Recordkeeping: Is it Worth the Trouble?
by Andrea Longbottom
“You may never know how important records are until someone
asks for them,” says Diane Kummer, a high school coordinator
at Home School Legal Defense Association.
When her daughter applied to college, Diane was surprised at the
level of detail required on the college application.
"People think they’ll never forget, but you will forget!” she
says. “It’s important to document the education you’re
providing your child.”
Do you wonder if your recordkeeping efforts are worth it? Or are
you having trouble carving out time to even keep a record? Maybe
you’re a zealous housekeeper, and throwing away grades and
schoolwork is a regular, much-anticipated, year-end activity. However
you view recordkeeping, let’s take a look at why homeschool
recordkeeping is important, what kinds of records you should keep,
and how you can stay on top of them.
Why is Recordkeeping Important?
Homeschool records are the documented proof of your student’s
education, achievements, and valuable experiences. “Homeschool
records don’t come with the same presumption that public
school records do,” says Scott Woodruff, a staff attorney
at HSLDA. “We face skepticism. Our records need to demonstrate
that our child received an adequate education.” Just as a
public or private school could produce records at any time to prove
that Betsy Baxter attended regularly and made an A in history and
a C in science, you are the one responsible for producing records
of your child’s education.
Records can help if you are ever involved in a court case or legal
situation that challenges your homeschool. “Legally, recordkeeping
enables you to demonstrate that you are providing an appropriate
education for your child,” writes HSLDA Chairman Michael
Farris in his book Home Schooling and the Law. “Whether it
is true or not, courts often assume that good records equal a good
“A parent’s recordkeeping is vital when a school district
loses what was submitted by the parent and then threatens the parent
with educational neglect or truancy,” cautions HSLDA Staff
Attorney Thomas Schmidt.
For example, one homeschooling family in New York found out that
their school district had misplaced a quarterly report from three
years ago. Because the family kept good records, they were able
to supply them to the school district. “The district then
wrote a nice letter verifying their compliance with New York law,
which the family used during their child’s college admission
process,” says Schmidt.
“A lot of times, parents think they’re keeping records
only for other people—you’re also doing it for yourself,” says
Diane Kummer. Keeping track of your child’s schoolwork, grades,
and test scores helps you gauge your student’s progress,
plan for the next school year, and hold onto those special projects
or awards you don’t want to forget when Johnny has graduated
and left home.
Good records are especially crucial when your student reaches
high school. Homeschooling veteran and consultant Lee Binz explains
why: “Keep high school records so that, when the time comes,
you can make a transcript that actually reflects the courses that
you taught. Keep records so that you don’t short-change your
Most colleges, military recruiters, and some employers will ask
for your child’s high school transcript before acceptance.
And sometimes, even after your child has graduated from college,
an employer or other official will ask to see records. HSLDA has
assisted several homeschool graduates in situations where—despite
the graduates having completed one to four years of college—their
employers refused to recognize their homeschool diplomas and demanded
they take the GED.
“Your child is counting on this record,” says HSLDA
High School Coordinator Becky Cooke.
What Kinds of Records Should I Keep?
Think first about the different purposes of records. You may need
- Comply with your state homeschool law
- Prove the veracity and success of your homeschool to school
district officials, caseworkers, or judges
- Prove your child’s education to colleges, vocational
schools, or trade schools
- Obtain scholarships
- Satisfy employers that your child is educated
- Show your child’s education level if you ever enroll
him in private or public school
- Help you comply with the homeschool law in another state if
- Satisfy requirements for your child to obtain professional
The following are some recommended records to keep, although your
state may not require such detailed records:
- Daily attendance
- Log of daily hours spent on different subjects; lists of curriculum
used, subjects taught, and grades given; work samples, including
tests; immunization and other medical records; standardized test
- Letters or other documentation from authorities and government
- High school transcript; SAT or ACT scores
- Lists of extracurricular activities, volunteer work, job experience,
- Reading lists
- Certification or licenses your student has received
Begin by placing in your file any records required by state law.
If your homeschool is ever challenged, your records will prove
that you’re in compliance with the homeschool law and will
show officials that you take your children's education seriously.
You can make sure you are in compliance by visiting www.hslda.org/state
and clicking on your state to view the legal analysis.
Even if your state doesn’t require records, keep them anyway. “Texas
doesn’t require any records from homeschoolers,” says
Melanie Springer, a Texas homeschooling mom. “But I was always
a little nervous thinking, ‘What if we moved to another state?’ or ‘What
if the Texas homeschool law changed?’ I wanted to have at
least minimum recordkeeping standards for our family, so that if
someone looked at our records, they could see what we had done
in our homeschool.”
Additional Considerations for High School Records
Whether or not your child plans to attend college, it’s
very important to document the high school years by creating a
transcript, awarding a diploma, and keeping sufficient high school
records. Cooke and Kummer have both talked to parents whose children
chose to start college in their mid-20s but had no transcript because
college wasn’t in their original plan for the future. Even
if your child never goes to college, he may need to show the transcript
to prospective employers. Because you don’t know what path
your children may end up taking, stay a step ahead and be prepared.
A transcript lists the academic courses taken in high school and
the grades and credits earned. Kummer emphasizes that documenting
extracurricular activities and work experience is also vital. For
example, the military likes to see evidence of leadership and physical
skills, and college admissions officers and employers will want
to see that your student is a well-rounded individual.
For more ideas on what kind of high school records to keep, explore
college admissions websites, chat with a college admissions officer,
check your state’s homeschooling regulations for any subjects
homeschooled high schoolers might be required to take, and ask
other homeschooling parents of high schoolers.
How Long do I Have to Keep These?
No parent wants to keep every scrap of schoolwork (or if you do,
you’ll never want to take the time to go through it!). “But
keep records somewhat defensively,” cautions Scott Woodruff,
explaining that it’s difficult to know when you’ll
need to pull up old records.
Mike Farris advises parents to keep yearly records and permanent
records. Yearly records include schoolwork samples for each subject,
tests, records of field trips and related activities, and any log
of summarized daily activities.
“Keep enough to substantiate the work done and grade given,” says
Becky Cooke. In addition to Farris’s list, Cooke recommends
keeping significant time- and labor-intensive projects.
Permanent records should include report cards, standardized test
results, and medical documentation, including immunization records.
Farris recommends keeping yearly records for a minimum of three
years and holding onto high school records permanently.3
“In a few situations, such as divorce, custody disputes,
or some child welfare cases, a family may be put in a position
where having much more than the minimum level of records would
be helpful,” explains Woodruff. “None of the parents
we’ve been called on to help in these circumstances ever
dreamed they would be facing such a difficult situation. Unfortunately,
tragedies do occur. Since no parents know for sure whether they
will ever be in this situation, it’s wise to keep a full
set of records.”
“The day my daughter graduated from college, I threw away
a lot of stuff,” says Diane Kummer.
But Kummer will always hold onto her children’s transcripts,
SAT or ACT scores, financial aid paperwork, summaries of work completed
in each grade, and noteworthy papers and other work samples.
Kummer explains, “I consider myself to be my children’s
school registrar—the keeper of the records. If any of these
records are ever needed for jobs, advanced degree work, etc., my
children know where this paperwork is kept. In addition, I set
aside for safekeeping a few sentimental or memorable items from
their school years, especially the elementary years. It’s
easy to go overboard and keep too many of these items, but I learned
from a professional organizer friend that the fewer sentimental
items you keep, the more precious these items are!”
How Can I be a Successful Recordkeeper?
First, come up with a recordkeeping system that is simple and
works for you. “If your system takes too much time, you probably
won’t use it,” says Cooke.
Systems can be as simple as a file folder for each child for each
subject, or you may want to use software or even pay a company
to keep your records for you. It depends on your personality and
how much time and money you’re willing to invest.
At a minimum, your records should be legible and look professional. “As
a general rule, your records should be detailed enough to remind
you what was done and when,” advises Cooke.
Kummer recommends planning out a method of evaluation for your
student’s work, usually letter grades. This helps college
officials and others easily compare your child’s academic
level to that of other students.
You may also want to create a portfolio for each child. A portfolio
is a collection of work samples, test scores, and other documents
that serves not only as a memorable compilation of your child’s
achievements but also as an organized, convenient record to show
others. See the resources sidebar for information on creating a
Even if you are not technologically savvy, a home computer and
today’s recordkeeping software will enable you to easily
create the professional-looking records you need. Government officials,
college officers, and employers will generally want to see a summary
of your child’s work, such as a transcript or résumé,
not the work samples themselves.
But I’m Too Busy! (Or Disorganized … or … )
"To someone who says, ‘I’m too busy to keep
records,’ I say, ‘You’re too busy not to keep
records!’ ” says Kummer. “Five minutes once a
day is a lot better than days on end at the end of the school year.” Melanie
Springer agrees. “If you do it as you go, it’s a lot
Do you have a child who loves to organize? Enlist his help! Both
Cooke and Kummer had their children help log hours and file their
schoolwork in the appropriate folders as it was completed. “My
children loved to record their grades,” says Cooke.
Homeschooling mom and author Cindy Rushton says, “When my
children were little, I kept one journal for everything. I kept
it out on my desk so I could just jot down what we were doing as
we did it… . As they got older, I transferred this process
Springer encourages parents to “see recordkeeping as part
of the educational process rather than a separate entity.”
What If I’m an Unschooler?
As unschooler Karen Gibson writes on her website, Leaping from
the Box, “Many people view unschooling and recordkeeping
as being at odds with one another… . but many unschoolers
deal with state homeschool regulations that require some type of
Gibson keeps a record of “movies watched, books read, books
on tape listened to, any workbooks or other books used, board games
played, computer games, online activity, letter writing, discussions
had, questions asked and answered, research done, field trips,
etc. I even include their household chores, helping with meals,
etc., under the Independent Living Skills section. You can be very
detailed about these activities—noting pages read or workbook
pages completed, grades (if you do grades) on particular papers—or
you can note just general topics covered. It’s up to you
and your needs.”5
For courses or activities that don’t produce handy paperwork
you can file, you may need to be creative. Homeschooling mom Lee
Binz suggests copying any materials used. For example, if your
child is learning to cook, keep copies of the recipes.6
The bottom line is to keep something that adequately reflects
your child’s accomplishments.
Although recordkeeping requires work and diligence, it can also
be a very rewarding part of homeschooling, for both teacher and
student. “I feel secure knowing I have something to show
for the work we’ve done,” explains Melanie Springer. “And
it’s been helpful for the kids to be able to look back at
“As with anything in homeschooling, your recordkeeping should
be done with integrity and excellence,” says Diane Kummer. “It
should be a good reflection of the education you’re providing.”
1. Michael P. Farris, Home Schooling and the Law (Paeonian Springs:
HSLDA, 1990), p. 155.
2. Lee Binz, “Cubbies, Tubbies and Binder Queens,” The
Home Scholar, August 2007, www.thehomescholar.com/article_archive/
3. Farris, Homeschooling and the Law, 153-4.
4. Cindy Rushton, “Easy Record-Keeping for the Reluctant
Homeschool Mom” (2007), www.cindysdesktop.com/?p=1336.
5. Karen Gibson, “Unschooling Record Keeping” (1999),
6. Lee Binz, “Cubbies, Tubbies and Binder Queens.”
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