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All About The Log

The law requires a “log” – what does that mean?

There is much controversy about the log. Different homeschoolers keep different styles of logs. Expectations about the content and format of the log vary widely, from evaluator to evaluator, and school district to school district. Let’s look at what the law says.

"Appropriate education" shall mean a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program."

"In order to demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring, the supervisor of the home education program shall provide and maintain on file the following documentation for each student enrolled in the home education program…"

"The portfolio shall consist of

a log,
made contemporaneously with the instruction,
which designates by title the reading materials used,

samples of
any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials
used or developed by the student

and in grades three, five and eight
results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests
in reading/language arts and mathematics
or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels."

Generally speaking, I interpret the law to mean that the portfolio as a whole should ”demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring”. (Other people have different interpretations.) The log is one tool to use to demonstrate appropriate ed. The work samples, test scores, and anything else you put in your portfolio are other tools. You will need to find a way to comply with the log requirement that fits well with how you school, and that is easy for you to keep up with. You will need to consider what information you are willing to share with your evaluator. You may also wish to consider what kind of documentation you want to keep for other reasons, including the rare chance that someone would challenge your home education program. I strongly suggest that you read the law for yourself and read a number of interpretations before you decide what approach your family will be using. 

There are many different ways to keep a log.  Before choosing the style of log that is right for you, please read the law, consider the various interpretations of the log requirement, talk to your evaluator, and consider how you would respond if your home education program is challenged.  Consider whether your portfolio as a whole will allow the evaluator to determine that an appropriate education (instruction in the required subjects for the time required, and sustained progress in the overall program) has taken place.

What Does The Evaluator Expect My Log To Look Like? 

I cannot tell you what your particular evaluator will expect -- only they can tell you that. 

You get to choose your evaluator, so you can agree in advance what kind of log will be acceptable to her.  (See my All About Evaluations & Evaluator List page for more info.) 

What kinds of logs do people keep?

So according to the law, the log is a "log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used".  Different people interpret this clause in quite different ways. 

The DOE, HSLDA, and some school districts interpret the law to mean that you must make a log entry for each day of instruction, and that the entry must list any reading materials used that day.  Some people believe that you should also include what you do that day – field trips, hands-on activities, etc.  I call this a "daily log". 

Despite the opinions of the DOE and HSLDA, many homeschoolers interpret the law differently.  They believe that the law says that they must keep a log of the reading materials they use ("a log…which designates by title the reading materials used"), and that the log must be kept as they go throughout the year ("made contemporaneously with the instruction”). They do not believe that a book needs to be listed each day it is used – they just list it once.  This is commonly referred to as a "book log". 

There are many variations on these two basic themes.

It is up to you to decide which interpretation of the law you will use.  Your own interpretation may or may not match your evaluator's interpretation.  If it does not, you will have to work that out with your evaluator, or choose another evaluator. 

What is the PDE's Opinion on the Log?

Howard Richman, of PA Homeschoolers, said on his message board:

"According to an opinion issued on Sept. 28 by the Office of Chief Counsel at the PA Dept of Education:

“The log must identify specific dates of instruction and the materials used on each date, because a log by definition is a ‘day to day’ record, and is the only written documentation available to reviewers of the portfolio to confirm that a home education program has provided an appropriate number of instructional days or hours and that the student has made appropriate ‘educational progress’ in the program, as required by law.”  The Chief Counsel's name is Linda Barrett."

Note that the log is not in fact the only way to show that you have completed 180 days or 900/990 hours of instruction.  See Pauline’s Days/Hours Page for a discussion about this.  In addition, samples of work can show that the child has made appropriate educational progress.  Thus many homeschoolers would dispute the idea that a “daily log” is the only way to show days/hours and progress. 

What is HSLDA's Opinion on the Log?

Dee Black, of HSLDA, said in an email to me dated 8/5/02:

"The statute says there must be "a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used...." We understand this to mean that the instructor must keep a record to indicate the title of the text book, etc. used each time instruction is given.   Otherwise, the log would not be being made contemporaneously.  We do not think it is sufficient to just turn in a list of text books or other reading materials used throughout the year.   We believe the statute requires the parent to record what was used each day of instruction, i.e. contemporaneously.   To avoid this being so cumbersome, we suggest that parents make a list of these reading materials and number them.   For example, if Saxon Math is used for Algebra I, then this book could be numbered 1.   Then each time instruction is given from this book, the log entry would be "1."   There is no need to write the title of the book over and over in the log. 

Note that this interpretation is clearly based on a “school at home”, textbook-based, teacher-led approach to homeschooling, and it may be a good choice for families using such an approach.  However, it would be much more labor-intensive for those using a more relaxed, “living books”, hands-on, child-led, and/or unschooling approach.  I believe that it is sensible for families to choose a logging method that is a good fit with their approach to homeschooling.

What is The “Book Log” Interpretation?

Remember the law calls for:

"a log,
made contemporaneously with the instruction,
which designates by title the reading materials used"

As I said, there is a lot of controversy about the log.  Interpretation of this clause, and general practice among homeschoolers and evaluators, varies widely.  The DOE, HSLDA, and some evaluators believe the law requires a "daily log".  However, many homeschoolers interpret the law differently.  They believe that the law says that they must keep a log of the reading materials they use ("a log…which designates by title the reading materials used"), and that the log must be kept as they go throughout the year ("made contemporaneously with the instruction")They do not believe that a book needs to be listed each day it is used – they just list it once.  So at the end of the year their log is simply a list of books they’ve used throughout the year.  This is commonly referred to as a "book log". 

Your evaluator may or may not agree with this interpretation. 

Nonetheless, many evaluators do accept book logs, especially if the portfolio as a whole gives enough information to determine “appropriate education”.  Remember that definition in the law? 
"Appropriate education" shall mean a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program."

Some people who choose to do a “book log” keep a backup “daily log”, so they have something to fall back on if anyone challenges their home education program.

How Do I Keep a Book Log?

So how do you keep a book log?  Just keep a list of books your child has used.  Generally, you only need to list each book once, rather than every day you use it. 

If your library prints out a list of the books you check out, you can keep these lists as your log.  Just tape them in a notebook and check off the books you use!  If your library lets you access your borrowing record on-line, you may be able to print it.  Again, just note which child used which book.  The down side of this, of course, is that the records will also include books that you’ve checked out that have nothing to do with homeschooling.  If you are concerned about this, you may wish to re-write your list before handing it in to the school district.

Some families choose to do a "book log conference" weekly - they round up all of the library books, talk a bit about them, and note them into the log, along with the date of the conference.  This is actually a good way to help keep track of library books!

General hints about keeping your log:

~ At Pauline’s Homeschool Forms Page you'll find several different styles of forms for keeping your log.  However, fancy forms aren't necessary -- a simple spiral notebook will do.

~ Both HSLDA and the PDE believe that log entries must be dated.  This can be used to show that the log has been made as you go along.  Some folks, however, choose not to date their log, as they feel it is not strictly required.  This is particularly true for folks who simply keep a running list of books in a file on their computer. Even if you choose not to hand dates in to the school district, you may wish to consider keeping your own record of these dates to fall back on if your portfolio is challenged.

~ If you use a lot of textbooks and workbooks, (not everyone does, and not for every subject), you may decide not to list books that children read outside of their assigned “school work”.  On the other hand, if you use little in the way of formal curriculum, and do not differentiate between “school” and “not school”, you may wish to use a more comprehensive booklist to help to show that your child is getting an “appropriate education”.  Consider whether you will include books that you read to your child, books that they read to themselves (or to you), books on tape, etc.  Note that you don't need to list the author, publisher, etc. unless you want to.  It can be incredibly obnoxious to have to list every book an independent reader picks up!  Don't get carried away!

~ Some homeschoolers list things like videos, TV shows, movies, web sites, music CD's, museum visits, etc., and some homeschoolers do not.  Making a note of these items may be especially helpful when creating a high school transcript.

~ Some folks like to label each item in their portfolio.  Their log says "log" or “log of reading materials” at the top, and their evaluator's certification says "evaluator's certification ". This makes it easy for anyone reviewing the portfolio to understand what they're looking at.  Also, some folks like to include quotes from the law.  For example, on the cover of their portfolio they quote the list of what must be included in the portfolio.  This is not at all necessary, but some folks like to show that they've read the law, they know what it requires, and they're complying with it.  Law quotes can also be a way to educate anyone viewing your portfolio about what exactly the law requires.  There are several ready-made pages at Pauline’s Homeschool Forms Page.

~ In most cases, especially for younger children, mom makes the entries in the log.  However, some kids, especially teens, keep their own log. 

~ Older students may benefit from keeping a more detailed log, with an eye towards college applications or other post-graduation needs.  For example, it may be useful to have a list of books read by the student during the high school years.  If your child is seventh grade or above, and college bound, it’s time to start considering what records you will need of the high school years – see my Homeschooling High School page.

~ If you are keeping a more detailed log, there are lots of ways to do it.  Some folks make up an assignment sheet in advance, then check off what is completed.  Others write things down things after-the-fact.  Try to work on your records at least once a week, or you'll forget what you've done

What about showing that I have met the attendance requirements?

The law requires: 

"a minimum of one hundred eighty (180) days of instruction
OR nine hundred (900) hours of instruction per year at the elementary level,
or nine hundred ninety (990) hours per year at the secondary level."

See Pauline’s Days/Hours Page for a discussion about this.

Should I keep any other records?

There may be other considerations when preparing the records that make up your portfolio.  Most people do not need to keep extensive records, but consider your situation carefully before deciding how to document your child's homeschool year, and what records you will need or want to keep.  In some circumstances, you may wish to keep records beyond those required by law.  You may or may not decide to share all of these records with your district.  Here are a few things to consider when planning your record keeping:

~ If your child will be applying to college, it will be worth your while to research what kind of documentation colleges may require.  If you plan to use a diploma program, you will want to understand the program's requirements.  See my Homeschooling High School page for much more info about high school and college.

~ If you expect your child's education to be challenged during custody battles, you will want to consider carefully how you can document your child’s education.

~ You may also wish to keep more detailed records to back you up in case anyone challenges your home education program.  If you have a very brief portfolio, if you have a portfolio that is very different than those of other families in your area, or if your child is working below age/grade level, it may be wise to have extra documentation available.  Similarly, if you are concerned for some particular reason that your school district will bring due process or truancy charges against you (this is *very* rare), it may be very helpful to have extra documentation available.

~ In addition, records can help you in your role as teacher!  It can be very useful to have records of what you’ve covered with each child over the years, to help you in planning the years to come.

Most homeschoolers don’t need to do extensive record-keeping.  However, depending on your situation, extra records you may wish to keep may include the following:

~ A list of field trips, workshops, classes, special camps, sports teams, sports outings (skiing, skating, etc.) and other activities.

~ Information about your course of study, such as the subjects covered in a textbook you used (some folks make a copy of the table of contents), hands-on activities or projects, etc.

~ Notes on which part of a particular textbook you’ve actually used.

~ Descriptions of various skills the student has mastered, such as library skills, reading level, etc.

~ Descriptions of remedial work in a particular subject.  (Particularly useful if your child is behind his age peers in that subject.)

~ Notes about your own continuing education – books you’ve read, workshops you’ve taken, conferences you’ve attended.

~ Samples of writing, math, science, history, art, etc beyond those you put in the portfolio.  (Samples of writing may be particularly useful for applications of various kinds.)

What if my district and I disagree on the law about the log?

Some school districts have a history of asking homeschoolers for things that are not required by law.  If you feel this may be the case in your district, see My District Problems Page.  Remember - there is no substitute for reading the law yourself!