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Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Homeschool Record Keeping

Catholic Homeschooling and Everything You Need to Know About (EASY!) Record Keeping

Life as a junk drawer

I loathe paperwork. If it were up to me, my homeschool records would probably be on sticky notes at the bottom of the sock basket. Yet I have spent half my life (for real) submitting detailed homeschool paperwork twice annually to my local school district.

So don’t let homeschool record-keeping freak you out. If I can do it, so can you!

Here are the basics of homeschool record-keeping in an easy-to-read FAQ format.

Q: Do I legally have to keep school records?

Yes. No. Maybe. It varies state by state. To find out about your state, go to its Department of Education web page. Another helpful resource is the Home School Legal Defense Association, HSLDA.org. If you live in one of the more heavily regulated states, as I do, I cannot stress enough (pun intended) to find out what your own state law requires and tattoo it to the inside of your eyelids. Whatever you do, do not blow off the state unless you are fine with taking the consequences. Personally, I’d rather hand over the paperwork than my children. But that’s just me.

Q: Can I get out of submitting school records to the state?

In some states, you can dodge having to do paperwork for your state by going with an accredited homeschool curriculum provider. (See list below.) Keep in mind you will still have to provide paperwork to the provider, which could end up being more work than just sending it to the state. However, if your local district barely tolerates having you stand on their carpet when you hand in your paperwork, a Catholic curriculum provider at least has the welcome mat out for you.

Q: When do I start recording grades?

Unless your state requires it, you probably do not need to keep track of grades for children in K – 8. Grades are more serviceable in a classroom where a teacher has to teach to the middle and move ahead even if some of the kids are lagging behind. Tutors, which is what homeschoolers are, move on when the child is ready.

You will need to keep track of grades in high school because colleges require high school transcripts. Start recording grades beginning in 9th grade. Do not wait until 11th or 12th grade. You’ll just make your job harder trying to fish out all those sticky notes.

Q: How do you make a transcript?

There are lots of free templates online, However, some colleges require you to use theirs so check with the admissions department of perspective post-secondary schools. You will need to know the course type and name (such as Math and Algebra 2); you’ll need to calculate the number of credits usually based on time spent (such as 1 credit for one year); and you will need to choose a grading system (such as A, 4.0, or 100). Then there will be very real educational programs your kid did that have no grades – such as Music: Polyphonic Choir (which our family does). This can be an A – because like, singing Renaissance music is an A thing to do. Or it can be P for Pass, if you feel modest. Anyway, you gather the core courses and all the fabulous stuff your kid has done, and simply fill in the blanks of the transcript. This is much easier if you have already done an annual summary all four years.

Q: How do you do an annual summary?

Don’t let the name fool you. You need to keep track of what you are doing all year long rather than wait until the end of the year. I do mine this way: I keep my lesson plans in a daily logbook. The kids check off their lessons as they go. At the end of the year, I base my annual summary on what was checked off in the logbook.

My format looks like this. Feel free to cut and paste, add and subtract entries as you see fit.

Year End Summary for Name of Child 2021-2022

Grade __

Subjects and Materials Used: (Specify the name of textbooks, classes, online resources, activities, grades, and other relevant details below.)

  1. English
  2. Math
  3. History
  4. Science
  5. Foreign Language
  6. Arts
  7. Technical Training
  8. Physical Education
  9. Reading List: (Put books you read together/for school at the top, follow with books the child read on his/her own.)
  10. List of special classes, events, field trips, educational videos and more!
  11. Standardized test (type, date, score)

Q: I don’t live in a regulated state. Give me one good reason I should keep records.

Okay, I’ll give you several.

          1) You might suddenly need them. You could move to a regulated state. The law in your state could change. You could enroll your child in a regular school or a cyber school. Your family status could change. I have a friend who went through a divorce and another who lost a spouse. Both faced custody battles, one with her ex; the other with her kids’ grandparents. You want to be prepared for anything that might threaten your right to homeschool. Expect the unexpected!

          2) Records keep you on track. This is where you compare what you planned with what you actually did. You learn what worked and what didn’t. You make sure you aren’t repeating yourself or that you didn’t miss anything.

          3) Records keep everyone motivated. It shows the kids that you take their work seriously. You mark their progress and they see it in black and white, and gold stars too! You can start this right away. I started all the way back when my kids were tiny with a little book, decorated with rewards stickers and drawings. As they grew, we started making portfolios to bring to our required annual meeting with a certified teacher. Our kids were proud of their portfolios and they always enjoyed the chance to show off what they learned. I was proud too – which I needed because some days you feel like you get nothing done. Those days can stretch into weeks. But when you add up the year, you’ve got solid proof that your hard work paid off.

          4) Records celebrate your achievement long after it is over. Are you the kind of person who writes stuff on your to-do list that you’ve already done, just because it feels good to check it off? Get out of bed – what an achievement! Well, homeschooling your kids is a huge achievement. Keeping track of what you did is a way of remembering and celebrating the time you spent together. Five of my seven kids are done and there is no need to keep records of what they did anymore. What to do with the dozens of annual portfolios I had once submitted to the school district? Keep? Throw? Wait for some brainy homeschooler to invent a shrink laser?

I took them apart, purged all the boring stuff – hopefully all those spelling lists are in their brains anyway. I kept all the essays, drawings, photos, plays, and certificates of achievement. I put that in chronological order into one binder apiece, heading off each year with my annual summary sheet. Voila: Homeschooling’s Greatest Hits.

Do I ever look at them? Do they? Sure. They are scrapbooks. Who knew there was an afterlife for homeschool records? I grabbed one just last month, for a talk I gave about my 26 years of homeschooling. It was my oldest child’s kindergarten logbook, containing Latin, German, Chaucer, and exercise before breakfast. Forget my humor books, this is the funniest thing I have ever written.

Despite my loathing of paperwork, I am glad I can look back on all that work and have something to show for it. Was it a workout? Yes. But “I regret keeping those records,” said no one ever.

Any more questions? If you need more help navigating the record-keeping process, I’m here. Give me a call.

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Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

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