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Pennsylvania

November 15, 2010

Portfolio Log Requirements

There are different interpretations within Pennsylvania’s homeschool community regarding the legal requirements for compiling a log that is part of the portfolio maintained by the parent conducting a home education program. Every year, Home School Legal Defense Association encounters various versions of logs as we assist our member families with legal difficulties. Sometimes a log is so inadequate that it makes it very difficult for us to solve the family’s problem. So what does the law say?

The law governing home education programs is found in Section 13-1327.1 of Pennsylvania Statutes Annotated. The language of subsection (e)(1) of Section 13-1327.1 relating to the log states as follows:

The portfolio shall consist of a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used....

A simple dissection of this statutory language indicates that (1) there must be a log, (2) it must be made contemporaneously with the instruction, and (3) it must designate by title the reading materials used.

There appears to be no disagreement that the log is a record. But there is disagreement about the extent to which the log is related to time. According to an opinion issued by the Office of Chief Counsel of the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) on September 28, 2001, the log is by definition a “day to day record” and, as such, must identify specific dates of instruction and materials used on each date. PDE’s rationale for this is that this record “is the only written documentation available to reviewers of the portfolio to confirm that a home education program has provided an appropriate number of instructional days or hours and that the student has made appropriate ‘educational progress’ in the program, as required by law.” The provision of the law to which PDE refers is the requirement that the evaluator and superintendent determine whether an “appropriate education” is occurring, one of the elements of which is that the student has received instruction for the required time. What is remarkable about this is that while, on the one hand, the law does not expressly require that the portfolio contain any information about the time of instruction, on the other hand, those who review the portfolio must be able to determine that the time requirement has been met. Therefore, by implication only, the portfolio must contain information about the time of instruction. Otherwise, neither the evaluator nor the superintendent could determine that the student was receiving an “appropriate education” as that term is defined.

HSLDA has always contended that it is possible to meet the log requirements without designating a particular date for the instruction. For example, the supervisor of the home education program may create the log by simply numbering the days of instruction and entering the required data for each of the 180 days. This is not the best approach, but it arguably complies with the statute. It provides the record of information and relates it to the time of instruction. HSLDA recommends using a calendar for compiling the data, because it removes any question about compliance and is not a burdensome method of recordkeeping.

The second requirement of the log is that it be made contemporaneously with the instruction. According to The American Heritage Dictionary (Second College Edition), “contemporaneously” means originating during the same period of time. But even this definition can lead to different interpretations of what is required for documenting the instruction. For example, since the instruction occurs over the course of the entire school year, does this mean that the parent may wait until the last day of the year to compile the log? What about waiting until the end of each week during the school year to document the instruction? Does the parent have to make a log entry after each subject is taught during the day? While it is obvious that an argument could be made for any of these and even more scenarios, the likely intent of the law is that the parent is supposed to make the log entry during the same increment of time that the instruction takes place. In other words, if the parent is complying with the law by teaching for 180 days, then the log entry should be made each day that teaching occurs. If the parent is complying with the annual hours requirement (900 elementary or 990 secondary) instead of the days requirement, it would seem reasonable to enter the data after the hours of instruction are completed each day.

The third requirement of the log is that it must designate by title the reading materials used. That is all that is required. In most cases this is simply the title of the textbooks used for instruction that day in the various subjects. It is not a “log of instructional activities” as some school districts contend, whereby parents are expected to write a narrative description of what they taught and what the student did each day. There is no need to provide any lesson plan information, pages of the textbooks covered, or even the particular topic of the subject area being taught.

What about compiling a reading list that indicates the textbooks used for the subjects taught and the titles of other books read by the student over the course of the school year? Does this satisfy the log requirements? While this would constitute a record indicating the title of the reading materials used, it presents two problems. First, if this is the only record compiled as a log, it would not be sufficient to indicate that the time requirements for the instruction had been met. Second, it would not be a log “made contemporaneously with the instruction” as discussed above.

We recommend to our members that they develop a key for the titles of the reading materials used, such as a letter or a number, so that the complete title does not have to be entered each day that a particular textbook or other written material is used. For example, if a textbook is entitled English Composition for Eleventh Grade, one may designate this textbook as “A” in the key. A textbook with a title such as Geography of the Western Hemisphere may be designated as textbook “B” in the key. Each day that one of these textbooks is utilized, one would simply enter the letter for that textbook on the calendar. As additional reading materials are utilized, the titles would be added to the list and another letter of the alphabet assigned each of them. By doing this, the supervisor is demonstrating that he or she is maintaining “a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used.” The calendar provides evidence that the entry was made contemporaneously, since the title of the reading materials is associated with a particular day upon which instruction was given.

Sometimes instruction does not include the use of any reading materials, such as when the family goes on an all-day field trip to a museum or when the student participates in some physical education activity. Yet the supervisor wants to make a record of that day’s activities as part of fulfilling the time and course requirements for the home education program. In that instance, the supervisor may simply make a calendar entry indicating the subject that was taught that day and, if hours are being recorded, the number of hours for the activity.

In addition to the log discussed above, the portfolio must also include “samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student and in grades three, five and eight results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels.”

We encourage our member families with questions about complying with the portfolio requirements to contact us for assistance.