19 Days until Portfolio Review: What’s the Law?

Oh no! The portfolio reviews are coming! The portfolio reviews are coming! It’s time to freak out, right? What if I don’t have enough worksheets or tests or book lists or…

Breathe.

That’s it. Take a deep breath. Imagine you’re on the beach. Hear the waves.

Calm yet? If not, go back to the happy place. I’ll wait.

No rush.

Okay, now we can talk about portfolio reviews.

I’m going to do a series of posts about this, because it’s a pretty huge thing. Now, note that much of this will be Maryland-specific, but people in other states might get ideas about how to keep track of student portfolios. Or not. It’s up to you.

For those of who don’t know me, this is our ninth* year homeschooling. We spent three in California and six (I can’t believe it’s been that long) here in Maryland. Hopefully I have some experience I can share with people new to homeschooling or to the state.

(*”Ninth? But your oldest is in seventh grade?” — yep. But we started really actually homeschooling when he was 4. We joined the homeschooling community and all that good stuff. If you think preschool or whatever we did doesn’t count, then just replace ‘ninth’ with ‘eighth’ in your head whenever I say we’ve been homeschooling that long. I won’t tell.)

Maryland Homeschool Law

Here in Maryland, we do two portfolio reviews a year with our county school system. The law that covers homeschooling is short and easy to read: COMAR 13A.10.01.

In this post I’m going to draw your attention to a few important parts of it.

(Note: I am not a lawyer. I once wanted to be a supreme court justice, but decided not to once I learned that you probably have to be a lawyer first. That said, some of my friends and family are lawyers — I have nothing against them. I just didn’t want to be one. Also, anything I say is not meant to be legal advice, just regular old boring human advice.)

Instruction Program

Part C indicates what homeschoolers are expected to do.

(1) Provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age;

This is completely vague and mostly useless. Children of the same age often learn rather different stuff, especially kids with learning disabilities, gifted children, etc. Heck, some kids take music all through high school while others never see it after 5th grade. There’s basically nothing in this rule that is actionable.

(2) Include instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education; and

These are the eight subjects for which you’ll need to show a portfolio. This doesn’t count a lot of things, like technology classes or foreign languages.

Some of them are pretty easy to figure out — English is about things like learning comma rules, writing papers, reading poetry, and literature.

Others are also pretty easy but some people can get hung up on what kids in public school are doing — “Oh, third grade? That’s world history” or “Oh, sixth grade has to be earth science”. Um, no. Don’t feel you actually have to follow what the schools have decided to implement.

Other subjects seem pretty opaque, like health. I had trouble when I first moved here, trying to figure out what on earth kindergarten health was. So looked up what the local schools had listed in their information for parents. Not because I felt like I was forced to cover the same things, but because I wasn’t really sure what it entailed! As it turns out, in Maryland, health includes things like understanding your emotions, mental health, bullying, fire safety, and dozens of other things that don’t really fall in the other subjects.

(3) Take place on a regular basis during the school year and be of sufficient duration to implement the instruction program.

Still… pretty vague! And you know what? That’s good! Vague is great. That means you have a lot of wiggle room to do things your way — the way that works best for you and for your kids.

Basically, this means you can’t show up to a portfolio review and tell them you already did health last semester. You have to show examples every semester. Yes, even though the public school kids actually don’t always do all eight subjects every semester.

It also means that a lot of reviewers will require you to show dates for the samples you bring, just to show that the instruction happened over time.

Educational Materials

Section D indicates what a portfolio should contain.

(1) Demonstrates the parent or guardian is providing regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the areas specified in §C(1) and (2);

Basically just what we said above. Your portfolio has to show that you did the things they say you have to do.

(2) Includes relevant materials, such as instructional materials, reading materials, and examples of the child’s writings, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, and tests;

The key words here as such as. This is not an indication that you have to do all of these things! These are just examples of ways you can demonstrate compliance. In later blog posts I’ll list all sort of things you can use to show compliance. I don’t give tests in my homeschool and we don’t use worksheets or workbooks very often, either.

(3) Shall be reviewed by the local superintendent or the superintendent’s designee at the conclusion of each semester of the local school system…

You’re probably not going to meet up with the actual superintendent. They have better things to do with their time. This is where there is some difference among the counties.

In some counties, such as Montgomery County, you get a letter asking you to sign up for a review time. All the homeschoolers are reviewed over a period of a few weeks in a big room full of reviewers. These reviewers generally have other normal jobs and just do reviews a few times a year. They often have very little familiarity with common homeschool terms and curricula.

In other counties, like Frederick County, there are only a couple of reviewers who are focused solely on the homeschooling community and will generally have more familiarity with the homeschool laws, culture, and curricula. They review people all year long so reviews can be when it’s convenient and so they can make their own schedules more bearable.

…at such times as are mutually agreeable to the local superintendent or designee and the parent or guardian.

This part means that they can’t require you to show up on a particular day in a place that’s hard to get to. They also can’t decide to show up at your house if you do not want them to.

Now, I’m not saying that you should refuse to meet unless they show up at midnight on the spring equinox in a meadow… just that if you’re going on a long trip you should expect they’ll work with you to find a place and time you can meet.

Usually you’ll meet at a school building or office, though I once met with my reviewer outside of the local library because her office was very noisy because it was being treated for flood damage.

Review Meetings

Section E has a few more details about what reviews can and can’t involve.

(1) The review is at a time and place mutually agreeable to the representative of the local school system and the parent or guardian;

This is the same as above.

(2) The purpose of the review is to ensure that the child is receiving regular, thorough instruction as set forth in §C;

This is key!

They are not reviewing you to see if your children are on grade level. They aren’t there to see if your kid even learned anything. They can’t test your kid or refuse to pass you because your kid hasn’t mastered Algebra. All they can do is review to see if you offered instruction.

“But Katie,” you say, “Why wouldn’t I want my child to be on grade level and master algebra? What is wrong with you?”

Do you want someone who doesn’t understand you, your child, or homeschooling to decide if you child passed without even meeting them? Yeah, me neither.

It means you can go in a different order than the schools do. It also means you don’t have to fight for an IEP for children who have learning disabilities. It means you have a lot of freedom to decide how to run your school.

(3) There are not more than three reviews during a school year.

They can’t just keep harassing you with reviews.

But it mentions three reviews instead of two. Most homeschoolers will have two reviews. However, if you fail one of the normal two reviews, you can have another review thirty days later to show that you’ve fixed the problems they found in your instruction program.

(Note: I have a story about failing a review. Stay tuned to find out what happens and how it really isn’t the end of the world. You’ll probably find it comforting.)

Additional Requirements

Part E is super, super, super important.

A local school system may not impose additional requirements for home instruction programs other than those in these regulations.

Your county can’t just add requirements for tests, more reviews, different subjects, or anything else. It’s illegal for them to do so. There is only the state law about homeschooling. They cannot have county-specific laws or rules. Period.

Summary

So, to sum up, you have to teach eight subjects, mark the dates, show up twice a year, and show them a few samples of what your kids did.

Hopefully you enjoyed this post, and hopefully I’ll find time to continue to write them as I get ready for my review in 19 days.

Other posts in this series:

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