Transition Student Portfolio Model

Rationale and Background of the Practice

Why did you institute the practice?
In the early years of the CLC Bridge Program, we graduated just about every student who was still attending at the end of the year, regardless of whether or not they had completed homework assignments or were serious about applying to college, seeking financial aid, etc. Many of the graduates from those years did not continue on to college. We suspected that it was because while the college preparedness component of the program emphasized study skills, it did not require the students to heed college and financial aid deadlines or complete their applications while we were there to help them through the process.

Secondly, many of our students over the years have been organizationally challenged and somewhat overwhelmed by all the materials they receive. The portfolio focuses the students’ attention on the materials that the teachers believe are important for graduation from the transition program.

What information or research did you draw on in choosing this practice?

The portfolio model is a long-established one. I have long advocated that adult diplomas be based on portfolios rather than standardized tests. Like many teachers, I find that having students prepare projects and assignments for their portfolios maintains interest better than having them do drills of problems they are likely to find on a final exam. Also, I feel that portfolios are far more useful to the students after graduation. They serve as a tangible reminder of the students’ accomplishments, and if they contain critical documents like applications, transcripts, test scores and the like, they can serve as a reference book with records of a student’s academic progress.

5 Reasons to Consider Student Portfolios

  1. Providing individualized instruction
  2. Documenting progress
  3. Promoting reflection and revision in writing
  4. Diagnostic tool in math
  5. Potentially generating a more positive student attitude

Click here to view the research references.

When and how did the practice begin? How has it evolved?

Early in the history of the Bridge Program, we discovered that a few of our students could earn exemption from taking a required study skills course at Cambridge College and other universities if they showed the work they had done during Bridge. So, we always advocated that students keep a neat notebook that they could show to professors when they entered college.

In 2000, we began requiring that students keep their writing assignments (including rough drafts) in a separate binder, and then show the binders to us during the one-on-one conference each student has just prior to graduation. At that time, math, computers, and study skills were not included in the binders.

During the year, when students turned in portfolio items for grading, I returned them in plastic sheet protectors so they would be kept safe and neat for the rest of the year. Throughout the year, we held “portfolio check-in nights” where we could see which students were completing the items on time and which needed more help. In the final pre-graduation conference with each student, we conducted the final portfolio check-in to approve the student for graduation.

Assessment for all written work is guided by the instructor’s expectations for each project. The expectations are clear and are actively discussed in class. Most projects require several drafts before an assignment is completed and put into the portfolio. The students do get tests that are graded and those also go into the portfolio.

We recognized the need for a formal, written set of guidelines captured in a rubric to be shared with the students prior to the assignments. We are developing these rubrics with student input and they will be used in assessing both written work and oral presentations in the next academic cycle. We want the students to participate in the assessment process so both the student and the instructor will evaluate the project using the same criteria.

Description of the Practice

How do you implement the practice?
In August of 2003, we agreed to move to an all-portfolio format and developed a master list of required items. We included the master list in the student handbook so that students would know from day one what was required for graduation. We also produced a large-type version of the list with the items for each section of the portfolio printed on a separate page. Each of those separate pages serves as the table of contents for a section of the final portfolio.

What steps would a program or practitioner need to follow to replicate it?
All staff members of a program need to decide what items to require, which will probably be a variation on the list we use.

What are the staffing and staff skill requirements?
It helps if staff members are highly organized themselves. There is a lot of tracking of paper involved. (It helps if the program buys sheet protectors in bulk so that each teacher can distribute them to students as the students complete each portfolio item.)

What challenges has the program encountered in implementing this practice?
One student objected to using actual figures in the budget assignment, so we dropped it.

What have been the advantages and outcomes of this practice?
Students seem to grow in enthusiasm as they see their portfolios growing. The number of students completing the program and applying to college has improved since we have formalized the portfolio process.

Do you have actual evidence of its effectiveness?
The portfolio model began with the Class of 2004, allowing a comparison with the previous year’s class:

Metric Class of 2003 Class of 2004
Percentage of students who had applied to college before graduating from Bridge 44% 83%
Percentage who had been accepted to college before graduating from Bridge 38% 67%
Total received in privately-funded scholarships $5,000 (+$1,000 this year) $25,000

Patricia Fina, Instructor
Community Learning Center Bridge Program
Cambridge, MA