Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice. It is a compilation of personal opinions and experiences. It is highly recommended that every homeschooling adult reads COMAR13a.10.01.01 (often referred to as just COMAR in homeschool discussions) for themselves and keep a copy of it accessible during reviews.
A frequent point of contention between homeschoolers and county reviewers is what constitutes regular and thorough instruction, as mandated by COMAR. Some counties strongly suggest that parents provide a portfolio that includes one work sample per week for each of the eight required subjects. Other reviewers are fine with as little as 2 samples of work. Occasionally, reviewers suggest to parents that they should just bring everything their child has done.
COMAR specifically states that “a local school system may not impose additional requirements for home instruction programs other than those in these regulations.” Therefore, reviewers can strongly suggest whatever they want, but parents do not have to bend to those suggestions.
What does COMAR say about regular, thorough instruction?
In the first paragraph, which describes the purpose of the regulation, it states that the intent is “to establish a procedure to be used by the superintendent of each local school system to determine if a child participating in a home instruction program is receiving regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.” The ideas are slightly expanded upon in the section that explains the instructional program. “(a) Provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age; (b) Include instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education; and (c) Take place on a regular basis during the school year and be of sufficient duration to implement the instruction program.
What does “regular” mean?
According to the dictionary, “regular” means evenly spaced or occurring at fixed times. So, in terms of public school, a math class that meets at 9 am every school day or a book club that meets once a month are both occurring regularly. COMAR does not specify how frequently regular instruction has to happen.
Public school reviewers tend to be very familiar with instruction in schools and assume that homeschooling mirrors that. In that light, they may expect each of the eight required subjects to be taught every day. However, that is not the interval at which teaching happens even in the schools in their own county. While math and English instruction do happen most school days, music, art, and PE each are scheduled only once a week in many elementary schools. Even high schools operate on a variety of schedules, so they could alternate days of four 90-minute classes rather than 7 classes every day.
What is considered “thorough”?
The dictionary definition is a tall order here! It offers meanings such as “complete in all respects” and “having full mastery”. So, unless your kid is completing a Ph.D. in your homeschool, I don’t think any of us are living up to that expectation. The public schools are not thorough either because I am learning a lot of things even from my kindergartener’s homeschool curriculum that I never learned in 12 years of public school.
For argument’s sake, let’s take COMAR’s mandate that instruction must “be of sufficient duration to implement the instruction program” as a definition of what they mean by “thorough”. That would vary greatly by whether or not you use a curriculum and how much of it you deem enough for a school year. Your child’s age and ability would also be a major factor in to how thoroughly you can teach a subject.
What do you bring to the review to demonstrate regular, thorough instruction?
A portfolio, by dictionary definition, is “a selection of a student’s work compiled over a period of time”. Therefore, for math, science, English, and social studies, I select 3 samples of work from the review period. I aim for one from the first month, one from the last month, and one somewhere in the middle. I also try to pick interesting things like research papers or photos of field trips or projects rather than boring worksheets. In addition to these samples, I provide a list of topics covered to show that our instructional program was thorough and covered more than just the three pieces of evidence. Sometimes, when appropriate, I also make a list of resources used in the subject.
For the other four subjects, music, art, PE, and health, I do not provide all of that information. I may show photos of a couple of art pieces. However, I go more for regularity here and just state the activities the kid is involved in, like weekly sports class and daily music practice.
Basically, your goal is to convince the reviewer that you are providing instruction to your child somewhere near the level and frequency they would be receiving in school. You do not need to meet assessment goals. There is no specific curriculum or set of standards you have to follow. The reviewer cannot grade the work or quiz your children, if you choose to bring them. If the reviewer asks for specific items that you must include in your portfolio, ask them to show you where in COMAR that is required. More than likely, they will not be able to do that and therefore cannot require specifics of your home instruction.
I have written posts about several of my review experiences, if you are interested in finding out what I provided and how it went.
My other FAQs can be found here: