Project Description

How do portfolios translate to credits?

Not all schools and districts can replace traditional credits with competency-based portfolios; There still needs to be a conversion. In this model, each portfolio and competency area converts to a traditional credit upon completion. Another way to think about this is that the portfolio replaces the traditional academic year and the competency area replaces the traditional seat-time course.

For example, high school is typically four years and each core subject area is typically made of four credits. You would then set up a 4-portfolio model with competency areas like ELA, MATH, SCI, and SS. If you complete your first portfolio of ELA, you might get an English 1 credit. If you complete your third portfolio for SCI you would get an Integrated Science 3 credit.

At Building 21, we refer to this as:


In this model, we think of electives a bit differently. Instead of crediting electives through experiences like Engineering, Creative Writing, and Psychology, these experiences are vehicles for students to demonstrate NGE and HOS competencies. Successful completion of the requirements of these experiences are tracked in WF. Typically, there is a culminating task or project and if a student completes it, they will earn their WF requirement.

Click on thumbnail to see how portfolios cant be converted into traditional district and state credits.

How are traditional grades calculated?

Because portfolio = credit, we can take the results of a completed portfolio and convert to a traditional grade. Each competency within a competency area has a final performance level and growth calculation. We can average performance level and growth calculations of all competencies within an area to get an overall performance level and growth for a competency area. Using a conversion chart, we can then convert to a traditional grade.

One the example grade conversion chart, you will see a chart for honors. In this model, students are not picked or tracked for honors. Any student can earn an honors credit if they complete their portfolio with a high enough performance level.

Click on thumbnail to see how traditional grades can be converted.

How are progress and growth communicated to students and families?

In the example PLP, on the My Progress tab, you can see how we communicate progress in this model. Early in our implementation, we realized how important a traditional grade was to our families. We were unable to support their understanding of the portfolio model represented in Profile 1. Knowing we had to make a compromise, we decided to place a traditional grade conversion on the progress report. As soon as we did this, our families were able to effectively engage in conversations about their student’s progress and growth. The good news is that these grade conversions are just a different representation of a student’s performance level or growth so it ended up not being too much of a compromise.

Click on thumbnail to view an example PLP. The My Progress tab shows how progress is communicated.

What are the implications for a traditional Student Information System (SIS)?

We can’t stress this enough. PORTFOLIO = CREDIT is incompatible with traditional SIS’s which means that a school or district will need to employ some very clever work-arounds. PORTFOLIO = CREDIT means that when a student completes a portfolio they earn a credit. Traditional SIS’s are typically built around the concept of an academic year and credits can only be earned when a certain amount of time has passed. More importantly, these systems often have to “close out” the academic year and all grades and credits are “moved to the transcript.” This is incompatible with a competency-based portfolio model. One student might complete their portfolio in 7 months while another will complete theirs in 15 months. Both of these students would need to earn credit on their transcript only at the time of portfolio completion. To achieve this in traditional time-based SIS, we strongly recommend the following work-arounds:

  • Do not use the SIS for student daily schedules. Use a separate scheduling system to create daily schedules for students. Experiences in the schedule are not directly tied to end of year credits.
  • If you want to use the SIS for student schedules, create courses that are not credit bearing. In a portfolio model, a student’s daily schedule does not directly represent what credits they are working on. In other words, the SIS should not expect any final grades at the end of an academic year.
  • New courses codes should be created for Habits of Success 1-4, NextGen Essentials 1-4, and Wayfinding 1-4.
  • For course credits, It’s helpful to create content agnostic names like Integrated Social Studies 1-4 or Personalized Science 1-4.
  • Collaborate with the IT team that manages the SIS to create a system for reporting credits as they occur.
  • Create a celebration protocol within the school to celebrate completed portfolios.

What would the transcript look like?

Because each completed portfolio converts to a credit that is understood by the SIS, traditional transcripts can be used. The one exception is that the transcript would not show traditional elective credits. It will only show NGE, HOS, and WF credits. Many transcripts have an area available that can accept custom text. In this area, schools could post all elective experiences that students complete as well as other Wayfinding Experiences like capstones.

Even though you can use a traditional transcript, we think a custom transcript is a better option. Class rank, traditional GPA’s, and the focus on academic success can hide students’ holistic achievements. We have included a prototype transcript where we tried to balance what post-secondary institutions look for with our competency based model.

Click on thumbnail to view an example transcript.