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Innovative assessment tools and methods - Austria

Alternative evaluation at primary school

An article by Johanna Rendl, Primary School Kirchberg

Portfolio work – how to appreciate achievements

Students do not need marks but feedback. During the learning process it is important for them to be told where they succeed or fail, the more immediately, the better. A school without marks could rather be a school where pupils are not rivalling or are separated but a school which welds them all together and offers the joy of community. When we work without marks we see how all children are growing, how they are improving, how they are developing because we can respond to their individual skills and abilities. Only without grading can children feel that they are valuable. 

Every pupil has the right to successful learning. Thus it is the schools’ obligation to make it possible for each pupil to learn successfully. This means education towards achievements, learning at one’s own pace. It means improving at the level where the child currently is and leading him or her cautiously step by step to successful learning. And it also means active, motivated and self-determined learning. It does not mean: all the same for everyone at the same time.

Children are willing to and should also make achievements. We define educational achievement as something which takes into account the learning biography of the child, that is, something which outlines his/her learning track. It is process oriented and not product oriented. A process oriented evaluation takes into account the starting point of the children, their social surroundings, it outlines their learning track, considers their individual achievements within a class and is supposed to accompany, encourage and support them.

For us, the teachers, this means that we have to work out individual learning goals in order to promote development, to give support, to monitor pupils and to document their development. This is the basic principle of portfolio work, which is further defined as follows:

  • Portfolios are collections of representative works, which document what pupils have learnt and which show their working styles. They depict their development and present the best achievements of the children.
  • Children are encouraged to compile their learning documents, to document their strengths and deficiencies and to outline their own development.  Thus they become co-responsible for their own education in class.
  • Portfolios show the children that learning is a process during which they have to keep working to make achievements.
  • They build greater self-confidence and their self-assurance increases. The quality of their work improves.
  • Portfolios require and promote a permanent dialogue between teachers and pupils. This is how they learn to articulate their opinions and define their own point of view.

Teachers, parents and children meet at least twice a year for an “achievement conversation” which is organised as follows: 

  • At the beginning there is an open conversation with the child where he/she can express with which things he/she is satisfied, what he/she would like to change, whether he/she has achieved his/her goals, what he/she likes and dislikes about school, etc.
  • Then, each child presents his/her portfolio folder with the selected works and documents. 
  • Finally we talk about the child’s social competence, learning and working competence and skills. Through the minute book the current educational state and progress and possible support provisions are discussed. We listen to the parents’ point of view and try to discuss wishes and issues which are unclear.
  • In the end, we summarise our discussion focuses and possible arrangements and decide when and how we want to evaluate our arrangements. Besides, the documentation of achievements has to be signed by all parties involved.

At our school we have been performing these feedback conversations for many years. It has been important for us to stimulate an opinion making process for parents and the general public concerning the issue of learning and achievements, to permanently discuss the advantages of working without marks with the parents, to make achievement goals transparent through simple formulations, to enable pupils to control their success in comparison with their own achievements and to create an appealing way of documenting achievements.

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