The are 4 basic legal requirements for Florida homeschoolers: (1) the letter of intent; (2) the letter of termination; (3) the annual evaluation; and (4) the portfolio of records and materials. In an earlier article, we summarized each of these requirements, and we connected our readers to sections within the Florida Statutes that explain them.
In this article, we focus specifically on the portfolio requirement. By the end of the article, you will understand:
who needs a portfolio
how often to create one
what to put inside
who may see it
how it could be used
how long to hold on to it
In these excerpts from the Florida Statutes, we can see that the "portfolio of records and materials" is defined as:
1. A log of educational activities that is made contemporaneously with the instruction and that designates by title any reading materials used. 2. Samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed by the student.
We also learn the portfolio is created by the parent, preserved for a minimum of two years, and is to be made available to the district superintendent upon request:
(e) The parent shall determine the content of the portfolio, preserve it for 2 years, and make it available for inspection, if requested, by the district school superintendent, or the district school superintendent’s agent, upon 15 days’ written notice. Nothing in this section shall require the district school superintendent to inspect the portfolio.
Breaking this down, we examine the finer details of assembling, using and storing the Florida "portfolio" for home education students.
REQUIRED FOR INDEPENDENT HOMESCHOOLERS
The portfolio requirement applies to all families using the notice of intent to homeschool (note well: students in private schools follow different regulations). Home education (homeschool) parents assemble a portfolio for every student listed on the letter of intent, for every year of instruction. When there are multiple children in the family who are participating in home education, multiple portfolios are assembled every year.
MAINTAINING THE PORTFOLIO THROUGHOUT THE YEAR
The portfolio is to be maintained during and throughout the homeschool year. If one views portfolio as a storage container (whether physical or digital) in which to hold special things, one can imagine dropping things the students are doing, every now and then, into said storage container, throughout the year.
Some people implement the portfolio as a cardboard box or plastic crate, or keep some type of large envelope or 3-ringer binder handy in which to store work samples throughout the year. Others create a portfolio which resembles a scrap book, highlighting important moments, samples of work, and to display special keepsakes. Still others see the portfolio as files on a storage device, a virtual collage or presentation, a web page, a shared document, a photo album, or some combination of all these ideas.
The portfolio may take on any form that makes sense for the parent and student whose work is being assembled, considering the style and format of the records and materials that are being placed inside. The design, beauty and neatness of the portfolio is not reflective of the quality of the materials inside, and parents are advised that creating a portfolio should not be a source of stress or great expense.
By maintaining a portfolio throughout the school year, families are never left with the task of pulling it together on the last day of school. Additionally, by assembling parts of it throughout the year, the portfolio is more likely to reflect a sampling of activities that occurred throughout the year, not just at one point in time.
WHAT GOES INSIDE?
The portfolio contains two kinds of things: (1) samples of student work, and (2) a list of educational activities & reading materials from that year.
The work samples
The size of a child's homeschool portfolio will vary based on the kinds of things the student did that year. The portfolio is supposed to be a group of samples, not everything accomplished. For instance, in the same way as parents often save some of the child's favorite drawings in a box or a scrap book, so samples of student artwork might go into the portfolio instead (or a photo of it, if the piece is too large or bulky).
Any time the student writes a favorite story, or has produced a research paper, or taken a spelling test, parents could drop some of those assignments into the portfolio. When a student turns in a history report, completes a journal entry, or solves a series of math problems, they might drop some of those into the portfolio, too.
Practically speaking, it's a good idea to write the date on all items placed into the portfolio, so it can be assembled in chronological order, should entries ever get mixed up. It's a good practice to also insure samples are put in the portfolio on a semi-regular basis, so that time periods throughout the homeschool year are represented -- say, the beginning, middle, and end of the year. This recommendation will make more sense in the section about on portfolio reviews, later on.
The educational log & reading materials
In addition to work samples described above, the law also tells us to include a log of books and activities inside the portfolio. Therefore, in addition to samples of school work described above, parents will also create a list of experiences, including the titles of any books that were used, as well.
Much like work samples, the log will be unique for every student and the activities that took place each year. Examples of entries to type onto the "log" might include: a list of field trips or homeschool classes taken, the names of co-ops or other providers of instruction, the names of textbooks or curriculum books that were used, the titles of books that were borrowed from the library, names of YouTube channels used in homeschool, the URLs of websites accessed during a class, and so on.
As with the work samples, the log is a glimpse into the educational resources used that particular year, and parents needn't worry if they occasionally forget to include items on the list. Learning is a constant activity that does not only occur within the pages of a book at certain times of day. Recognizing this, one can see that a typewritten list could never represent all the ways that children learn throughout the year anyway.
As long as the portfolio contains: (1) work samples and (2) an educational log, it is legally compliant. Read further to learn how the portfolio might be used and who might need to see it, to get a better feel for what to put inside.
PRESERVING (SAVING) THE PORTFOLIO
Parents often ask how long they are required to save these homeschool records and materials. In Florida, the law makes this very clear -- parents are required to save portfolios for TWO YEARS. While some families will hold on to school work forever, the minimum required time period for portfolio preservation is 2 years.
Parents also wonder if the portfolio has to be "turned in" to anyone. To answer that question, see the next section.
HOW THE PORTFOLIO IS USED
There are three possible scenarios in which the portfolio may prove useful. These include: (a) accessing the portfolio to gain student information later on; (b) using the portfolio as part of the annual evaluation process; and, (c) making the portfolio available for inspection by the district superintendent. While (a) and (b) remain at the discretion of the parent, inspection (c) is a legal requirement.
Using the portfolio as a source of student information
It can seem counter-intuitive to spend time pulling many documents together, only to store them in a closet or a box in the garage. However, a homeschool portfolio can be very useful when putting together a student resume, a scholarship application, or a high school transcript later on. It can help decide which topics and materials to use with each student for the next year. Sometimes, looking through a portfolio from an older child can help plan activities for younger students in the family. (Students may also enjoy showing off their portfolios to friends and grandparents, too!)
Using the portfolio during the annual evaluation process
Of the 5 different annual evaluation options, by far, the portfolio review with a Florida-certified teacher is the most popular. Having an organized, completed student portfolio makes the process of portfolio review seamless and simple. Keeping portfolios handy during the evaluation process at the end of each year insures meetings will go quickly and smoothly -- evaluators may flip easily through the portfolio while having a brief discussion with the student, and the process is complete.
Making the portfolio available for district inspection
Though parents are responsible for storing the portfolios at home, the law asks parents to make the portfolio available for inspection by the district superintendent, if requested. While school districts are not required to perform inspections, they may do so, at their own discretion.
In order for a district superintendent's office to make a request to inspect the homeschool portfolio, parents should first receive such request in writing, giving them 15 days notice prior to attending the inspection meeting. Keeping the portfolio in a safe place for the minimum required two years, means it is always handy should this kind of inspection ever be requested. While most families will never receive such a request, the possibility exists, therefore Florida homeschool families should be aware this is a legitimate, legal requirement.