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What Do You Think of When You Hear the Word "Portfolio"?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a portfolio as:

  • A portable case for holding material, such as loose papers, photographs, or drawings.

  • The materials collected in such a case, especially when representative of a person's work: a photographer's portfolio; an artist's portfolio of drawings."

A portfolio implies a comprehensive package of materials, like the "case" described in the above definition.

Sometimes, homeschoolers use the word "portfolio" to refer to the method of evaluation they use. The fact is, the word "portfolio" does not appear in Massachusetts homeschooling law. Charles says that school officials and parents should agree on one method of evaluation and states the following as choices: testing, periodic progress reports, or dated work samples. (Charles at 340)

No portfolio required.

You may ask, isn't a portfolio just a bunch of dated work samples? It could be — or it could be more dated work samples than a homeschooler needs to provide, along with written text that might qualify as a progress report. It could even include test results. With the help of computers, the Internet, and other tools, some homeschooling parents are fashioning digital portfolios for submission to school districts. A portfolio may well contain more than Massachusetts homeschooling law requires parents to submit to schools for the purpose of evaluation.

Let's look at the reasons people may submit more than is required, then examine whether it matters.

  1. New homeschooler jitters
    Families who've recently started homeschooling may feel nervous about whether they will receive approval. Sometimes, these nerves lead people to submit more. Talking to other homeschoolers, reading up on the law, and checking out the sample evaluations on the AHEM website (http://www.ahem.info/MethodsofEvaluation.htm) can help provide a sense of security.

  2. My kid is awesome! 
    Parents may rightfully be excited about all the cool things their kids are doing. Keeping records and compiling portfolios can be both personally rewarding and important for some purposes like preparing for college or other applications, or sharing accomplishments with family members and friends - but not for reporting to your school district.

  3. Confusion 
    Some homeschoolers may not be sure what the law requires, and may think that a portfolio is what's necessary. Familiarizing ourselves with the law helps clarify our responsibilities.

Why does it matter if some families submit portfolios? Shouldn't people do what feels comfortable?

When people over report, it can affect other homeschoolers by raising the expectations of school officials for all families in town. AHEM has received reports of cases in which one family in town submitted extensive portfolios for their kids, and the district then pressured other homeschoolers in town to submit similar information for evaluation. While some families may feel fine about handing in a large portfolio, other families may have reasons for not doing so, such as philosophical opposition to testing, or a homeschooling style that focuses on process more than product. Consider that submitting more than necessary also sets up heightened expectations in future years for yourself, when circumstances may have changed and you may not have as much time as now.

Over reporting can also have consequences over the longer term. Here's an example: Charles does not specifically state the required frequency for submission of education plans. Annual submission has become the norm. Some homeschoolers may even think submitting an education plan once a year is required by law. It's not. But in a legal challenge, common practice would make a difference. If submission of portfolios became the norm in Massachusetts, eventually it could make a legal difference.

What can homeschoolers do?

  1. 1. Read the law 
    Do it as many times as you need to in order to understand it. If you need help, interpretations of the law can be found on the AHEM website (http://www.ahem.info/LawMadeEasy.htm). Understanding the law makes us more able to advocate for ourselves and for homeschooling.

  2. Don't over report 
    Choose the one form of evaluation that works for your family. If you pick progress report or dated work samples, carefully consider how much information is required to show your child's progress.

  3. Use clear language 
    When discussing evaluation, avoid language that is not present in the law (portfolio), and use language that comes directly from the law (testing, periodic progress report, or dated work samples).

Understanding the law and making sure your education plan and evaluation do not exceed it are important ways you can help protect homeschooling freedoms for everyone in Massachusetts.