A High School Inquiry

Helen Barrett's Blog Entry, February 11, 2005

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.