Thursday, April 22, 2004

BC's Portfolio Graduation Requirement

Probably because of the location and timing of the e-portfolio conference, many of the participants were educators and administrators from BC hoping to figure out how they're going to implement the province's new graduation requirements. The Ministry's goal is to have every Grade 12 student complete a high school portfolio, but they've only given one class in Grade 10 to introduce the process to students (along with everything else in the now-defunct Career and Personal Planning curriculum). Schools aren't necessarily opposed to the spirit of this new requirement, but they're mystified by the timeline and lack of an implementation plan. Recently the Ministry published some guidelines and a basic overview of the portfolio process (PDF), but they've essentially created a new program without funding or curriculum time and materials allotted.

Some of the comments and concerns I heard from educators:
  • “Maybe if we close our eyes, it will go away.”
  • “Districts have a deer-in-the-headlights feeling about this.”
  • Several teachers talked about the need for heavy-duty professional development and implementation help.
  • Others talked about a general sense of resistance to Planning 10 and the portfolio requirement, mostly focused on the hassle of assessment.
  • Staffing and logistics seem like major hurdles. If a district goes with traditional portfolios, just keeping track of the status and location of all that paper could be a nightmare. Schools considering e-portfolios don't know what kinds of tools to build or buy, and many don't feel they have the technical infrastructure to support this type of wide-spread implementation.
  • There was the general sense that even schools that are able to implement the program will just be jumping through the hoops, and the students will be instructed to do the bare minimum to meet the requirements.
One of the discussion groups included participants from eastern Canada -- apparently they're planning a similar program in Nova Scotia in 2006 while Quebec's QEP (PDF) has already implemented portfolios in elementary schools and plan to roll them out to middle and high schools. It started to feel like there was a movement afoot.

There was some talk about the tools that will be used or built if districts decide to go with e-portfolios to meet the requirements. One of the most interesting was from a group of undergraduate students at UBC who have already built a working version that will be free and open source. Their presentation was enthusiastic and the web application looks really solid -- since it was custom-made, it's already aligned with BC's 24 learning outcomes. The project leader, Brittney, admitted that she had hated doing portfolios in high school and in her first year of university -- she advocated getting more students involved in developing the tools and instruction so fewer students will just be jumping through hoops when it's time for them to start building their portfolios. She also mentioned that some departments at UBC were already requesting student portfolios to be used for admissions acceptance.

Some of this stuff reminded me that I had written a paper on this topic for my mostly useless masters course in program design early last year. In it, I proposed a professional-development program to help British Columbia's high schools integrate career- and college-preparation information into their courses and administrative processes, approaching the issue as if I was an educational consultant hired to study the new British Columbia graduation requirements. Here's the short version.