Friday, February 11, 2005

A High School Inquiry

I recently received the following inquiry from a high school student from Kentucky:
I am a student in high school. Why is it manditory for me to make a proficient on my portfolio for me to graduate? I have all of my credits to graduate, but if I make lower than an proficient I don't get to graduate.
Here is how I responded:

I am so glad you wrote to me. I'm sure other high school students have the same questions. I shared your message (anonymously, of course) with a group of educators who help students develop electronic portfolios. Here are some of our collective thoughts. Your question raises a number of issues. My first question is whether you raised these concerns with your teachers, and what their response was.

My second thought is that your portfolio should be a representation of who you are through samples of your work. High graduation represents a significant accomplishment in your life that provides evidence that you are capable of doing many things [reading, writing, math, etc.] and that you are now ready for the world of work or further education. I'll bet there are four levels that your portfolio can be judged: Distinguished, Proficient, Apprentice, Novice. If you are a senior and don't know why your work should be the best you can make it, or rated at least Proficient, some people might say that you are not ready to graduate.

It is not really enough in today's climate just to jump through the hoops. Schools must build a culture of evidence. No longer is society content to accept the school's word that students are well educated and prepared for college or career. Schools must provide evidence that they are doing what they say they are doing--that their mission is, in fact, being fulfilled--that students really do have the skills and knowledge base they claim they have. I think the ePortfolio is the best means of providing evidence that students have met the school's requirements and state standards.

Would you rather spend a day taking a series of tests that just make you nervous, don't help you learn and only assess how well you can remember a lot of facts or solve a lot of problems, most of which are irrelevant to your life? And if you don't pass those tests, you have to keep taking them until you do pass? Isn't it much better to carefully and reflectively develop a portfolio that showcases your strengths and your growth over time?

If done with the right attitude, your portfolio can be useful for you to show to an employer or use in a college admission interview. It is also something that you can look back on later in your life, to remind you what high school was like and how much you have learned since you graduated!

Make your portfolio your own by showcasing those things that you are most proud of, even if they aren't done for school assignments. I hope you are allowed to individualize your portfolio, to put in pictures and maybe even some audio and video clips (that's why I like electronic portfolios!). Remember, you are telling us a story, and not just any story. Your portfolio is meant to be your story of your life over the last four years as well as the story of where your life might be going during the next four years: tell it with pride!

Good luck!
Many thanks to members of the eportfolios Listserv on Yahoo who shared their thoughts with me, as well as the Mead School District's Draft Presentation Guidelines for their Senior Culminating Project.


Jeremy said...

Great post, Helen. This student's teachers and administrators could learn something from your explanation of why this stuff matters. Thanks for sharing your letter.

Jeff Kempka said...

Helen, this helped me a lot because your explanation was in layperson's terms. I'm trying to get schools interested in e-portfolios and get questions like this student's and have a hard time justifying the time and effort it would take to intitute the change to e-ports.

Mary Ryerse said...

Helen, your response to this student was clear and encouraging. Your reference to "...with the right attitude" was particularly poignant. I believe that, as educators, we have a responsibility to create environments - and porfolio tools - which foster "good attitudes." We are honored that you referenced our draft of guidelines from the Mead School District!

dsky said...

I am also a student in Kentucky, and while I agree that the writing portfolio does reflect ones growth of writing, I believe the portfolio shouldn't be pushed onto people at their senior year. You get onne chance to do it right, (I'n a very small time frame, by the way,) and that's it. you're done, Therefore, I believe there are things seriously wrong with the system.

dsky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kenn said...

Hi, im a high school student and i do agree with you. But i believe that portfolios should be voluntary for ever student and not be in the way of them gradating if not done... They should be encouraged but not forced... I'm sure you understand how difficult highschool is and portfolios just add a lot of stress on us students...

Kenn said...

I also agree with dsky

Tera said...

I have to disagree with the students who commented on this letter. I am in my first semester of college and got credit for English 101 and 102 from my senior portfolio. I think it is a great way to grade students on their writing skills. All different types of literature are put into the portfolio so each student is graded on an equal scale. What I don't understand is this: I scored a distinguished when graded by my school, but when my high school was audited, i scored an apprentice by the state. If I can get credit for two semesters (my only english requirements) of english on a college level, how can that be less than a distinguished on a high school level?

Efros said...

Portfolios are of limited value in the real world and most students have enough experience of the world to realize this.

As an exercise for the student they can provide an opportunity for development of writing and other skills. However, the pros that can be given to a student for the compilation of a portfolio are few, the student needs to see a benefit for themselves. The carrot (or should that be stick) of requirement for graduation gives the student the wrong impression. "Here's something I can see no benefit from and I'm being forced to do it!".

The way portfolios are handled by most schools goes against the grain of current educational thinking in that they are almost always graded. Portfolios are the students evidence and of their progress and should be evaluated as such. All too often there are attempts to rank portfolios, this is entirely wrong.

I feel that portfolios have their place in education I'm just not convinced that we use or handle them appropriately.