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Homeschool Portfolios: Myths & Facts

If you're new to Florida homeschooling, we're guessing you've spent quite a bit of time thinking about the portfolio requirement. You may be counting your activities or comparing your stack of books and samples against other students you know. Maybe you're worried your portfolios won't pass and your students will be sent to public school.

You're definitely not alone. New homeschoolers worry about the portfolio all the time.

At Florida Homeschool Association, we spend a lot of time talking and writing to parents about their fears around the portfolio process. Here's a detailed article we wrote about the portfolio, in case you want to read it first, before coming back here.

While the portfolio is an important legal requirement for Florida home educators, it doesn't need to become a stressful life event. We'd like to put your mind at ease about what's true and what isn't about portfolio preparation. Below, you'll find the 10 most common portfolio myths we hear, and learn why these really aren't worries at all.

Portfolio Myths & Facts

Portfolio Myth #1: The portfolio needs to contain all the student's work for the entire year. (This is false.)

The portfolio is only required to contain "samples" of student work, not everything the student did all year. Home education parents have the freedom to determine what a representative "sample" of student work looks like, for that student, for that year. There is no specific quantity as to the number of "samples" that need to be included in the student portfolio. One family might include 3 samples of something while another family might include 30. The quantity and type of "samples" are completely up to you.

Portfolio Myth #2: The portfolio has to include an attendance report which demonstrates student attendance for a specific number of school days for the year. (This is false.)

Nowhere in the Florida Statutes is tracking daily attendance required for Florida home education students. The notion that home education students need to be present in school for a certain number of days is not true. While Florida home educators may take attendance if they want to, it's optional, and not required for the portfolio. Attendance requirements apply to public and private school students, but not to home education students at all.

Portfolio Myth #3: The portfolio must contain the student's schedule and/or daily/weekly lesson plans that were used for instruction. (This is false.)

While the portfolio must contain a "log" of educational activities and the "titles" of books used, this does not imply a schedule or daily lesson plans. Parents may choose, at their option, to produce schedules and lesson plans for home education students. However, these are optional and are not required to include within the portfolio.

Portfolio Myth #4: Everything in the portfolio has to be graded. (This is false.)

There is no specific language in the Florida Statutes requiring portfolios to contain only graded work samples. While many home educators grade student papers and include them in the portfolio, non-graded samples (or any other type of samples) are permitted, too. The Statutes only require work "samples", and there is no specific language about the format or appearance of the samples that can be included in the portfolio.

Portfolio Myth #5: The portfolio should contain only "high scoring" work. By including work samples that are anything less than perfect, the student may not "pass" the portfolio requirement. (This is false.)

Because the portfolio includes a log of activities the student engaged in and examples of work completed over a full year, we can assume some of the entries in the portfolio will be better than others. No student is good at everything, and we should expect to notice strengths and weaknesses in all learners. A representative sample of student work taken throughout the year simply demonstrates the ebbs and flows that take place during a school year, and the different areas students are working on. An accurate account of what took place is nothing to be feared. Progress may be seen in some areas of the portfolio more than others, which is normal for learners, too.

Portfolio Myth #6: The portfolio must contain papers and projects, in physical form. (This is false.)

The portfolio should represent the types of activities and work samples of a given student for a given year, whether in person, virtual, or otherwise. It is understandable, even normal, for certain experiences not to have physical evidence of completion. If activities or projects for the portfolio did not result in physical (tangible) work, there are other ways to document those activities for the portfolio if you wish to include them (think: audio, video, or digital images). Activities can also appear on the educational log, even if they have no corresponding work samples to back them up (think: attending lectures and going on field trips). Remember, the portfolio is not meant to be a record of everything that happened in one year, only samples. The entire portfolio can be saved in physical form or electronically, as long it is preserved for 2 years.

Portfolio Myth #7: The portfolio should be organized, professional, and attractive. If it isn't, the student's performance or the parent's ability to perform as a teacher may be questioned. (This is false.)

There is no language in the Florida Statutes as to the format or appearance of the annual portfolio. Portfolios comply with the Statutes as long as they contain the log and work samples. Knowing this, parents can rest easy knowing their artistic skills and design choices do not factor into the process. Although neat and orderly portfolios may be helpful for families who want to look back on their portfolios, or for certified teachers who review portfolios for annual evaluations, student progress can be seen in portfolios of all kinds, no matter how fancy or elaborate they are.

Portfolio Myth #8: Portfolios (or a copy of the portfolio) are turned in to the Superintendent every year. (This is false.)

Parents who are home educators in Florida should keep (preserve) the portfolio for a minimum of 2 years, in a safe place, where other homeschool records are stored. The superintendent's office does not receive the portfolio, and home educators are not required to give them a copy.

However, the law does provide school superintendents the option to inspect a homeschool portfolio, if they wish to do so, by giving a 15-day written notice to the parent. Should this occur, the superintendent will only look at the portfolio and return it to the parent. At no time will the superintendent keep a homeschool portfolio or request copies of it.

Portfolio Myth #9: Parents of students taking online classes or classes outside the home struggle to find things to put in the portfolio. (This is false.)

The portfolio is to contain work samples plus a list of educational activities and books used for instruction. If instruction comes with no physical work product to include as samples, these experiences can still be listed on the educational log. Sometimes, outside experiences come with work pages that can be printed, a course syllabus that can be printed, transcripts or certificates from the program, or photos of the student participating. However, even when no work samples exist, these experiences can still be listed on the educational log, to document the student's participation.

Portfolio Myth #10: Portfolios take a long time to put together. (This is false.)

The easiest way to maintain a student portfolio is to work on it throughout the year, a few minutes at a time. Since portfolio maintenance is designed to be contemporaneous with instruction, it makes sense to look at portfolio creation as a year-long record-keeping task, instead of a frantic end-of-year chore. By setting aside a place to store work samples and a way to record educational activities, it's easy to collect this information, a little bit at a time, all year long. By spending just a few minutes each week or each month, the portfolio will build itself with very little effort. Doing it this way, the portfolio and log will be in chronological order, too.

We hope these insights have helped release any portfolio fears you may have been holding onto, and explained the reasons why these misconceptions are untrue. If you feel lighter after reading this article, please share it with your Florida friends, too.

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