materials.
Louisiana’s homeschool statute requires home educators to submit to the board “satisfactory evidence that the program has … offered a sustained curriculum of quality at least equal to that offered by public schools at the same grade level.” This evidence can consist of “a packet of materials” which includes such documents as:
(a) A complete outline of each of the subjects taught during the previous year,
(b) Lists of books and materials used,
(c) Copies of the student’s work,
(d) Copies of standardized tests,
(e) Statements by third parties who have observed the child’s progress, and
(f) Any other evidence of the quality of the program being offered.
Pennsylvania’s homeschool statute requires parents to have a portfolio reviewed by a teacher. This portfolio is described as consisting 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 … results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests.”
Maryland’s homeschool statute requires parents to “maintain a portfolio of materials” that:
(a) Demonstrates the parent or guardian is providing regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the areas specified in §C(1) of this regulation;
(b) Includes relevant materials, such as instructional materials, reading materials, and examples of the child’s writings, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, and tests;
Other states do not specify what materials should be included, but they do clarify the purpose of the child’s portfolio. Vermont’s homeschool statute requires parents to submit “a portfolio of the student’s work that includes work samples to demonstrate progress in each subject area in the minimum course of study.” The purpose of a portfolio used as an end-of-the-year assessment is to demonstrate the learning the child has built over the course of the year.
What artifacts should you include in your child’s portfolio? The artifacts listed in the state statutes above can serve as a good starting point, no matter what state you live in. However, what you include in your child’s portfolio is limited only by your creativity. Make sure you include artifacts for every subject your child covered.
Here are some artifacts you might include in your child’s portfolio:
Planning materials and lists: Every portfolio should include an outline of subjects covered, a record of curricular materials or resources used, a book list, and a school calendar with attendance marked on it. Your portfolio might also include any Homeschool Learning Outcomes you created, as well as rubrics, checklists, and assignment descriptions. If your child took a class at a co-op, a school, or a community center, you should include a syllabus for the course, if possible.
Copies of student work: Depending on the child’s grade level, this may include writing samples, worksheets, lab reports or other science writing, artwork, self-reflections, speech outlines or notecards; pictures of projects such as dioramas, models, posters, or timelines; and creative projects such as stories, poems, songs, or scripts. Your child may want to help choose samples of their work.
The results of any standardized test or other assessments. While you can include quizzes or tests you administered, it is important to also include assessments or evaluations conducted by individuals other than the parent where possible. This might include a letter from a co-op teacher, or even a CPR certification, or the child’s score in a piano competition. If your child has been receiving tutoring, ask your child’s tutor to write a short assessment of their work with your child and your child’s progress.
Documentation of activities or field trips. You may choose to include event programs, bulletins, or advertisements; photos from museum trips or other field trips together with some basic information on what the child learned or did; and photos of group activities. If your child was in a play, or a children’s choir, you should include photos or other documentation. If your child did a community service project or volunteered in the community, information about this should also be included.
You should store your child’s portfolio in a safe, permanent location so that it will be accessible to your child throughout their life. You may find it useful to digitize your student’s portfolio each year and keep a digital copy in the cloud. Your child’s portfolios will be particularly useful if you need to transfer your child into a brick-and-mortar school, or when writing your child’s homeschool transcript. For more on record keeping, see here.
The final step is to have your child’s portfolio reviewed by a certified teacher. This step is required in some states and optional in others, but we recommend that all homeschooling parents consider having their child’s portfolio reviewed even where it is not required.
CRHE recommends that you have your child’s portfolio evaluated annually by a certified teacher who is not a family member or friend. This helps ensure that the portfolio receives an honest evaluation from a qualified and objective observer, so that you will know whether your child’s successes are recognizable to people outside your immediate circle. For more on this subject, read our article on the importance of objective portfolio evaluations.
If needed, your school district may be able to point you to a teacher willing to evaluate your child’s portfolio for a small fee. Ideally, the portfolio evaluation should include an in-person interview with your child at a mutually convenient location, so that the evaluator can hear your child’s feelings and reflections about their learning directly from them. Your child’s portfolio evaluator should create a written report outlining their observations and making recommendations. You should store this report with your child’s portfolio.
It is a good idea to set aside some time to ask your child’s portfolio evaluator any questions you may have after you have read their written report. Remember to make sure that your questions are constructive, and not combative. For example, if your child’s portfolio evaluator wrote that they are behind in math but you feel that that is not the case, you should ask the evaluator what made them say that, rather than being angry at their assessment.
Note: You should maintain your child’s portfolio, along with additional school records such as your school calendar with attendance marked and your child’s homeschool plan, in your permanent record. For more on this, see Homeschool Record Keeping.
Don’t forget to read the other articles in this series!
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