Unschooling: Evaluations & Portfolios

“Can you really do that? Is it legal? What about socialization?” Then there are some more questions people like to ask when you tell them you are Unschooling. Eventually though, they ask, “Don’t you have to report to the school and take tests?”

Answers to the last question vary and depend on where you live. In some states, such as Oklahoma (where we moved from), you don’t have to do ANYTHING other than state that you are homeschooling if you remove a child from school. There are no rules, regulations, requirements, evaluations or portfolios to deal with. I would call it an Unschooler’s Paradise!

Unfortunately, here in Pennsylvania, you have to jump through some hoops. PA is considered one of the more difficult states to Homeschool in, but it’s not impossible. The warning I give everyone, regardless of where they live is: if you choose to comply with your state’s Home-Ed Law, do so as minimally as possible; don’t give over or report anything that the law does not explicitly ask for, because if you do, it only makes it harder for other Homeschoolers in the future — if you give a school district an inch, they’ll try to drag you & everyone else for miles.

Besides counseling Unschooling families in PA myself, I refer them to askpauline.com. Pauline has compiled mountains of information for Homeschoolers in our state and I am grateful. It appears that most questions I receive from people regarding the law apply to portfolios. Pauline has some resources here for portfolio pages and ideas. I will stress again to only include the absolute minimum number of required pages for the portfolio…do NOT be one of these parents with portfolios the size of a phone-book — it only hurts your fellow Homeschoolers. It’s fine to keep tons of examples of things your children have done throughout the year, but you do NOT have to submit all 5000 of them — only a few. There are several Unschooling mums in PA who only submit portfolios consisting of approximately 12 photocopied pages for their children and practically half of those are book lists and such and only about half are copies of “work” done by their children. I’d encourage more families to comply in such a manner — you can always submit more if it is truly necessary & in keeping with the actual law, but you can not retract a phone-book’s worth of pages.

We do have options for testing and one of the best options is NOT testing. Though our Home-Ed Law does require that in grades 3, 5 & 8 all homeschooled children be tested and that test resultsย  (for reading/language arts & math only) be included with their portfolios in those years, it does NOT require parents to assign a grade level to their children. Plainly what I mean is that you do not have to include what “grade” your children are in, only their ages. If your child is the age of the average 3rd, 5th or 8th grader, but they are involved in a higher/lower “grade level” of exploration and engagement, then you (as the home-ed supervisor) can decide that they are NOT a 3rd, 5th or 8th grader and therefor are NOT required to be tested and have those test results submitted — if they are tested, it need not be at “grade level” either. Homeschooled children can be “held back” or “skipped ahead” like traditionally schooled children. And apparently, a lot of homeschooling parents have opted to just not include test results until they are asked for via certified mail — oddly, many parents are never asked for them via any means.

In PA we also have to have our portfolios viewed by an evaluator. We get to choose our evaluators, they look over the portfolio, sign off that an “appropriate education” and “sustained progress” is taking place and then the portfolios are sent in with the evaluator’s letter. The important thing to remember about evaluators is that they are working for you (whether or not they are being compensated). Dayna Martin has a good post about “shopping” for an evaluator.

While I oppose our state’s regulations, I don’t think they have to be treated as this scary monster under the bed. You either comply or you don’t. You either comply to the wording of the law or you be as creative with your thinking and interpretation of how to comply with the law as you feel suits your needs. Thankfully, in PA we have some time, because we don’t have to “do” anything until children are 8yrs old (or the following year for birthdays mid-Sept. & after) and then we’re only required to “do” whatever it is that we do until and including the day before a child turns 17yrs old.

And thankfully, if you are ever confused you can contact the homeschooling liasion.



  1. Idzie says:

    Ah, homeschooling laws… Here in Quebec the laws are very vague and open to interpretation, which sadly leaves homeschoolers open to harassment from the school board if it decides to do so. Because of that reason, most QC homeschoolers choose not to register with the school board at all, and remain “underground”. It saddens me that in so many places, homeschooling laws are so shitty!

  2. Glenda Weaver says:

    I need a question answered. My family and I will be leaving the states to work on the mission field. We are looking to take along a teacher for our children: a seventh grader and a ninth grader. Will we still have to apply under PA home-schooling laws?
    Thanks! Glenda Weaver

    • I feel like the answer depends on several things. Where will your ‘current place of residence’ be while you are “on the mission field”? Will PA be your place of residence or will the foreign country you are traveling to become that place…this might depend on how long you are going to be gone. If PA can’t or won’t be considered your ‘current place of residence’, then the country you are visiting will be or possible the home state of the organization/church you will be on your mission with will become your place of residence — I’m not entirely sure how this works.

      Secondly, if you will be bringing along a teacher for your children, then you can simply notify your current school district that your children will have a private tutor. This site explains the private tutor option for PA families: http://home.comcast.net/~askpauline/hs/homeschooltutor.html

      Last, for me, I wouldn’t concern myself too much with it. The PA dept. of education isn’t going to track you down wherever you are doing mission work…especially if you are going to be gone for the entirety of a school year or longer — they’ll assume you moved and just didn’t tell them ๐Ÿ˜‰ But, that’s what I would do, not necessarily legal or what other people should do.

  3. Lisa says:

    Although I am not new to homeschooling, I am new to unschooling. I was a public school teacher and it has taken me much time to “de-program” myself of that kind of thinking. My children were only in school for several years, and I still feel like I am trying to help undo the damage done to them.

    That being said, I had a question about the portfolio. How would you suggest documenting English and/or writing for older students? My children love to do power point presentations, we discuss things, they make posters, etc., but not a whole lot of writing. Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks.

    • Do your children write emails, letters, or comments on YouTube, Facebook, and articles online? Do they blog or keep journals? Is there writing involved with their power point presentations or the planning phase of the presentations? Do they write lists, menus, meal planning guides, memos, recipes, notes when they leave the house, annotations on Kindle books, or book reviews on Good Reads? Those are all forms of writing ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Joann says:

    I pulled my son out of the horrible public school system here in PA after 5th grade. I began cyber schooling him, which consists of test after test. He is currently in 9th grade and has straight A’s but is not interested at all in the things the “normal schools” teach. As for me, I can’t remember anything at all about algebra… so to me, I don’t see what the purpose of learning it was since I haven’t used it once. I spoke to my son about unschooling and we had some questions such as; What are these portfolios about since all the children are learning about different things? What tests are given? Are they like the PSSAs or Keystone exams? My son will be starting 10th grade so what tests will he have to take at the end of each year? Also, In order to get a high school diploma, would he have to take the same test as the children that go to regular schools? I would really appreciate if you could let me know if there is somewhere I could get the answers to these questions. Thank you.

  5. Heidi says:

    I need help! I pulled my daughter out of public school in the second semester of first grade. I enrolled her in a cyber charter school. as of right now they expect her to attend 4 hours of live sessions. She is bored out of her mind. Do I need to notify anyone that I am pulling her out of this school to start unschooling her? We live in eastern PA. Heidi

  6. Alicia says:

    Thank you so much for this! I have been stressing so much over my kids portfolios and whether I am doing enough. We moved to Philly from Arizona and the adjustment not only life wise but feeling like I had to document everything…Anyways thank you so much!! This post really helped me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *