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teacher performance
Bass-Hoover Elementary School teacher Jessica DeMarco, standing left, assists some of her students in readying their tablets for a reading assignment in Stephens City, Va., on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Credit: AP Photo/The Winchester Star, Ginger Perry

Electronic portfolios show great promise in helping us with the oft-elusive task of measuring teacher effectiveness.

The ideal application of standardized exams is to benchmark student performance in September and then assess student growth in June.

This method does seek to isolate a teacher’s influence on individual students. But while they are an indicator of student growth, we still are missing a key component of assessment – actual student work.

Related: Glued to the screen: A third-grade class where students spend 75% of the day on iPads

The idea of student portfolios has been around for decades. But because of the labor-intensive nature of collating and documenting student work, these portfolios have never been viewed as a viable assessment tool.

Advancements in technology and the proliferation of one-to-one tablet initiatives demand a reexamination of the viability of e-portfolios.

Here’s why this is so exciting: The Common Core standards provide an excellent framework to organize student work and appropriately measure student growth in the standards. Our partnership with School 4 One has produced an app that effectively measures student growth in Common Core standards using actual student work.

Related: Washington D.C. swears by teacher coaches – are they the solution to Common Core woes?

Progress within the standards is easily tracked throughout the year. Teachers can provide feedback (audio and visual) to students and parents. All of the interaction between student and teacher is readily available to administrators via electronic dashboards.

Let’s revisit portfolios, and capture all of the things that encompass great teaching and learning.

When daily student work is organized by Common Core standards, the influence of a teacher is readily observable.

Does the teacher provide feedback to a student that leads to student growth in that standard? Have teachers helped students identify areas of weakness? Have teachers provided each student with differentiated and appropriate work specific to them? These questions are embedded in the many rubrics used to assess teachers, but the evidence of teacher effectiveness is usually limited to teacher observations. The application of technology can provide a wealth of evidence and data previously not easily attainable.

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Even these advancements aren’t enough, though. A robust portfolio should also account for all of the “noncognitive” traits that teachers influence. How do we demonstrate a teacher’s influence on student confidence? Perseverance? Grit? These dispositions or habits of the mind are equally important to student development and teacher accountability.

Again technology provides a unique opportunity to recognize these dispositions via electronic badges. These “micro-credentials” for adults for are now transitioning to students. As members of Digital Promise‘s assessment group, we are hard at work in developing methods to recognize student understanding of the habits of the mind — and more importantly giving students the ability to demonstrate they can apply these habits appropriately. The intention is to include these badges in a student portfolio, to provide additional evidence of student growth that would not necessarily be reflected in student work.

Finally teachers have a responsibility to cultivate a student’s interest and passion. Many times these passions are not covered by existing curricula. We need to find ways of building student choice into the  curriculum and/or provide appropriate opportunities for students to be recognized for something they are passionate about and we believe electronic badges provide a vehicle for this recognition.

Related: The graduation rates from every school district on one map

An electronic portfolio should record and display all of the items mentioned. Only then will be able to capture the multitude of items that make up a well-rounded, fully educated child.

As adults, when we reflect upon our best experiences in school, they are seldom test scores. They are usually memories of having fun learning new and challenging things. Let’s work to define student growth as more than a yearly summative exam, but as something fun and new and challenging, instead of a mere score. The technology is available to broaden our scope. Let’s revisit portfolios, and capture all of the things that encompass great teaching and learning.

There seems to be some consensus that teacher effectiveness centers on student growth — the amount of social, emotional and academic progress a student makes over the course of a year. How that growth is measured is the quagmire. Growth cannot be measured by a single yearly summative exam, nor can these exams capture a teacher’s influence on a student. Standardized exams have an important place in teacher and student performance, but must be more thoughtfully applied.

However, if this is the direction that assessment is going, these e-portfolios are probably the best way to gauge these factors.

Not only will they provide a much more comprehensive picture of teacher effectiveness, it will also refocus public education on providing all the attributes that make up a productive citizen in our country.

Michael Nagler is superintendent of the Mineola Union Free School District and author of the blog Nagler’s Notions.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about blended learning.

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