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Praise for ACT Portfolio-Based Education Pilot

Now in its second year, an innovative educator evaluation pilot at one of EASTCONN’s magnet high schools has drawn praise from teachers and administrators alike, who say they are pleased with the program’s results, and in particular, with its teacher portfolio component.

Two years ago, EASTCONN implemented professional portfolios as a new option within its Professional Learning and Evaluation Plan, which was designed to align with state requirements, and create pathways for the continuous learning and advancement of teachers throughout their careers. The EASTCONN Plan represented EASTCONN’s commitment to incorporating current, high-quality research into the creation of professional learning opportunities that improve teacher practice and student outcomes. At the plan’s heart are teacher portfolios, a tool that can help track professional progress over time.

Educators at EASTCONN’s Arts at the Capitol Theater (ACT) arts magnet high school in downtown Willimantic chose to pilot the portfolio evaluation plan, which aligns well with the reflective, analytical and research-based components of Connecticut’s TEAM program, which supports and helps retain new teachers.

 “The original EASTCONN plan required a lot of filling-in of boxes and plugging-in of data that would be used to calculate a final, summative rating of a teacher’s practice,” said Toni Ryan, Ed.D., EASTCONN’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment and Accreditation. 

“But we found that teachers didn’t feel like they had a connection to the whole evaluation process. It was something they had to get through. With this pilot, teachers feel much more connected to the purpose of evaluation, and to their own desire to enhance their professional practice through an evaluation system. For our teachers, it’s not about that number at the end, it’s about ‘What have I learned,’ ‘How did I improve my practice?,’ ‘How did I improve my students’ outcomes?’ and ‘Where do I go from here?’ The portfolio helps them answer those questions.” 

According to Ryan, teacher portfolios have helped create a sense of ownership among ACT teachers, as they build a professional repository of information related to their practice, and track the research they’ve done and the progress both they and their students have made over time. 

“The portfolio evaluation process has allowed me to provide much more targeted feedback to teachers regarding goals that they have for their own practice and for their students,” said Sarah Mallory, ACT’s principal. “We’re able to brainstorm and research specific instructional strategies to try in the classroom and they’re able to reflect on these trials in their portfolios. This process encourages risk-taking, growth and reflection on the part of teachers and their students, and has the added benefit of creating an artifact (the portfolio), which teachers can use as a resource down the road.”

 “It results in a much richer conversation,” Ryan said. “The observation moves away from an isolated data point, a moment in time, to something that has a very purposeful connection to an educator’s professional goals.”  

“The portfolio was easy and useful,” said ACT math teacher Marcia LoRicco, a pilot participant. “I collected work as I went along.  At the end, I was able to look back on the work and write a reflection. It was all physically right in front of me, and I could see both my growth and my students’ growth … With the portfolio, I could go through the domain, step by step, and easily find what applied and what didn’t. I did not have to click, link by link, to remind myself what I had uploaded,” she said, referring to the traditional, platform-based evaluation process.

“I think that the use of portfolios has been extremely helpful in the evaluation process,” said ACT science teacher Rebecca Weir. “It has helped me develop my questions better and given me an opportunity to see the research process and development of my goal. I think that it is also much better to actually be able to see the changes in student work instead of just quantifying data and putting it into a spreadsheet.” 

Ryan said EASTCONN’s ACT evaluation pilot still requires teacher observations. But teachers can ask observers to focus on specific aspects of their practice that are related to their portfolios. Post-observation conferences provide a forum for discussing aspects of the professional practice rubric, and for reflecting on goals.

Learn more about the ACT portfolio pilot from Toni Ryan at tryan@eastconn.org