Monday, May 16, 2011

Record Keeping for Dummies

Records? What are those? Didn’t they go out of style with eight-track cassettes? Or, records? Are you nuts? Why should I keep them? If I have to keep them, which ones should I be worried about, and how do I do it?  

Let’s start with the why. Why keep records when you don’t have to? On the flip side, why keep records when you can just keep all of the actual papers and workbooks? We’re all aware that every state’s homeschool laws vary as to how much (if any) record keeping we have to do. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but I will say that we need to keep abreast of our own state’s requirements; Homeschool Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org) is a good place to start if you need help.

So, let’s move onto reasons we should keep records if we don’t have to. As a verb, record means “to set down in writing, to furnish written evidence of” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). At one time or another, we’ve all needed to have evidence that we are actually homeschooling our children. We need to remind ourselves sometimes that our children have actually made progress since the beginning of the school year (or from year to year).

Even if we manage to graduate our children from high school without keeping a single record, we won’t get them into college that way. ALL colleges, no matter how homeschool friendly they are, require some sort of documentation that our children learned a few basics while they were under our care. What if we move to another school district or state mid-year that requires us to have more documentation than a coloring picture on the fridge? What if we need to transfer our children to a private or public school? Practically speaking, these are all excellent reasons for keeping some records.

Looking back at the progress our children have made since the beginning of the school year shows me physical evidence that they have, indeed, learned something. Quite a few somethings, in fact. It also provides physical evidence that we homeschool parents have been busy as well. Looking back gives us fresh hope and perspective in looking ahead to the rest of the school year (or the coming year).

Now that we’ve established that we should be keeping some records, what type of records should we be keeping? Many state laws require a variety of records to be sent in somewhere or at least kept on file in our homes. Again, I refer you to HSLDA for an accurate listing. Some of the items asked for include vaccination (or exemption) records, attendance, testing scores, curricula listings, field trips, daily logs, and evaluations. Some states expect grades, and even when they aren’t required by law, we need to keep track of grades once our children reach the high school years. Even if your state does not demand any (or all) of these items, I would strongly recommend that you hang onto as many of them as possible.

So, how do we keep track of all of these things? In as little space and in as organized a manner as possible. A mom binder works best for all administration-type documents, although a folder in a filing cabinet works, too. Have a tab for each child, and then file from the back forwards so that the most recent material is in the front. You may also subdivide each tab by year.

Much documentation can be kept on the computer. A number of free programs exist; my favorite is Homeschool Tracker. That program will print out any number of custom reports that can be mailed in or shown to an evaluator as needed. You can also print out reports at the end of each academic year to file in your mom binder.

What about keeping track of grades from curricula such as A.C.E., Alpha Omega, and similar programs? I have seen twelve years’ worth of piles and boxes of Paces/LIFEPACs. For real. There’s no need to keep all that paper. Simply make a spreadsheet for each child, then a new page for each year. It should have ten or twelve (as appropriate) columns, one for each Pace/LIFEPAC. Then it should have a row for each subject. Record each final grade, keeping a few sample tests and papers from each subject from each year to add to a portfolio, and then trash the rest. Yes, it’s really that easy. If you’ve got some catching up to do, no worries. Teen can be trained quickly to go through and systematically do the recording for you. If you don’t have teens in the house, just take it a little bit at a time.

What about all those 3-D projects, art papers, A+ essays, and stellar math tests? You’ve worked hard and are proud of it. Your kids have worked hard and are proud of their accomplishments. So save some of it in a portfolio. Look for a whole column on portfolios in the next issue.

We’ve covered the why, the what, and the how. Now all we need is the motivation. While I can’t help you with that, I can encourage you to get started and to take it one little step at a time.

This post appeared in my "Organized Homeschool" column of the Home School Enrichment magazine's May/June 2011 issue.