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B.C. university pilots competency-based admissions program

Kwantlen Polytechnic University will accept six students next year based on portfolios instead of grades.

By LOUISA SIMMONS | JAN 25 2018

Public secondary schools are struggling with a dirty secret. According to David Burns, a professor of education at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, it’s that grades mean a lot less than they used to.

Dr. Burns is primary investigator at the Kwantlen Educational Policy Incubator (KEPI) at KPU. He’s working with the Surrey School District of British Columbia to develop a university admissions policy that will do away with traditional grades in favour of student portfolios that emphasize “university readiness.”

“We need to understand that grades have always been an easy out in our admission systems, that we owe our students more than that,” Dr. Burns says.

As part of the Surrey Portfolio Pathway Project, KEPI and the school district compiled about two dozen examples of student portfolios. Dr. Burns calls these portfolios “competency maps” – a compilation of a student’s work that reflects Grade 12 learning outcomes set in the provincial curriculum. The portfolio compiled for “Participant 13,” last year, for example, included an essay and a poem. Although the essay had grammatical errors, the poem showed vivid imagery with powerful expression, Dr. Burns says. This raw ability to create should be recognized as important in a literary university course, Dr. Burns argues, adding that grammar can be taught.

The researchers are now putting their models to work by recruiting six Grade 12 students they’ll mentor through the process of building their own portfolios. These students will submit their final portfolios for acceptance to KPU, an open-admission institution.

The government of British Columbia is in the process of revamping its educational curriculum away from grades, focusing instead on core competencies including communication, thinking, as well as personal and social competency. Dr. Burns says portfolios should demonstrate an applicant’s abilities in these core competencies while also meeting comparable requirements for first-year courses at KPU.

Anya Goldin, a third-year philosophy major at KPU and a senior research assistant at KEPI, says portfolios would allow applicants to show admissions offices what they believe they excel in as students. “I see portfolios as a way for students to tell us what they feel is important about themselves and their education,” she says. “When we allow students to apply to KPU with portfolios, we are telling them that we value their voice, and that we trust them to tell us their story.”

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  1. Eva / January 26, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Who will verify authenticity of these portfolios and what criteria will be used to grade them? Will the selection criteria for grading such portfolios be publicly available based on discipline pursued?

    • Adrian Rollins / January 29, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      I have to point out, Eva, you have used, in two short sentences, references to grades and a need to find criteria. I’m sort of clear on the criteria, yet this also moves in circles of points to form grades to ultimately exclude others (you are a 4 but sort of a 5 if you sort of know what I mean). Oh and Joe and Jane really know the criteria well.

  2. Femi Kolapo / January 26, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Two points: first, I see it as a very commendable improved version of the continuous assessment process. the second point is that somebody would still have to impute grades, directly or indirectly, to compare the worth of different portfolios competing for limited admission spots or scholarships.

  3. Adrian Rollins / January 29, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    This is so overdue, and such a confidence builder for those, Adam Phillips would agree, need “a better enticement to adulthood.”
    As a teacher issuing the marks, I have always believed strongly in Bill Doll’s Educational Creed
    In a reflective relationship between teacher and student, the teacher does not ask the student to accept the teacher’s authority; rather, the teacher asks the student to suspend disbelief in that authority, to join with the teacher in inquiry, into that which the student is experiencing. The teacher agrees to help the student understand the meaning of the advice given, to be readily confrontable by the student, and to work with the student in reflecting on the tacit understanding each has.

    A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum
    William E. Doll, Jr. New York: Teachers College Press, 1993.
    Thank you, KPU for this foresight and I hope this model will soon extrapolate to engage all those women and men left to fizzle with the control of grades. You are joining the student’s and it will go far – it has to.
    Best, Adrian

  4. Karl Pfeifer / January 31, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    RE: “[Dr. Burns] is working with the Surrey School District of British Columbia to develop a university admissions policy that will do away with traditional grades in favour of student portfolios that emphasize “university readiness.” …. This raw ability to create should be recognized as important in a literary university course, Dr. Burns argues, adding that grammar can be taught.

    Since when is grammar not a part of “university readiness”? Grammar can indeed be taught and should be — in middle school. Also, since surely not just anyone submitting a portfolio can be admitted, the portfolios still have to be _ranked_ in terms of the core competencies mentioned, viz. “communication, thinking, as well as personal and social competencies”. Ranking is just another form of grading.

  5. Gavin Moodie / February 7, 2018 at 8:38 am

    I agree with Femi. How does admitting students by core competencies handle competitive selection?

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