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Record-Keeping and Testing
How do I keep the required educational records, such as journals or plan books, portfolios, and bi-annual reports?

Journals and Plan Books

Journals and plan books are records of what your children learn from day to day. You can maintain these daily, weekly, or somewhere in between. A journal is used to document topics and activities after your children completes them. This method is great for families who want more of a child-led or unschooling approach because you never know what each day will bring. Recording the details at the end of the day makes more sense. This method is homeschool-friendly, but can also cause stress if you're the type of person who feels "scattered" if you don't have a plan or a list in front of you.

A plan book is used when you list each day's (or week's or month's) activities in advance. This approach is better for those who feel more comfortable with structure and having a "plan of attack." You can still delete assignments that you don't get to, or add activities if you do more than you expect. However, it may make you feel overwhelmed and "behind" if you don't do everything you initially planned.

If neither a journal nor a plan book seem quite right for you, start with a combination of the two and adjust from there. Just write down a bare skeleton (maybe weekly goals), and allow yourself and your kids to be flexible within those goals. Fill in the details as they accomplish each task and add new ideas and opportunities as they arise. Also, keep in mind that we learn 365 days a year, but you only have to document 180 days.

Portfolios

The required portfolio contains samples of your children's work. There are no rules for how many or what types of samples. If you use a structured curriculum, include some worksheets, assignments, and tests if you use them. Math usually fits into this category. If you're more relaxed, you'll have to get more creative. For reading, consider including a book list; for writing, include some samples of your child's written work - paragraphs, essays, poems, riddles, copies of letters they've written to family or friends, etc.

For social studies, consider including a book list (historical fiction, non-fiction, etc.), brochures and pictures from field trips, and titles of magazines, videos, and documentaries that would fit into this category. Use the same approach with science (brochures from fieldtrips, photos of experiments or projects, titles of magazines, book list, etc.).

Semiannual Progress Reports

The required semiannual progress report (usually required at the end of 90 days, and at the end of 180 days) can be a simple report card, or it can be a summary of topics studied during the preceding 90-day period.

If you use the "summary" approach and use your computer for your plan book or journal, you can just copy and paste topics from those records into a page divided into the required subjects and add a statement regarding the number of days your child attended your homeschool during that period.

If you use the "report card" approach and don't give grades in your homeschool, you can use "satisfactory" and "needs improvement" instead.

The high school level becomes a little more involved if your child is planning on going to college and applies for state scholarships. At that point, grade point average and SAT or ACT scores are needed. See my Homeschooling High School FAQ for more information.

Are we required to test our children? Is testing recommended?
Homeschooling under a Third Option Association allows parents more freedom in deciding what's best for their children. Most, if not all, Third Option associations leave the testing decision up to the parents. If you decide to use standardized tests, the results will be sent directly to you. You don't have to report the scores to anyone else.

Testing can be helpful in reassuring reluctant husbands, family, and friends, but they can also cause stress for parents and children. If you decide to test, remember that tests really have nothing to do with learning. They're normed on public school students, not homeschooled students, so they don't accurately reflect the broad range of knowledge that is typical of homeschooled students.

In addition, they're usually administered with time restrictions. This penalizes homeschoolers who aren't as experienced working under conditions with artificial time constraints. We tend to give our children time to think through problems. We value quality and accuracy over speed. (After all, there are very few situations where doing a math problem in five seconds flat will ever be a life or death situation.)

To complicate things even more, sometimes the tests are published by the same company that publishes public school textbooks. The tests are developed to correlate with what's taught in the textbooks they publish. If your children aren't using their textbooks in the areas of social studies and science, then they're not going to score well in those areas. The texts and tests may cover American History in the 5th grade, for example, but your 5th-grader studied Ancient History instead.

So what's the use in testing? As mentioned before, they tend to reassure spouses, parents, and friends. And sometimes it reassures moms, too. The scores will give you a general idea of how your child is doing in the tested subject areas when compared to publicly schooled students.

If you decide to test, consider skipping the science and social studies portions and just focus on the reading, language arts, and math sections. These three sections are more skill-related and depend less on content that may correlate with a specific text. Also, keep in mind that many sections of the test will have time limits, so help your children become more comfortable with timed situations before administering the test.

And finally, if you decide to test, keep in mind what the test scores actually mean. Don't expect your child to do advanced work just because they score at a higher level. If test results indicate that your child scored at a high school level in math, it doesn't mean that your child can do high school-level math. It just means that your child answered as many questions correctly as the high school students they used to "norm" the test.

Your children may be above the "norm" for their age group, but whether or not they're ready for Algebra is another matter entirely. You'll know when they're ready to progress to each stage of learning. Don't let the test scores replace your own judgment. Links to several test suppliers is available in the Links area, scroll down to "Standardized Test Suppliers".
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