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Virtual Portfolio Defenses in Action: A Conversation with Pasadena Unified School District Educators

June 3, 2020 | Linked Learning Alliance

Last week, the Linked Learning Alliance in partnership with Envision Learning Partners had the opportunity to sit down with two educators from Pasadena Unified School District to learn more about the virtual portfolio defense process taking place at their schools. We were joined by Sara Scribner, librarian at Marshall Fundamental School and Jim Goffred, librarian at Blair High School.

Missed our earlier conversation on Pasadena Unified School District’s transition to virtual portfolio defenses? Read the story here.

Performance-based assessments like portfolio defenses are a critical aspect of the Linked Learning approach and Envision Schools model. This approach to assessment provides students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their academic, workplace, and industry-specific knowledge, skills, and habits of mind necessary for post-secondary success. It also gives students the chance to reflect on their education and career growth through their high school experience and share their aspirations for the future. These highly relevant, meaningful assessments help prepare students for their college and career opportunities after high school. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic transitioning learning out of classrooms and onto virtual platforms, districts were faced with a challenge when it came to performance assessments. Pasadena Unified School District elected to transition their defenses online. While portfolio defenses remained a graduation requirement for all eligible seniors, schools approached the virtual aspect of the defenses differently.

At Blair High, students had three options for how they could engage in the virtual defense process: a live presentation on Google Meet, a recorded presentation using tools like Screencastify, or a recorded presentation. Only two students opted for the live presentation, according to Mr. Goffred. At Marshall, however, all students were required to present their portfolios live through a Google Meet. “I love choice. It's a great thing. Except in this situation, talking to my admin team, we just thought, ‘You know what, right now things are just so crazy, to add a choice on top of it, it felt like it was going to be too loosey-goosey for what was happening in the world right now.’ So, we just said, ‘Let's just streamline it, let's just keep it simple and do a Google Meet,’” said Ms. Scribner.

For both Mr. Goffred and Ms. Scribner, the challenges in transitioning to a virtual defense were well worth it. “The live defenses were really rewarding because you get back to what you're missing with education. You're missing that time with a kid that you see them. Right now, I'm dealing with emails and messages and not really interactions, so that was really great,” Mr. Goffred shared. For Ms. Scribner, it gave her the opportunity to see students shine who had struggled in the past: “We have a new student who just started a couple of months ago and she was coming from another school in the district and I was just impressed by how powerful of a speaker she was…And just to see what her plans for the future were was great.”

It’s still unclear what school will look like next year. While students may be back in the classroom for next year’s portfolio defenses, Mr. Goffred and Ms. Scribner are also thinking ahead on how the virtual defenses can be refined in case there is a return to distance learning next spring. Mr. Goffred is considering changes to the office hour structure, so students can take advantage of teacher support and transitioning to more live defenses. He’s also hoping the community can be more involved next year as panelists and graders. At Marshall, Ms. Scribner is hoping to focus more on the reflective essay portion of the portfolio defense so that students are more prepared to write their college essays.

The Class of 2020 is missing out on important milestones like prom, spring sports and performances, and graduation. By transitioning their senior defenses to a virtual setting, students have an opportunity to close out their senior year with a meaningful and relevant moment of reflection before moving on to their post-secondary path. Students not only prove they have learned and grew throughout their high school years, but also show they have what it takes to thrive in whatever opportunity they pursue next.

If you are interested in exploring what a virtual learning defense could look like at your school, check out Envision Learning Partner’s toolkit, and join the Linked Learning Alliance, Envision Learning Partners, and Learning Policy Institute for a student defense and debrief session. Are you already practicing virtual learning defenses? Invite your students to share their stories.