Grades versus Portfolios

Some progressive schools are using portfolios to measure student’s learning and performance instead of grades. Although portfolios and grades serve the same function—measuring student performance on a regular schedule—there are advantages and disadvantages to each system. Parents grew up with grades and do not have trouble understanding the differences between an A and a C. grade. Since they are typically on a scale, it is not difficult to determine how your child compares to school’s standard grade level or even to their peers if the school requires teachers to limit the number of As and Bs given.

In contrast, portfolios are a collection of your child’s work over time. The portfolios may be graded pass/fail, graded with another rubric or simply kept as an archival proof of student achievement during her or his tenure at the school. Some schools, particularly those with an arts focus, require that student present a portfolio of their work. Thus, grades will not be sufficient and those students who attended a school with portfolios will be at an advantage.

The advantage of portfolios is that you will have proof of how your child’s performance has improved over time. Your child will be able to demonstrate her of his abilities to you and admissions committee members of schools to which she or he is applying rather than simply providing a transcript of grades. On the other hand, teachers must be well trained and have developed rubrics to grade portfolios and determine whether your child is meeting the school’s expectations. Moreover, it is difficult to compare your child’s performance to her or his peers with portfolios, and admissions committees at some schools and colleges have a difficult time reviewing portfolios.

As long as you are confident that the school has high standards and regularly monitors its student progress, it should not matter whether a school has adopted a grading or portfolio approach to documenting and measuring student achievement. You only need to ensure that academic quality is rewarded at the school, and the teachers are able to clearly report your child’s progress over time.