Educators at North Star Elementary School in rural Alaska understand that effective assessment begins when students look at their own work and compare it to meaningful individual goals. To enhance this process, North Star has developed a unique type of parent conference that uses digital portfolios to help students reflect on their academic development and discuss it with their parents.
From kindergarten on, teachers help North Star's 340 students collect samples of their writing, math, and artwork. The selection of samples is a lesson itself, as students work with peers and teachers learning how to identify and evaluate quality work. These samples are then scanned into a computer and digitally stored, so they can be reviewed over the years.
In the fall of the fourth grade, students present their digitized portfolios to their parents, sharing what they have collected and answering questions their parents might have. Although the teacher participates, students are expected to take the lead in these conferences, showing how their skills have developed over the years and identifying and discussing their goals for the coming semesters.
"The conferences let me see my daughter taking responsibility for her progress," says Pam Lettington, a parent. "I was really happy to see her recognize that she has weaknesses while still feeling proud of her accomplishments."
The school has seen improvements in standardized test scores and other traditional indicators of student learning. As a result of the portfolio process, parents and students exhibit a stronger understanding of the skills and knowledge not yet mastered. "We believe this kind of assessment is the key to real learning," says Donna Peterson, North Star's principal.