Gaining Confidence Through Failing Our Portfolio Review

Gaining Confidence Through Failing Our Portfolio Review

Failing our homeschool portfolio review gave me the confidence to keep homeschooling my kids my way.

What? Failing made you confident? Are you insane?

Nope. I’m not. I’m just weird and unorthodox. But that’s sort of required in order to be a homeschooler, isn’t it?

Fear and the Portfolio Review

When faced with a portfolio review, most parents are not excited. You don’t feel like you won a ticket to Disney World. You feel like you have to open yourself to disapproval of your teaching methods, criticism of your children, and the possibility of having to send your kids back to school against your (and the kids’) will.

So of course homeschoolers are afraid of portfolio reviews! The entire point of it is that someone who doesn’t know you or your children is going to decide whether you are a bad parent and shouldn’t be allowed to make educational decisions for your kids.

This fear results in homeschoolers lying on their reviews, forcing their kids to do worksheets that both parents and child know are stupid, causing parents to change their homeschooling activities in other ways, and forcing moms and dads to pay money to umbrella groups just to save them from their own government’s interference.

All because of this fear.

Portfolio Reviews Are Not Valid

Let’s step back a second here — In what universe can you ascertain if a parent is teaching their child just by looking at a stack of papers for half an hour twice a year?

I don’t care how amazing a reviewer is, this is an impossible task.

Because it’s impossible to do any other way, they are mostly using intuition to determine if you are doing a good job. They use cues, such as seeing if you have a wide range of types of learning, if you sound confident, if it looks like genuine work, if you are organized, if you show up to the meeting on time, and other personality “tells”.

They could not write a paper or publish a study proving your worth as a homeschooler using this stuff as evidence. It’s not possible.

Fake Portfolio Reviews Would Be More Convincing

However… strong, solid “evidence” is pretty easy to fake.

You can always make a list of topics you studied that simply isn’t real. You could show a list of books that no one really read. You could write papers for them. You could grab pamphlets from museums that your kids never paid any attention to.  You can fake a multiple choice test.

You can be pretty confident-sounding that you taught a kid everything they need to know if the list is just one you got from the local school’s web page.

It’s a real review that’s a lot of hard work. I often wonder how many honest portfolio reviews the reviewers see.

I mean, I bring the “good” word samples, not the things the kids got wrong, or never finished, or dropped food on, or just wrote the word “poop” on a million times. But that’s not what I mean. I mean the people who embellish what the kids learned… or presented last minute worksheets that look nothing like what the kids actually did all year. Or straight out lies.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People

I’ve done my best to convince you that portfolio reviews are more easy to fake than do honestly and that the entire premise behind them is basically impossible.

Portfolio reviewers are going to compare you to school kids. And they will compare you to people with fake portfolios. So why do you care what they think? They have a pretty skewed idea of what homeschooling really is, simply because (unless they homeschool their own kids) it’s not something they have very much to do with.

So, remember: your goal in the portfolio review is just to get through it and continue to homeschool, not convince someone that you’re the best homeschooler ever. They really don’t have the evidence or ability to tell you that one way or another.

But What if I Fail?!

That’s the biggest fear of all. That you’ll fail, it will go on your permanent record, you’ll be arrested, there will be a huge “FAIL” sign stapled to your forehead, and your kids will grow up to never hold a job above minimum wage or have happiness ever again in their lives.

Guess what?

I’ve failed — and we’ve thrived.

The Story of How We Failed Portfolio Review

This happened several years ago, when my son was younger and more hyper, my daughter was younger and a little more clingy, and the youngest was just an older infant or young toddler. They weren’t very independent people because they were so young.

Usually I drop the kids of with my parents for reviews, but this time my parents were sick. I didn’t have enough time to find anyone else to watch them, so the kids came with me.

By the time we got to the building where reviews are done, I had a migraine. I’ve gotten them for about thirty years now. They don’t just hurt a lot, but they also cause me to be more clumsy, more easily confused, and I tend to have more trouble forming thoughts into sentences. It’s basically the opposite of looking organized or confident.

We settled in for the interview. I had my papers in folders, my topics listed, and I practiced what I was going to say the day before. But I had trouble remembering words. The toddler kept grabbing my papers and my folders and throwing them on the floor. The kids were trying to quietly color, but they seemed to need to ask me something about every 27 milliseconds, breaking any concentration I might have managed to muster.

I sounded like a frazzled, confused person with no business teaching anyone anything, particularly writing.

As it turns out, my random reviewer’s personal issue was Language Arts. A lot of times reviewers will, of course, be more particular about their favorite subject — maybe they teach it, or they think it’s more important for some reason. And hers was Language Arts, and I already sound like English is my second language and I didn’t even have a first.

So she asks me, “Did you do reading comprehension worksheets?”

Me: “No… we don’t do those.”

Her: “You have to do reading comprehension worksheets in the third grade. Otherwise how are they going to be able to handle fourth?”

Me, picking up papers the baby dropped on the floor: “… What?”

Her: “Third grade is reading comprehension worksheets. Didn’t you do any?”

Me, waving off confused child with broken crayon, “Um, no, we don’t do those. But we do talk about stories and things we read during and afterwards, so I know they understand what they read.”

Her, shaking her head disapprovingly, “They need reading comprehension worksheets. That’s how they…” (And she listed some things that they “prove”.)

I then offered many examples of how we handle those things. I think one of them was being able to predict how a story will go, so I pointed out that we do that in History lessons. That as we read the history chapter, we notice things repeating that happened before, and make prediction about how it will turn out.

Apparently that wasn’t good enough. Even though I gave examples of all of the ways we handle the same things she says reading comprehension worksheets do, she shook her head… and failed us.

Now think about this — what if I had said, “Sure, we do reading comprehension worksheets, I just didn’t happen to bring one.”

What would have happened? Would be believe me, and let us pass, showing that it’s all just an invitation to lie? Or would she fail us anyway, indicating that homeschoolers are supposed to be mind readers and bring the “correct” samples, even though reading comprehension worksheets isn’t listed in the law?

It was a lose-lose situation.

The very same reviewer only looked at one thing for our science portfolio. I showed one picture of our vegetable garden and barely said one sentence about it before she stopped me and made a big checkmark in the “science” column of her review sheet. Yep. She was that thorough.


I was angry when I left. I think I cried on the way to the car, I was so upset. I ended up with a speeding camera ticket a few weeks later, just to add insult to injury.

I was marked on the forehead with the dreaded metaphorical FAIL stamp.

How would I ever show my face in the world of homeschooling again? What if they made the kids go to school? What would I do now?? 

I went home and I ranted at anyone who would listen.

What Actually Happens When You Fail

There really isn’t a stamp. Other homeschoolers didn’t care. As it turns out, sane people don’t blame you for not doing reading comprehension worksheets for just one kid who you talk to every day.

Good. I didn’t want to change how we homeschooled. It was working just fine the way it was!

As it turns out, when you fail, they don’t just grab your kids off of the street and throw them into the nearest school. You have thirty days to prove you’re actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing. In our county, it wasn’t even with our original reviewer! It was with the head of the homeschool program. And instead of being in person, I could just scan things in and email it.

So, I scanned the same samples. I added an extra Language Arts sample — back then I only brought two samples in the portfolio, so this brought it up to three total.

Then I wrote an email, explaining what we did and a little about our Language Arts philosophy, explaining my samples a little better. I’m much better in print with time to think, instead of in person with a migraine and children climbing all over me. I appealed to the authority of our curriculum, an excellent one actually used in some public schools’ gifted programs. His philosophy of writing instruction was to make sure children could write a good sentence before you start having them write long, bad paragraphs.

I toiled over word choice, correct punctuation, and sounding confident and just plain awesome. And unemotional, not angry. And finally, I clicked send, while my stomach attempted to eat itself alive from the stress of not knowing.

This was our last shot before we had to go to drastic measures.

I got an answer in about an hour. Pass. The review form was scanned in and attached to the email. It was not just easy, it was easier than the original review!


Once you experience one of your worst fears, a strange thing happens. You become less afraid of it. The worst thing about fear is the unknown. Your imagination goes crazy and thinks of the worst things that could happen. But the worst almost never happens.

I have the confidence of a person who has failed and survived. I can go into the review knowing that it isn’t the end and nothing bad can happen that day, unless I let it get to me. (And speed. And get a stupid ticket.)

Without the fear eating at me, I look pretty darn amazing. I bring our weird samples. I don’t do reading comprehension worksheets. I bring what I want to bring: 2-4 samples, per subject, per kid.

If I fail, I’ll just send those samples again. If I fail that, I’ll pay my protection money to an umbrella.

And we’ll thrive.

Other posts in this series:

5 thoughts on “Gaining Confidence Through Failing Our Portfolio Review”

  1. Good read. This reminds me of my home daycare inspection that I was always scared to death to fail….then I got a non-compliant one time and I was like…”Oh, that was it…next time I won’t worry so much!” LOL

  2. I love this blog ! We recently moved to Maryland, and well the school my kids are zoned for is not safe, little children in 3rd grade threaten one another and no one does anything, some even sexually. So I yanked them out and we are home schooling. They are happy and so am I , I am just worried about our 1st review….. But this helped.

  3. Thank you for this series of posts about preparing for the homeschool review. I am new to Maryland after four years of homeschooling elsewhere with ease, and I am completely terrified of the review. I still feel entirely overwhelmed, and I also feel like I have a better understanding of what to expect. Thank you!

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