Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Portfolio Pathway

Many of our students are on Portfolio pathway - an alternate entry strategy for students to get into university.  I sat down with our careers adviser this morning to get an idea of what was involved in portfolio pathway.

The bottom line is that only two subjects are required to be passed (one of which is English) and the remainder of the application process is based upon community involvement.  It is a challenging idea  I'm trying to get to grips with how a student that can't pass school will be able to pass university.  It must be working to some degree as ECU is pursuing this strategy to get low SES students into university.  I imagine that they are banking on the idea that students in low SES schools develop late and with bridging courses they will be ok.

The reason I investigated further was that statements were being made that teachers did not understand portfolio pathway.  This I think is true.  Teachers in weeks up to mock exams are in a flap getting students ready for exams.   These exams are typically worth 25% of their year grade.  Following this is an external exam worth 50% of their year grade (I know this is a gross simplification but it illustrates the point).  If students are seen as putting non academic pursuits first in the weeks prior to mock exams academic teachers will be asking questions - especially if the school itself is encouraging students to pursue non assessment tasks in this time.

The portfolio pathway makes the exams for the majority of their classes largely irrelevant - a minimum amount of effort (to justify WACE grades) is sufficient.  If teachers are told a student is now on a portfolio pathway, a student is better off doing community events to bolster their portfolio for university entry than study to the extent required of an ATAR candidate.

Furthermore, if a student is on a portfolio pathway and unlikely to be studying to the level required of an ATAR candidate - this has the possibility to effect moderation by producing distorted ordering in the grade distribution.

The idea that our students can do external pursuits and academic pursuits is challenging as the best of us would struggle to compete with students without external concerns. It was put to me "a hockey student going to nationals will not put aside their hockey aspirations for their university aspirations - they will do both."  I don't know if this is true.  Many will hedge their bets and put sport aside in the weeks leading to exams and ensure they have a future going forward.  Elite athletes may make this decision but otherwise it seems to me a strange one.

I feel for people that see school events as huge events in their lives.  As someone that found life to be preferable to any events in school, I suppose I see the opening of opportunities post education greater than the impact of any singular school events.  I probably overestimate the contribution of MESS subjects to roles in life because of their contribution to my life.  Without my Math, English, Sose and Science teachers I never would have had the opportunities I have enjoyed.  My desire for my kids to have these same opportunities (and more) is likely similar to opportunities found by teachers in the school using skills from non MESS subjects.


  1. This Portfolio Pathway may help students get into university, but without a solid academic background will they cope once they are there?

  2. It's a good question and one would hope that ECU is building something that works rather than something to appease government demands for increased low SES students in tertiary education.

    I don't have the answers or statistics to prove or disprove the assertion. Students that legitimately have developed good academic skills but need more time to build to an undergraduate level or have had curable family issues in year 12, one would think could benefit from portfolio pathway.

    For some it may mean working at 3/4 pace and taking longer to complete a degree. For others it may mean targetted bridging courses. It's fishing for determined kids and will work for some.


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