Student Well-Being Opinion

Let’s Replace Transcripts With Portfolios

By Starr Sackstein — January 24, 2016 2 min read
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The transcript has been a tool long used by schools and colleges to assess students’ ability to be successful in life.Seeing as it is a record of how they performed in every course, it seems like a good way to do it, right?


There are so many things wrong with grades, as I’m sure you know I’ve suggested that one document that puts them all in one place is a colossal waste of time.

Testing and transcripts further perpetuate the very wrongness of playing school and hurt those students who would likely flourish most in the university environment. Their past poor choices end up damning them twice. (First when they don’t pass in school and have to repeat learning and then later when they don’t have the grades to get into a school that offers the kinds of programs they may be successful in).

A better way may be to allow students to create an electronic portfolio that will allow them to show their growth with reflection. This too will ensure that colleges will see what the level of work is over time rather than just an average without seeing the work that contributed to a bunch of scores.

Give a listen to this short video:

The benefits to portfolios would be amazing.

Check out some possibilities:

  • Student selected work shows what they are capable of now and since students would be selecting work they are proud of and attaching a detailed, standards-based reflection, the admissions officer would have an understanding of where the child is now in his/her learning.
  • Rather than having numbers on a transcript with scores, the school can see the level of work the students are expected to complete, again giving a more precise idea of the ability to be successful at college level work.
  • Although it would be a little more time consuming to select candidates for school, the understanding of each child would be a better indicator of success once he/she got to the college.
  • Students would already be more metacognitive and would understand better how to represent themselves as learners rather than rely on their transcripts and test scores which largely doesn’t paint an accurate picture.
  • Students can’t cram and forget the work they display since they will have been working on it for a while and would have the entire process to share their progress.
  • Students would be more prepared for interviews where they can discuss their portfolios in a meaningful way and connect it with what they’d like to do at the school of their choosing.
  • A portfolio would allow for a more diverse look at a student’s learning as he or she would have to choose from a variety of classes and if he/she didn’t select from a class, that would be a space for talking or explaining.

As education begins to change and we reconsider how we assess students, we can’t continue to do what is easiest for institutions at the expense of what is best for students. Testing and transcripts have never been very helpful to many students. They end up being accurate for only a very small percentage of kids. Using portfolios would be a far more beneficial way to show what kids know.

These changes won’t happen unless more schools make a concerted effort to change the process and then a few colleges start taking a chance with something better. Could your school be the first?

In what ways can we start implementing portfolio assessment at the end of school years rather than testing? What are your current practices? Are they successful? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.