Graduation requirement cancelled

Once an integral part of every Tam graduate’s high school career, the  sophomore  portfolio  and  all accompanying assessments will no longer be graduation requirements. Assistant Superintendant Elizabeth Kaufman sent an email across the district concluding the recent Tamalpais Union High School District board meeting. It discussed that the amount of time and money that go into administering and grading portfolios overwhelm the benefits.

Additionally, the portfolio’s less than direct compatibility with the Tam District-required curriculum was reason enough for some teachers to want to forego the entire portfolio process.

Removing the portfolios from the schedule will, according to the Tam District board, allow teachers to structure a more efficient and continuous curriculum without cutting weeks of class time for an external assignment.

In addition, Tam students once had to pass the Direct Write and the portfolio, fomerly called the ETF portfolio, in order to graduate. Now, students who failed or never completed these projects, including transfer students, can’t be held back by the former graduation requirements.

Generic assessments of academic skill are decidedly more effective “in the context of a coherent and articulated curriculum,” as noted in the email.

The basic idea behind omitting the portfolio is that the same ideals can be taught, assessed, and met in the classroom environment, and any other manner could be imprecise. Standardized aptitude outcomes can be poor reflections of student proficiency by nature, and with the administration of CAHSEE exams still in effect, the importance of the portfolios seemed trivial. The portfolio is also a generalized analysis that may not line up directly with all schools’ methodologies.

Teachers now have the option of implementing tasks such as the previous graduation required Direct Write, if it is helpful or profitable to the class and it fits in with their preferred schedule and curriculum.

Without requiring the portfolio outcome, the district board expects student learning to accelerate. According to the email, a system that most accurately measures what students are expected to learn in an ongoing, formative manner is in progress. They project that “in the moment responses to mitigate misunderstandings, offer corrections, and allow accelerated learning” will be the replacement, a system that many classes already have in place.

“The portfolios were designed to reflect what students produced in class. The works that my students produce now could all be used in the portfolio, although I did not design them for it. I do not need to alter my curriculum,” said English teacher Michael Krause.

Since the outcome is now cancelled, effective immediately, some students that either decided to put off the process for senior year, or did not score a four of higher during sophomore year will no longer need to complete it.

“I’m psyched that for once being lazy paid off,” said senior Daniel Rosic on the portfolio’s cancellation after having postponed the assessment.

For other students, now hearing that the portfolios will no longer be part of the lower classmen workload is coming as more of a disappointment.

“It’s annoying that we put all that time into [the portfolio]. And now that it’s cancelled, it feels like a waste of time,” said senior Ciarra D’Onofrio.

Without the portfolios, students can expect that class time will not change substantially, other than providing teachers and students with a freer schedule to concentrate on what is important for the classroom environment and curriculum.

Written by Amanda Weinberg. This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue.