This article covers county reviews in Maryland. If you are homeschooling in another state, then feel free to get ideas for this article but make sure you also seek out advice from someone local to your area. If you live in Maryland and choose to review with an umbrella, then you need to follow their specific rules and expectations.
How do I know when to schedule the review?
The law states that homeschool portfolios “shall be reviewed by the local superintendent or the superintendent’s designee at the conclusion of each semester of the local school system at such times as are mutually agreeable to the local superintendent or designee and the parent or guardian.” According to the same regulation, you can be reviewed as many as three times per year, I am not aware of any county that does three reviews. Most counties do two reviews, a few only do one per year.
Your school district’s homeschool office should notify you by email, snail mail, or phone call about scheduling the review appointment. If you don’t know any other homeschoolers who review with your county, then call or email the homeschool office (that’s where you sent your Notice of Intent to start homeschooling) in your school district and ask them when their reviews take place. It is your responsibility to get reviewed, just like it’s your responsibility to renew your driver’s license and file your taxes.
My school district, as well as several others, send out an email with a link to a sign-up website a week or two before reviews start. The available dates range over a few months. In my country, the first review happens between November and January. The second happens between March and June. If you are worried about having enough material for the review, just pick a date toward the end of the review period.
Who will be my reviewer?
In some counties, it is the pupil personnel worker (PPW) assigned to your area. In other counties, the school district hires part-time staff specifically to conduct reviews. These reviewers tend to be retired teachers and administrators. Occasionally, districts may even hire homeschooling parents. In some districts, you are assigned a reviewer, whether that is the PPW or someone whose role is just to do reviews. In other counties, you sign up for an appointment and then get a different random reviewer each time.
Where will the review take place?
The law states that your review must be “at a time and place mutually agreeable to the representative of the local school system and the parent or guardian.” That does not necessarily mean you have a lot of choice in the matter. It just means that is it not like a court summons that tells you when and where without any leeway.
In some districts, you coordinate the appointment directly with the reviewer. So if you want to meet at Starbucks, you two can make a coffee date. My country holds all reviews in meeting rooms of library branches. So, my location choices are limited to those libraries. In other counties, you may have to go to the reviewer’s office.
Reviewers should not pressure you to have the meeting in your home nor should you volunteer that option unless absolutely necessary. There has been an attempt recently to introduce legislation to mandate home inspections for homeschooling families under the guise of preventing child abuse. Please read my post on that issue if you are considering allowing a reviewer into your home.
What should I bring to the review?
The law requires you to show evidence of regular and thorough instruction in math, science, English, social studies, music, art, physical education, and health. The evidence you provide is completely up to you. As long as you can explain to the reviewer that you are meeting the requirements of the law, then you will be fine.
I recommend 3-5 samples each for math, science, English, and social studies. That doesn’t have to be all written work, either. It could be photos of field trips or hands-on projects. For art, music, health, and PE, a log of activities should be enough. If you feel the need to provide work samples for those subjects, a short video of athletic activity or music performance or photos of art work are fine. Check out my posts in my review experiences for more details.
If your child is using an online program, I would recommend printing activity logs or some grades if the site provides those. Take screen shots of work being done. Bring notes or scratch work the kid wrote from the online work. Again, you do not need a ton of samples, just enough to show that your child instruction receiving instruction on a regular basis
Many reviewers like to see dates on papers to know that work in being done regularly. If that works for you, great. If it doesn’t, don’t sweat it. Photos can show that instruction happened different days in various seasons by background scenery or clothing.
What not to bring:
- EVERYTHING! School districts love to suggest that. A portfolio, by definition, is a snapshot of work.
- “One piece of work per subject per week” can very quickly add up to over 100 pieces of paper. Do it if it works for you. Cut it back if it gets ridiculous.
- Attendance records are not required and are meaningless for hoomeschoolers.
- Standardized test scores are not required and the reviewer is not standing in judgement whether your kid compared well to schooled peers.
How do I know if I passed or failed?
More than likely if you understand the law and can show the reviewer how you have met the legal requirements, you will pass. You will receive some kind of write-up of the review indicating that you met the requirements of the home instruction regulation. Either the reviewer will give you a copy at the end of the review or it will be sent to you a few days later. File away that document in a safe place. Then you are good to go until the next round of reviews.
If the reviewer tells you that the portfolio “does not comply with Maryland regulations for home instruction”, they must also give you a written explanation of what you are missing. Then you have 30 days to fix the deficiency and attend another review to show that.
Frequent deficiencies result when the parent does not realize that they have to teach all of the eight subjects. However, it is also very possible that the reviewer overstepped the legal requirements and that you should not cave to their suggestions. If the reviewer insists that your curriculum must meet certain standards or that you teach a particular topic, they are out of bounds. In that case, more experienced homeschooling families can help you trouble-shoot, so reach out to your homeschooling community, whether virtual or IRL. You are also allowed to join an umbrella before the 30 days are up if you find your county reviewers to be less than friendly.