KPU Instructor David Burns is spearheading a project that would reward scholarships at Kwantlen based solely on portfolios. (Submitted photo)

Portfolios, not grades, will soon get students into Kwantlen Polytechnic University

KPU instructor is working with Surrey School District to spearhead pilot admissions program

  • Nov. 23, 2017 12:00 a.m.

SURREY — A single letter grade doesn’t tell the whole story.

That’s the message that Kwantlen Polytechnic University is preaching after their introduction of an innovative admission program.

Instead of admitting students based solely on academics and letter grades, KPU instructor Dr. David P. Burns has a different idea. He’s spearheading the Surrey Portfolio Pathways Partnership, which will see students admitted based primarily on a strong portfolio.

Burns leads the Kwantlen Educational Policy Incubator (KEPI), which has partnered with the Surrey School District to develop a framework for accepting high school portfolios for post-secondary admission.

The university and the district will work with six high school students to develop portfolios that will be used for actual admission to KPU next September. Five students will be admitted to the Faculty of Arts and one student to the Faculty of Science and Horticulture as first-year undergraduates.

Their portfolios will either enhance or entirely replace a regular grade-based application.

“Students all over Surrey are doing amazing, new and creative things to demonstrate learning in ways that letter and number grades simply cannot express,” Burns said in a press release.

Burns suggests that the effectiveness of portfolios is often discredited when it comes to the application process.

“If students create these amazing new portfolios and we don’t bother to make them a meaningful part of the university transition process, we are, in effect, saying they don’t have much value,” said Burns.

“Instead, the ultimate goal should be to make the portfolios an integral part of the application process into university education.”

KPU and the Surrey School District have spent “many months” examining portfolios from a small sample of high school students to determine whether the university’s admissions system could accommodate portfolio-based admissions.

Their answer after months of examination was a resounding ‘yes.’

“[These students] developing portfolios that clearly demonstrate their readiness for university study,” Burns said.

Surrey School District Superintendent and CEO Jordan Tinney is also a fan of the project.

“Imagine if human resources departments assigned letter grades to employee performance, yet one or two percentage points can influence a grade and mean the difference between entrance to a post-secondary institution or not,” Tinney said in a release.

“Imagine breaking a person’s complex understanding of things like civilization, culture, art, dance, philosophy, English, down to a number — to one decimal place in fact,” he said.

Aside from the new admissions format at KPU, the B.C. Ministry of Education is moving away from conventional grading and towards broader measures of student success. That new curriculum will be implemented in 2019.

Dr. Salvador Ferreras, KPU’s provost and VP academic, lauds the Surrey Portfolio Pathways Partnership and sees it as a natural extension of KPU’s polytechnic mandate.

“Portfolios and competencies allow us to know and predict more about students, which will also allow us to better support them as they transfer into and through university,” said Ferreras. “So why wouldn’t we want to know more?”

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