Extra Mile or the Minimum Distance?
I’ve had mixed feelings about the reliance on student portfolios for the awarding of high school diplomas. On the one hand, it does place an active, foreseeable academic achievement before all students. On the other, most of the work is done as regular coursework and set aside for the portfolio, which aggregates the work in a highly subjective presentation.
Reading yesterday’s article on the first wave of students pursuing them, however, I think my impression was colored by my lack of understanding of just how inadequate some districts’ policies and standards were. The central benefit of the portfolio system, it seems to me, is that it forces students and teachers to do things that they ought to have been doing all along:
The portfolio system is working more smoothly now, she says. Gardiner acknowledges adapting to the new requirements has meant a lot of extra work for teachers, but she likes how it has forced teachers to work together more closely.
She also believes more students have access to high quality classes and academic standards.
“The positive end of this is more kids are getting exactly what they need,” she said. “One of the main problems I’ve witnessed with my three kids is that it was kind of selective who got the right education and who didn’t. There were some teachers you wouldn’t put your kids in with because you knew they wouldn’t get what they needed. This is forcing all of the teachers to provide the same things to all kids.” …
To judge the portfolios, Chariho requires every teacher — elementary, middle and high school — to serve on at least two portfolio-judging panels during second semester. To accommodate all 270 graduating seniors, the presentations are scheduled after school over several months.
The new diploma system, says Chariho principal Robert Mitchell, has required hundreds of hours of teacher training, technical assistance and planning. But he said the work has been worth it.
“Up until this graduating class, it was possible for a student to graduate without ever having effectively demonstrated a research paper or an essay or whether they could problem solve,” he says. “We didn’t have proof that every child could show competence in those areas. But now we will know on June 13, on graduation day, that the students who walk across the dais have demonstrated they can do the things we want them to do before they move on to college and good jobs.” …
For his senior project, Brad shadowed an information technology specialist at a local company. Similar to Coventry’s capstone project, Brad had to participate in an internship, write a research paper, supply materials such as journal entries and evaluations, and give an oral and visual presentation.
He passed his project last month, and he says the experience helped him narrow his future career plans.
“Well, I found out I didn’t want to do that with the rest of my life,” he said.
My modest change of heart doesn’t mean, of course, that I no longer believe standardized tests of minimum retained knowledge to be invaluable, as well.