Portfolio Review/Audit: What Should We Expect if the District Audits our Portfolio?
Except in the case of truancy concerns, most districts will rarely ask to view a home education portfolio. We've worked with thousands of homeschool families over the last 18 years and only a handful have, to our knowledge, been audited. After all, most school district officials have more than enough paperwork to do without taking on extra paperwork and they are very limited by Florida law as to what they can do in a portfolio review/audit.
Reasons for an Audit
Generally, a district will ask to view a portfolio for one of four reasons:
1. Truancy concerns,
2. Someone asked them to,
3. The District is Citrus County, or
4. Someone new is working in the Home Education Office.
Citrus County has previously taken the view that they should ask to see every home education student's portfolio within 30 days of starting to homeschool. Perhaps their attendance records aren't typically up-to-date and they ask just to be sure they haven't missed someone whose child may have had too many absences previously in a school. Otherwise, in most districts, if truancy isn't a concern, a portfolio audit most often comes because someone asked the district to check; many times this is done in custody disputes when someone worries that the children aren't being educated properly, but neighbors, friends, and relatives--often those who are worried about the child or who have a grudge of some kind--have also asked. On rare occasions, a new and overzealous Home Education official has begun a campaign of audits but that rarely lasts long once enough homeschool parents complain about officials harassing them, especially if they involve lawyers from HSLDA or start calling politicians.
What to Do
Generally, a district will notify a parent to bring their portfolio to a school district office at a certain time and date for the audit. However, I've found that the best way to handle this is to give the district the information they want earlier and avoid the meeting.
Instead of waiting for them to have an intimidating meeting, perhaps with more than one official present, I recommend sending them some photos or scans of your records via email. Sending them by email means that you have a great paper trail showing that you have complied with their requests in a timely fashion. You have gone above the call of duty to get the paperwork to them. Then you will likely have their response on record which typically makes them more cautious about not overstepping their legal bounds. And in all the cases I've dealt with, sending them photos or scans in advance of the meeting, showing that you do indeed have records of your child's education, has caused them to cancel the intimidating meeting.
Not an Evaluation
Such an audit is not an evaluation. Florida law gives the parent the right to choose an evaluator and/or evaluation method; so the district can't impose an evaluation of the portfolio. Florida law specifically states that the parent chooses the content of the portfolio--the district can't require anything above and beyond state law. The district doesn't have the power to approve or disapprove of the parent's choice of methods or materials as long as the parent is keeping records as required by law.
What Must They See?
Florida law requires three types of documentation but it leaves the details of how to meet those requirements up to the parent.
The law doesn't define a log of educational materials and states that the "parent shall determine the content of the portfolio" so it can take many forms. Some families keep a lesson plan book, while others keep a calendar with notes. Some use a publisher's lesson plans or even just the table of contents page(s) from books used but to fit the "contemporaneously with instruction" requirement, they'll add check marks or dates around the day or week or so that the student was doing a particular lesson. Others will keep printouts or screenshots of reports from online programs or apps. Blogs are another popular option. Whatever method you use, I strongly suggest labeling it "Log of Educational Activities" so it will be obvious to all that you have such a log.
The law doesn't say how frequently it has to be kept, how much detail must be included, etc.
The titles of reading materials can be ones read by the child or to the child or used somehow with the child. These can be titles of textbooks or workbooks or online programs or magazines or websites or pleasure reading, or any other reading materials. Include at least two titles since the word "materials" was plural. These titles can be recorded in writing or take a photo or scan so the titles are readable.
Florida law doesn't specify a required number of titles nor specific subject areas. I recommend having a few samples of work (whether these are worksheets, copies of pages read/used, photos of projects done, written work, screenshots of online programs used, etc.) from a few different subject areas to show them.
So send the school district, via email is recommended, at least a page or two from your Log of Educational Activities with at least two titles of reading materials, and a few samples of work from a few subject areas. Send them enough that they can see that the child is being educated; otherwise, they may call for another portfolio audit and another until satisfied. Ask for confirmation that they received it and keep a copy of the confirmation.
Usually, sending them such records is enough to have the district cancel the scheduled meeting. I have seen a district wait until the day before the planned meeting to cancel it, but it's always been cancelled once the parent shows the required records and makes it clear that the parent is meeting legal requirements.
No official forms are required for keeping a portfolio. You can keep it in any fashion that makes sense to you. Some people want a form to use or to be able to adapt. If you'd like some forms for a Log of Educational Activities, we have a few that might help.
Feel free to contact us if a school district audits your portfolio. Let us know if we can help you.