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Posts Tagged ‘portfolios

One of the invisible barriers to embracing technology for teaching and learning is the nature of assessment.

The dominant form of assessment is arguably the centralised and paper-based examination. When we were forced to go online during the current pandemic, some institutions persisted with such exams via remote proctoring.

AI-enabled remote proctoring has come under fire [1] [2]. Issues ranged from unnecessary surveillance and invasion of student privacy to technical failures and undue stress. All these stem from the desire to force old processes on to new circumstances.

So what might alternative forms of assessment look like? Programmes like the International Baccalaureate already make personal and group projects core to graduation requirements, e.g., MYP, CmPSCAS.

Portfolios are not new ideas. Helen Barrett is probably the best source of ideas and evidence for the efficacy of portfolios. But portfolios are still not mainstream because policymakers, administrators, and teachers do not (cannot?) think outside the exam box.

Given Barrett’s quote above, I might point out that the old school is clutching on to old and disintegrating photos while progressives are watching and creating the equivalent of YouTube videos. We need to collectively travel to the present.

For a glimpse of the future of assessment, I point to this YouTube video of a viral TikTok.


Video source

What principles might drive the future of assessment? First, authentic problem-seeking and solving. Second, learner-created content, i.e., learner choice of medium, mode, and message when solving a problem. Third, feedback and “grading” that is also based on the wisdom of crowds (authentic audience) and not just one expert.

As good as this opinion piece was, it did not fully address one of its central arguments. It described the purposes of grades, but not quite why such grading did “none of them well”.

So this is my attempt to address that fill in some blanks. But first, I paraphrase what the author wrote about why we have grades:

  • Motivate students by competition
  • Reward the talented or hardworking, and punish those less capable or less inclined
  • Rate and communicate performance to students and other stakeholders
  • Provide feedback to students

The problem with motivating, rewarding, and punishing students with grades is shared — it relies on extrinsic incentivisation or disincentivisation. This approach leaves agency largely in the hands of the teacher to engage, instead of in the heads and hearts of the learner to be empowered to learn.

In practice, we use both sources of motivation, but grading does not serve us well when it tips the balance to the extrinsic and makes students dependent on incentives.

The problem with using grades to rate and communicate performance as well as provide feedback is that they are potentially demoralising and reductionist. A grade does not adequately capture the variety of learning processes — it reduces a person’s effort to a letter or number — nor can it provide sufficient detail for improvement.

Grades are recorded and leave a paper trail. We all make mistakes. Some are big and others are small. Some mistakes are inconsequential while others have impact in the short and long term. We still have agencies that look primarily at paper qualifications instead of the whole person because evaluating grades is easy. Good grades tell stakeholders that the test takers were good at taking tests, nothing more.

While a grade might be administratively convenient and efficient (e.g., for sorting), grades are often tied to a student’s self worth. In the best case, a bad grade demoralises a student. In the worst case, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of “I am not good at…” or “I am too stupid”.

In short, what we need to go beyond grades. The “ungrading” movement probably has this as its central tenet:

That working principle is an ideal but abstract idea. What concrete action can we take? The better question might be: What action have a few progressives already taken as a viable alternative?

See my tweet: Student portfolios. This is what I have curated on the topic of e-portfolios for several years. Depending on where you look, there are at least three types of portfolios: showcase (product-focused, static), working/developmental (process-oriented, living), and assessment (a record of one’s achievements).

The best portfolios are probably hybrids of the different types. These combo portfolios provide qualitative information to quantitative grades. A good portfolio is an extension of the person who maintains it, illustrates that person’s growth, and his/her worth to a new school or workplace.

The report and the official press release on the latest changes to direct school admissions (DSAs) were interesting reads.

I appreciate the removal of barriers like fees and academic tests. DSAs are supposed to focus on abilities and traits outside of academics. Students who get into schools of their choice based on DSA are only there provisionally; their stay is confirmed only if the Primary School Leaving Examination results are good enough.

I also the removal of administrative hassles. Parents can now use and submit one online form instead of dealing with different forms for each school. They also may not need to provide certificates and transcripts because these can be provided via shared databased.

Both the measures above are steps forward. But I wonder if there is a step backward. Specifically, might students need to rely less on portfolios to provide evidence of talents or aptitudes since there is a standard form and data sharing?

Portfolios are not the only source of evidence as schools can opt to conduct interviews, observations, and performance evaluations to gauge students. However, portfolios are (or should be) owned by learners to showcase their products and processes of learning.

At the moment, the use of portfolios seems marginal. I hope schools do not just rely on their processes and centrally sanctioned procedures to evaluate students. After all, the point is towards the individual merits and talents of each child. And that should start with what that child owns.

It might seem strange to remind teachers about the “e” in e-portfolios. Some resort to scanning or otherwise digitising analogue artefacts and putting them online on behalf of their learners.

Doing this denies students the learning opportunities and processes that revolve around creating digital artefacts and knowing how best to share them online.

Put the digital back in e-portfolios!

The BBC has an interesting article on educational policy: Signs of a turning tide on tests. It was interesting to me because the Commons Schools Committee advocated that stakeholders “trust the teachers” instead of relying heavily on things like standardized tests.

From the article:

The report did not argue for an end to all external assessment. But it called for a shift toward more within-school, teacher-led assessment. This, it said, would not only save money but also a lot of the teaching time that is lost to exam preparation and administration.

And this is the key point: it is not about dropping school accountability altogether, but about making sure it does not obstruct teaching and learning.

I hope that the UK does this while the rest of the world watches and learns. I also hope that we in Singapore act on this same issue before it is too late.

I think a scheme like this will work only if a) teachers are treated/nurtured as professionals, b) we expect them to behave as such and c) we hold them accountable for what they do. The measure of accountability should not just be exam results otherwise the test tide will return.

Instead, evidence of student ability, attitudes and skills could be recorded in portfolios, community involvement, personal and group projects, etc. In other words, more authentic, meaningful and rigorous assessments.


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