Written By Starr Sackstein

The irony of standardized testing is that it seeks to equalize assessment in a way to level the playing field for all students. Regardless of where students are in a state or the country, these exams, not made by classroom teachers, are supposed to show what students really know and can do against a decided upon value.

Of course, most educators understand that they do nothing of the sort.

Standardized tests actually privilege the few who may be good at test-taking or have the opportunity to work with tutors or worse. They are often misleading and biased in a number of different ways, including the social and cultural experiences they often reference.

Despite larger educational systems insisting that testing is the only way to show that students have met criteria for graduation, there are other ways that would better illustrate the depth and understanding of student learning that would also give students more agency and lessen anxiety and stress.

If we truly want to know what students know and can do, we should have a universal portfolio system that allows students to gather evidence of learning over time. This can be done on a national and state level, and educators at every level should be included in the process to develop the success criteria and skill set that should be demonstrated over time. Much the same way standards are developed on the state level and in the way that the Common Core has failed, if we gather the right stakeholders and make decisions together, all students will benefit.

Here’s how portfolios benefit students and the learning process:

Throughout the school year, rather than have parent/teacher conferences the traditional way, students will be taught to lead their own conferences, and parents will sit with children to review the portfolio work. Advisory teachers will be there to support. In the younger grades, students should be included in the conferences.

Since learning is so nuanced, so too should be the means in which we assess it. Let’s offer students the opportunity to be seen as whole people who can demonstrate different skills and knowledge in a plethora of ways over a period of time.

Do you use portfolios already? How do they support learning in your spaces? If you don’t, what is the biggest obstacle holding you back? Please share

Does this sound like something that would be helpful for your school? Click here to schedule a call with a Mastery Learning expert.

*This post originally ran on Starr Sackstein’s Education Week Blog in 2019.

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