by Andrea Longbottom
“You may never know how important records are until someone asks for them,” says Diane Kummer, a high school coordinator at Home School Legal Defense Association.
When her daughter applied to college, Diane was surprised at the level of detail required on the college application.
“People think they’ll never forget, but you will forget!” she says. “It’s important to document the education you’re providing your child.”
Do you wonder if your recordkeeping efforts are worth it? Or are you having trouble carving out time to even keep a record? Maybe you’re a zealous housekeeper, and throwing away grades and schoolwork is a regular, much-anticipated, year-end activity. However you view recordkeeping, let’s take a look at why homeschool recordkeeping is important, what kinds of records you should keep, and how you can stay on top of them.
Why is Recordkeeping Important?
Homeschool records are the documented proof of your student’s education, achievements, and valuable experiences. “Homeschool records don’t come with the same presumption that public school records do,” says Scott Woodruff, a staff attorney at HSLDA. “We face skepticism. Our records need to demonstrate that our child received an adequate education.” Just as a public or private school could produce records at any time to prove that Betsy Baxter attended regularly and made an A in history and a C in science, you are the one responsible for producing records of your child’s education.
Records can help if you are ever involved in a court case or legal situation that challenges your homeschool. “Legally, recordkeeping enables you to demonstrate that you are providing an appropriate education for your child,” writes HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris in his book Home Schooling and the Law. “Whether it is true or not, courts often assume that good records equal a good education.”1
“A parent’s recordkeeping is vital when a school district loses what was submitted by the parent and then threatens the parent with educational neglect or truancy,” cautions HSLDA Staff Attorney Thomas Schmidt.
For example, one homeschooling family in New York found out that their school district had misplaced a quarterly report from three years ago. Because the family kept good records, they were able to supply them to the school district. “The district then wrote a nice letter verifying their compliance with New York law, which the family used during their child’s college admission process,” says Schmidt.
“A lot of times, parents think they’re keeping records only for other people—you’re also doing it for yourself,” says Diane Kummer. Keeping track of your child’s schoolwork, grades, and test scores helps you gauge your student’s progress, plan for the next school year, and hold onto those special projects or awards you don’t want to forget when Johnny has graduated and left home.
Good records are especially crucial when your student reaches high school. Homeschooling veteran and consultant Lee Binz explains why: “Keep high school records so that, when the time comes, you can make a transcript that actually reflects the courses that you taught. Keep records so that you don’t short-change your student.”2
Most colleges, military recruiters, and some employers will ask for your child’s high school transcript before acceptance. And sometimes, even after your child has graduated from college, an employer or other official will ask to see records. HSLDA has assisted several homeschool graduates in situations where—despite the graduates having completed one to four years of college—their employers refused to recognize their homeschool diplomas and demanded they take the GED.
“Your child is counting on this record,” says HSLDA High School Coordinator Becky Cooke.
What Kinds of Records Should I Keep?
Think first about the different purposes of records. You may need them to:
- Comply with your state homeschool law
- Prove the veracity and success of your homeschool to school district officials, caseworkers, or judges
- Prove your child’s education to colleges, vocational schools, or trade schools
- Obtain scholarships
- Satisfy employers that your child is educated
- Show your child’s education level if you ever enroll him in private or public school
- Help you comply with the homeschool law in another state if you move
- Satisfy requirements for your child to obtain professional licensure
The following are some recommended records to keep, although your state may not require such detailed records:
- Daily attendance
- Log of daily hours spent on different subjects; lists of curriculum used, subjects taught, and grades given; work samples, including tests; immunization and other medical records; standardized test scores
- Letters or other documentation from authorities and government officials
- High school transcript; SAT or ACT scores
- Lists of extracurricular activities, volunteer work, job experience, and skills
- Reading lists
- Certification or licenses your student has received
Begin by placing in your file any records required by state law. If your homeschool is ever challenged, your records will prove that you’re in compliance with the homeschool law and will show officials that you take your children’s education seriously. You can make sure you are in compliance by visiting www.hslda.org/state and clicking on your state to view the legal analysis.
Even if your state doesn’t require records, keep them anyway. “Texas doesn’t require any records from homeschoolers,” says Melanie Springer, a Texas homeschooling mom. “But I was always a little nervous thinking, ‘What if we moved to another state?’ or ‘What if the Texas homeschool law changed?’ I wanted to have at least minimum recordkeeping standards for our family, so that if someone looked at our records, they could see what we had done in our homeschool.”
Additional Considerations for High School Records
Whether or not your child plans to attend college, it’s very important to document the high school years by creating a transcript, awarding a diploma, and keeping sufficient high school records. Cooke and Kummer have both talked to parents whose children chose to start college in their mid-20s but had no transcript because college wasn’t in their original plan for the future. Even if your child never goes to college, he may need to show the transcript to prospective employers. Because you don’t know what path your children may end up taking, stay a step ahead and be prepared.
A transcript lists the academic courses taken in high school and the grades and credits earned. Kummer emphasizes that documenting extracurricular activities and work experience is also vital. For example, the military likes to see evidence of leadership and physical skills, and college admissions officers and employers will want to see that your student is a well-rounded individual.
For more ideas on what kind of high school records to keep, explore college admissions websites, chat with a college admissions officer, check your state’s homeschooling regulations for any subjects homeschooled high schoolers might be required to take, and ask other homeschooling parents of high schoolers.
How Long do I Have to Keep These?
No parent wants to keep every scrap of schoolwork (or if you do, you’ll never want to take the time to go through it!). “But keep records somewhat defensively,” cautions Scott Woodruff, explaining that it’s difficult to know when you’ll need to pull up old records.
Mike Farris advises parents to keep yearly records and permanent records. Yearly records include schoolwork samples for each subject, tests, records of field trips and related activities, and any log of summarized daily activities.
“Keep enough to substantiate the work done and grade given,” says Becky Cooke. In addition to Farris’s list, Cooke recommends keeping significant time- and labor-intensive projects.
Permanent records should include report cards, standardized test results, and medical documentation, including immunization records.
Farris recommends keeping yearly records for a minimum of three years and holding onto high school records permanently.3
“In a few situations, such as divorce, custody disputes, or some child welfare cases, a family may be put in a position where having much more than the minimum level of records would be helpful,” explains Woodruff. “None of the parents we’ve been called on to help in these circumstances ever dreamed they would be facing such a difficult situation. Unfortunately, tragedies do occur. Since no parents know for sure whether they will ever be in this situation, it’s wise to keep a full set of records.”
“The day my daughter graduated from college, I threw away a lot of stuff,” says Diane Kummer.
But Kummer will always hold onto her children’s transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, financial aid paperwork, summaries of work completed in each grade, and noteworthy papers and other work samples.
Kummer explains, “I consider myself to be my children’s school registrar—the keeper of the records. If any of these records are ever needed for jobs, advanced degree work, etc., my children know where this paperwork is kept. In addition, I set aside for safekeeping a few sentimental or memorable items from their school years, especially the elementary years. It’s easy to go overboard and keep too many of these items, but I learned from a professional organizer friend that the fewer sentimental items you keep, the more precious these items are!”
How Can I be a Successful Recordkeeper?
First, come up with a recordkeeping system that is simple and works for you. “If your system takes too much time, you probably won’t use it,” says Cooke.
Systems can be as simple as a file folder for each child for each subject, or you may want to use software or even pay a company to keep your records for you. It depends on your personality and how much time and money you’re willing to invest.
At a minimum, your records should be legible and look professional. “As a general rule, your records should be detailed enough to remind you what was done and when,” advises Cooke.
Kummer recommends planning out a method of evaluation for your student’s work, usually letter grades. This helps college officials and others easily compare your child’s academic level to that of other students.
You may also want to create a portfolio for each child. A portfolio is a collection of work samples, test scores, and other documents that serves not only as a memorable compilation of your child’s achievements but also as an organized, convenient record to show others. See the resources sidebar for information on creating a portfolio.
Even if you are not technologically savvy, a home computer and today’s recordkeeping software will enable you to easily create the professional-looking records you need. Government officials, college officers, and employers will generally want to see a summary of your child’s work, such as a transcript or résumé, not the work samples themselves.
But I’m Too Busy! (Or Disorganized … or … )
“To someone who says, ‘I’m too busy to keep records,’ I say, ‘You’re too busy not to keep records!’ ” says Kummer. “Five minutes once a day is a lot better than days on end at the end of the school year.” Melanie Springer agrees. “If you do it as you go, it’s a lot easier.”
Do you have a child who loves to organize? Enlist his help! Both Cooke and Kummer had their children help log hours and file their schoolwork in the appropriate folders as it was completed. “My children loved to record their grades,” says Cooke.
Homeschooling mom and author Cindy Rushton says, “When my children were little, I kept one journal for everything. I kept it out on my desk so I could just jot down what we were doing as we did it… . As they got older, I transferred this process to them.”4
Springer encourages parents to “see recordkeeping as part of the educational process rather than a separate entity.”
What If I’m an Unschooler?
As unschooler Karen Gibson writes on her website, Leaping from the Box, “Many people view unschooling and recordkeeping as being at odds with one another… . but many unschoolers deal with state homeschool regulations that require some type of recordkeeping.”
Gibson keeps a record of “movies watched, books read, books on tape listened to, any workbooks or other books used, board games played, computer games, online activity, letter writing, discussions had, questions asked and answered, research done, field trips, etc. I even include their household chores, helping with meals, etc., under the Independent Living Skills section. You can be very detailed about these activities—noting pages read or workbook pages completed, grades (if you do grades) on particular papers—or you can note just general topics covered. It’s up to you and your needs.”5
For courses or activities that don’t produce handy paperwork you can file, you may need to be creative. Homeschooling mom Lee Binz suggests copying any materials used. For example, if your child is learning to cook, keep copies of the recipes.6
The bottom line is to keep something that adequately reflects your child’s accomplishments.
Although recordkeeping requires work and diligence, it can also be a very rewarding part of homeschooling, for both teacher and student. “I feel secure knowing I have something to show for the work we’ve done,” explains Melanie Springer. “And it’s been helpful for the kids to be able to look back at their work.”
“As with anything in homeschooling, your recordkeeping should be done with integrity and excellence,” says Diane Kummer. “It should be a good reflection of the education you’re providing.”
1. Michael P. Farris, Home Schooling and the Law (Paeonian Springs: HSLDA, 1990), p. 155.
2. Lee Binz, “Cubbies, Tubbies and Binder Queens,” The Home Scholar, August 2007, www.thehomescholar.com/article_archive/2007_08_cubbiestubbiesandbinderqueens.html
3. Farris, Homeschooling and the Law, 153-4.
4. Cindy Rushton, “Easy Record-Keeping for the Reluctant Homeschool Mom” (2007), www.cindysdesktop.com/?p=1336
5. Karen Gibson, “Unschooling Record Keeping” (1999), www.leapingfromthebox.com/art/kmg/recordkeeping.html
6. Lee Binz, “Cubbies, Tubbies and Binder Queens.”