Saturday, December 11, 2010

Portfolio assessment

I first became familiar with portfolio assessment when my daughter Lucy moved up from preschool to kindergarten at Clear Spring School. Portfolio assessment is a way of tracking growth without assigning letter or number grades and is a record of actual performance and learning, rather than an indecipherable test score or a seemingly arbitrary letter or number grade. Portfolio assessment is simple, and requires greater participation and involvement by parents. It is also something a parent can understand with no coaching. It does not compare one child's intelligence or performance to another's, but it provides clear evidence of learning and growth.

How does it work? The teacher keeps student work, and at a conference shares the work over the course of the semester and over the course of the year. It is actual evidence of learning, not a grade. When we went for a Kindergarten conference with Lucy's teacher, Lucy stayed in the room as here work was shown, and she showed us her work as we gained an understanding of what she had learned, how her work had developed and matured. In first grade, we saw her first written papers, and those papers from later in the semester provided evidence of growth in the forming of letters, better use of written language and growing artistic skill in her illustrations. We parents gained a sense of what her semester had been like, and how much her teacher was personally invested in her growth. Portfolio assessment does not directly compare one child's growth to another, unless the parent asks specifically for comparisons. It does allow evidence of children's multiple intelligences to be expressed, as portfolio presentations are multi-disciplinary.

I realize that not all parents will make time for such things, and not all teachers have time for such things, and it is hard to formulate statistics and cross school comparisons from such things, but real work is better evidence of learning and growth. As you can see, I am still wandering back to the idea of a Beaufort-like scale of educational assessment, as I think parents and teachers, rather that the testing industry, should be driving educational reform. Parents are of course worried about how their children will do in the real world. Portfolio assessment is one way of knowing, and better than standardized testing or grades if parents and teachers are able to put their children's interests first.

Today I will continue cutting dovetails, spend some time on drawings and text. I continue my interest in simplifying the means through which we evaluate schooling and its effects on children, and in placing it more clearly in the hands of parents, who in all but the most tragic cases, have the best interests of their own children at heart. In the photo above, you can see that the pins on the cabinet sides are nearly complete. In a way, what I make and each step of the process is a form of assessment. How I've done so far will become apparent to all when I finish cutting the matching parts of the dovetail joints. It is inevitable that I'll make mistakes, but that's life. Make, fix, create. Or when things go wrong early in the making, it's make, create, fix, all in one fell swoop. As you can see in the photo below, I have fitted the dovetails. They would either be better with practice or worse if I became bored and impatient.

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