Keeping Homeschool Records

Just as there are many approaches to homeschooling there are many approaches to keeping homeschool records. The most important thing to consider is the legal requirements of homeschool record keeping in your state, providence, or country. It may also depend on if you are an independent homeschooler, with a Private School Satellite Program, or under a Charter Umbrella.

If you need to find out about the laws in your state, I recommend you visit The Homeschool Legal Defense Association

Why I advise my clients to keep records

As your child’s homeschool teacher, I recommend you keep records for 3 reasons.

  1. Record keeping is a mindset issue. By keeping records you tell yourself, your children (and the noisy neighbors) that you are running a school.
  2. Grades, report cards, and appropriate cumulative files exist and are regularly updated in case your children will be enrolled in school.
  3. High Schoolers need transcripts for college entrance. Starting in the younger grades creates a habit. You don’t have a crystal ball to know if your child will, or desires college.

Now, the usual response is “Christy, hell would have to freeze over for me to enroll my children in school.”

As true as that statement may be, hell occasionally indeed freezes over.

  1. Your children request to attend school and it turns out to be an educationally sound decision. Many homeschooled children attend all or part of high school in a public or private school setting.
  2. An unexpected illness in the homeschool parent, or the working parent.
  3. The unexpected death of a parent

I will concede that the chances of hell freezing over may be slim to none, but I err on the side of caution. It can be stressful and near impossible to make transcripts, even with plenty of notice.

Remember, just because you choose or are required to keep grades, report cards, and transcripts, it does not mean you have to show them to your children. You know them best. If grades are something that causes undue pressure, just keep the records private. If being graded and receiving a report card is motivating, you’ll be prepared.

Your record keeping mindset

As we dive into record keeping, be aware of your thoughts surrounding record keeping, report cards, and the overall concept that you are running a school. Grades, report cards, cumulative records, etc are neutral in the world. It is what we think and feel about these elements of education that hold the most weight.

Record keeping at its core is simply the form of documentation that helps you tell your child’s homeschool story.

There is much discussion among the homeschool community regarding the pros and cons of these evaluation techniques. Research, reflect, and decide what works for you, and why it works. It is your school, and formal or informal records are your decision as a school administrator.

The Purpose of Grades

What is the purpose of grades in a school setting? (even in a homeschool setting)

Grades give our children feedback about their progress and provide them with motivation. They give you as the parent feedback to plan instruction. Grades also provide insight into a student’s strengths and weaknesses. On an administrative level, grades provide information about placement and skill level.

I hope we can agree that grades are only one small peek into everything that makes up your child’s skill set, yet we give them 100% of the decision-making weight in a “Traditional School” setting.

These grades get placed onto a report card that then “follows” a learner from grade level to grade level and from school to school.


What is the purpose of a report card?

The purpose on the most basic level is to record growth and track a child’s progress. Schools want “proof” of learning. Parents who send their children to school want proof of learning. A report card is a tool that can provide that proof.

Ideas for “grading” your homeschooled child

You can calculate grades using a standard percentage and grade scale. You can make these determinations with a rubric (set of standards), use of points, or through non-traditional grading strategies.

Remembering that the purpose of grades is to provide feedback and identify strengths to create engaging content for your child, you can use some non-traditional grading strategies:

  • Have your children self evaluate
  • Hold discussions (Q & A) about the lesson, assignment, activity, field trip, etc.

Self- Evaluation

As a full-time homeschool, in order to evaluate learning, I asked each child one simple question: Is this your best work? If the answer was yes, I took the work, and we moved on. If the answer was no, the work was returned and completed again until it was “best work”.

We did not use grades or report cards – ever. As a homeschooler, filing a Private School Affidavit in California those were not a record keeping requirement.

Using the “Best Work” strategy from day one was natural. I told my children everything we do, chores, schoolwork, family games, cooking dinner, we always do our best. I tried to be a positive role model.

Hell did freeze over when my daughters entered high school. My experience as a classroom educator saved me. I was able to create transcripts and report cards for them with a lot of brainstorming. I had to fit the topics they were studying into courses. This task would have been much easier had I been keeping such records all along.

What if my kids say everything is “best work”, but it isn’t?

You might wonder what would prompt a child to say no… this isn’t my best work…after all, they were self-evaluating without a word from me as I never contradicted their evaluation even when I was dying on the inside.

This is what I did instead:  “Great sweetheart, what EXACTLY makes this BEST WORK?” Sometimes they take the work back without another word, and other times they find some little thing on the page or project they are submitting.

Kids are harder on themselves than we would ever be most of the time.

Eventually, as they get older, “Best Work” turns into time management and decision-making. My children learned to say: “Mom, I didn’t color my picture for History because I really wanted to put extra effort into Science today. I couldn’t do both. But my Science is my best work and I’m really proud of it. I didn’t think my time was best spent just coloring.” – My response was always one laced with positivity, even if I needed to give correction.

For example: “Your Science is in fact best work, I can tell you are enjoying the study of weather. I also notice you have not submitted a best work sample for History in 3 days. How can I help change that?” (No criticism, just fact-based statement, with an offer of help.)

At the Happy Hive I always felt it was important that because the kids were working on topics they chose, that they should be the ones to evaluate the quality of the learning that took place and decide if they were ready to move on. 

Questions for Evaluating Work

Another method for evaluation is to use questions and answers. Discussing learning can be the most insightful method of evaluating work.

Each day ask your children simple questions:

  • What was your favorite part of our learning activities today? Why?
  • What would you do differently, Why? 
  • What made today’s activities work well?

Sometimes children respond that they wouldn’t do anything differently which can be important information too!

These conversations led to choosing their best piece of work for the week to display. We had a BRAG BOARD. Just a simple Blank Wall where one piece of work for each child was hung! Your best work brag board is a great place to find samples for your Portfolio! (discussed below)

Often Children put more effort into things they were passionate about, but eventually learned to balance the less favorable assignments. I always kept the conversations focused on the child and what was important to them. Every assignment doesn’t have to be done to the highest standard, at least not in our house. Balance was also important. Let me explain. 

My son was born with vision issues. His penmanship never conformed to “traditional” standards. We never made it an issue. He answered the questions asked in the simplest manner possible. There were never extra words, and often it was correct but messy. What would be the point of having him re-do work that wasn’t neat? Even when I KNEW he could. He had enough going on only using “one eye”.

Use a charter or online school that provides grades

Working with a Charter or Online School as your “homeschool” may be another legal option of homeschooling. You are however technically enrolled in a public school and that is why they ask for work samples, grades, etc. The funds you receive for curriculum and classes come from the funding Charter schools receive from the state for enrollment. Many who choose this route simply don’t show their learners the report cards that are issued if that’s not in alignment with their educational style. That’s the beauty of Homeschooling, we get to choose.

You can implement the “best work” strategy at any time. Just at your next learner/teacher meeting, explain you want to try something new, For each item of work turned in you will ask if it is “Best Work” and what makes it Best Work. As the teacher, you only accept BEST WORK…

Essential Record-Keeping items

Attendance record

Although the consensus in homeschooling is that everything is learning. The official attendance record will not show a 365-day school year.

Keeping Attendance helps you know you’re schooling for 180 days or more. And as with a public school, you don’t have to *make up* sick days! Just simply mark your children absent, when and if you truly believe the day was *off*.

Online Attendance Trackers are available that many homeschool families love. I preferred the simple approach; I printed a calendar (August to August) for each of my children. I only marked days if my child truly qualified as absent.

Keeping attendance can be as simple as a dated calendar. I print 1 calendar per child, and only marked if the kids were ABSENT. For us, to be absent a child completely cannot do at least 2 school-related items. We didn’t really take sick days or “absences” because thankfully, even when sick my kids would watch a documentary, complete a narration and play a math-related game.

Hours of Instruction 

Some areas require you to keep track of school hours. For example, In California, if you homeschool under a teacher’s credential Instruction must be for at least three hours a day for 175 days each year, between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm. 

In Pennsylvania, you have to teach 180 days or 900 hours at the elementary school level and 180 days or 990 hours at the secondary level. 

These are just a few examples of documentation that may be needed regarding hours of instruction. None of the states have requirements that are too difficult to keep track of in a simple spreadsheet or on a blank calendar! 

Grade Book, Transcripts

For students younger than high school age, keeping a grade book is a good idea. Students in high school need transcripts. Keeping a grade book makes that task easier. As stated before, It’s a good idea to keep official grades in case:

  • You move to a different state and need the records there
  • Some sports programs require report cards
  • If your child will attend public school *when hell freezes over* 

If you are looking for an easy digital way to keep a grade book, you can use THIS ONE. It’s what I use with my coaching clients. 

A word about TRANSCRIPTS

Transcripts detail your child’s academic history, including grades, courses completed, and graduation status.

The grades you keep can be transferred onto transcripts. Transcripts contain a very basic summary of grades and are completed at the end of the year. Each subject receives 1 grade (the average calculated from each report card). The transcript would also contain any Standardized Test Scores (if taken). 

You can create a transcript in a spreadsheet, or purchase “CARDS” from Amazon.

Transcripts go into a CUMULATIVE FILE

HSLDA has a great article called 4 Reasons to Grade before High School you may enjoy

Work Samples (Portfolio)

Keeping a portfolio of your child’s work, lists of textbooks and other tools used to teach your child can be required. If it is not It’s such a *mom* thing to do! Think of a portfolio as a memory book of learning. You can keep actual work samples, or you can keep pictures of the work. 

A portfolio can help you justify grades if you ever need to. They also make a unique Graduation gift! 

We kept a portfolio of sorts for 10 years using the TIME CAPSULE method. 

Some things to keep in your portfolio along with work samples are awards and achievements. These types of records are exciting to recall as the years unfold. 

Your portfolio can contain: 

  • Work Samples (We chose 1 per month for each subject) 
  • Awards
  • Achievements (Such as a photo of winning a karate tournament, participating in a community theater production, or singing in the church choir.) 
  • Your Back to School photo
  • Written narratives completed by you or your children
  • Documentation of extra curricular activities (Sports, Scouts, volunteering)

Personal Documents

Here are some items to keep in your homeschool record-keeping arsenal.

  • Birth Certificate
  • Social Security Number
  • Immunization records or waivers
  • list of your professional growth (courses, workshops, training)

Cumulative File

Your child’s cumulative record is filled with all of the above! This is the place for official records regarding your child’s educational story. Some of these items may or may not apply, based on your personal educational journey. Each year you add report cards, attendance records, Standardized testing results, and any other important information regarding your child’s academic life. It can also house:

  • A copy of your withdrawal letter
  • records from the previous school
  • If your child is receiving services through IEP (Individualized Education Plan) That goes in their cumulative file as well.

Thanks for stopping by Happy Hive Homeschooling to explore homeschool record keeping

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