What Is a Homeschool Portfolio?

All About Homeschool Portfolios

A homeschool portfolio is a sample of a student’s work collected during  a school year for the purpose of demonstrating educational progress in lieu of a standardized test.

A portfolio is not specifically mentioned in the Virginia Code.  Standardized achievement test scores and equivalent scores on the ACT, SAT, or PSAT or an evaluation or assessment are acceptable evidence of end-of-year progress as referenced in 22.1-254.1(C).

However, a portfolio may be submitted to a qualified evaluator (a person with a teaching license or master’s degree or higher) who will write an evaluation letter based on the contents of the portfolio and any other applicable information. The evaluation letter should be submitted to the parent who, in turn, is responsible to send it to the superintendent. A portfolio is probably the form of assessment least stressful to the child because it requires the least amount of interaction with the evaluator. This form of assessment may be beneficial for children who are: not confident with people they don’t know well, poor readers, learning disabled, students for whom English is a second language, and others who may have difficulty with more direct forms of assessment.

Just as there are different ways to conduct an evaluation, there are different schools of thought on portfolio evaluations. Some evaluators want only the portfolio. Others want to see the portfolio and have a short interview with the child. Some want a sample paper from each subject dated at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. Others prefer “scrapbook portfolios containing not only representative work samples but also drawings, a list of books read, photographs of projects and field trips, and anything else that provides a complete picture of the child’s education. Be sure to ask the evaluator a lot of questions so that you know what is expected of you and your child, and what should be included in the portfolio.

What is a homeschool portfolio?

A portfolio is really a scrapbook of your child’s progress for that school year. It will not contain everything the child has done for the year, but like most scrapbooks, it will contain the highlights of the year.

Who can evaluate my child’s portfolio?

Although the homeschool law, §22.1-254.1(C), does not specifically mention a portfolio, a student’s evaluation can be based on a  portfolio. HEAV suggests the most effective way to use a portfolio is to submit it to an independent evaluator with whom you have established the criteria for an evaluation early in the school year. An evaluator should be a licensed teacher in any state, or a person with a master’s degree or higher in an academic discipline who has knowledge of the child’s academic progress. After reviewing the portfolio, the evaluator should write a letter and submit it to the parent who will then send the letter to the superintendent.

Direct submission of a portfolio to a superintendent is extremely rare and not recommended. HEAV knows of a very small number of superintendents who have accepted a portfolio submission. Any parent who insists on directly submitting a portfolio instead of an evaluation letter should first contact the superintendent to determine if a portfolio will be accepted. There are several important things to consider: 1) A portfolio submission usually requires school personnel (a teacher) to evaluate the child’s work and report back to the superintendent, and 2) A teacher’s evaluation could be problematic because the evaluation may be based on the standards with which a teacher is most familiar–the Standards of Learning (SOL) requirements. SOLs are based on your child’s grade according to his age. Since homeschool parents are not required to comply with public school SOLs or teach from public school curricula, the evaluation may be lower than expected.

Is there a standard form or format for portfolios?

There are no standard formats. If you choose to use an evaluator, early in the year, she can give you a list of what she expects be included in the portfolio. Later, the evaluator will write a report stating their findings. It must state that the child is or is not achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress. Ask that the report be sent directly to you. You can copy it and forward it to the division superintendent or his designee.

What should be in the portfolio?

There are many schools of thought about what should be included in a portfolio. Check with your own evaluator to be sure of what they expect to see in your child’s portfolio. Some things that are usually included are:

• A list of all curriculum used

• A list or a sample list of reading materials

• Several samples of the child’s work in each subject showing growth and progress. Each evaluator may have different requirements.

• Information on unit studies conducted that year. Include reports, small projects, or pictures of them, and/or a brief description.

• Information about field trips. Information in the portfolio may include anything that the child did in preparation for the trip, a report or coloring project after the field trip, brochures, or pictures taken while there.

• Introduction or summary statement by the student explaining how and why individual pieces were included in the portfolio

• Programs from music recital or dramatic production in which the student has participated

• Copies of community-service awards, contest entries, and anything else that the student is proud of.

Also, allow your child some input as to what goes into the portfolio. They may have enjoyed working on a particular item or be very proud of a particular piece of art that you have forgotten about. Even if you don’t like that piece or know they did something else that was much better, allow them to choose at least some of what goes in.

When is the best time of year to have the portfolio evaluation done?

Schedule the portfolio evaluation toward end of the school year. You may be able to drop the portfolio off to be evaluated, but the evaluator must have ample time to review the portfolio and write the report. Since the report must be sent to the division superintendent by August 1, be sure to allow enough time for the evaluator to write the report and send it to you so that you can turn it in on time.

Note: Even though the portfolio does not need to be finished until the end of the school year, putting things in the portfolio is an ongoing project throughout the school year. If you know at the beginning of the school year that a portfolio will be beneficial to you and your child, begin early to set things aside to put into the portfolio. This will make the task of finishing the portfolio at the end of the school year much less tedious.

How much should I expect to pay for a portfolio evaluation?

Like an evaluation, costs will range from $0 to $300 depending on who is doing the evaluation and what credentials they have. Expect to pay an experienced evaluator more than someone who is just starting out. You may be able to barter for the evaluation or there may be a friend who is willing to do it at no cost. Most of the time it is worth spending more money if it will gain you the services of the evaluator you want, rather than to save a few dollars and be disappointed with the experience.

Should we include science, geography, art, and other subjects in the portfolio?

Since language arts and mathematics are the only two subjects that are required by law, most evaluators will not spend much, if any time on other subjects. However, if you include anything that has been done above and beyond what the law requires, you will provide the evaluator with a more complete picture of your school year. These areas of study are much easier to include and give appropriate recognition when they are in a portfolio. The evaluator does not need to spend a lot of time asking questions about those sections since there is no great need for interview.

Questions you should ask when seeking a portfolio evaluator.

• What are your credentials?

• What experience have you had in portfolio evaluations?

• Are you a homeschooler and if not, what experience do you have with homeschoolers?

• For my particular situation, do you suggest that my child be tested individually, tested in a group, evaluated, or assessed using a portfolio?

• What do you want to see included in the portfolio?

• Do you need to interview me or my child as part of the portfolio evaluation?

• What must I to do to prepare my child for the interview if one is required?

• Do I need to drop the portfolio off to you? If so, when do you want it?

• How much will you charge?

• Do you have experience with learning disabilities?


Using Portfolios to Assess Student Performance: Far West Laboratory, 730 Harrison Street, San Francisco. CA 94107.

Student Portfolios and Teacher Logs: Blueprint for a Revolution in Assessment, a twelve-page report; National Center for the Study of Writing, 2105 Bancrot Way #1042, Berkeley, CA 94720. Request Report #TR-65.

Excerpt taken from the Virginia Homeschool Manual. Article by Sarah Olbris