As students prepare for graduation at Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS), a high school of 450 students in an East Harlem neighborhood in New York City, they work intensively to prepare a portfolio of their work that will reveal their competence and performance in fourteen curricular areas. This portfolio will be evaluated by a graduation committee composed of teachers from different subjects and grade levels, an outside examiner, and a student peer. The committee members examine all of the entries and hear the students’ oral defense of their work to determine when each student is ready to graduate.
Of the fourteen portfolio items, seven are presented orally before the graduation committee, four from the core subjects (asterisked below). The other seven entries are evaluated independently, and the student may be asked about them during the graduation committee hearing. While the final review is based on the individual student’s accomplishments, certain portfolio requirements can be met with group work.
- Post-graduate plan. Each student outlines his or her purpose for earning a diploma. This section includes long- and short-range career and life goals, financial concerns, living arrangements, and indicators of progress such as examinations, interviews, and letters of reference.
- Autobiography. This reflective project may examine family history, special events or relationships, values or beliefs in any of a variety of form.
- School/community service and internship. Opportunities for working and serving others are part of student experiences starting in seventh grade. Students develop a formal resume of their work experiences along with a project demonstrating what they have learned from one or more of them; this may include essays, videos, work samples, reference letters, and the like.
- Ethics and social issues. Students demonstrate their capacity to see multiple perspectives, weigh and use evidence, and reason about social and moral issues by staging a debate, writing an editorial, discussing important issues raised by a novel or film, or another project.
- Fine arts and aesthetics. Creative expression and creative appreciation are both evaluated. Students must create a hands-on exhibition of performance in any of the arts and also show understanding or knowledge of an aesthetic area by studying or critiquing a work, an artist, or a field of artistic expression.
- Mass media. Through a project or activity that includes a relevant bibliography, students must demonstrate understanding of how different forms of media work and how they affect people and their thinking.
- Practical skills. Students must show evidence of working knowledge in a number of areas (health and medical care, employment, citizenship, independent living, computers and technology, legal rights) in a variety of ways (securing a driver’s license, registering to vote, operating a computer).
- Geography. A teacher-made test and a student-designed performance are used to evaluate geographical knowledge and the ability to use geographical tools such as maps and globes.
- Second language and/or dual language. Students must demonstrate competence in a language other than English as a speaker, listener, reader, and writer. (This can be done via the New York state language proficiency exam or a College Board exam.) In addition, all students must describe their personal experience with dual language issues and be prepared to discuss a key social or cultural issue associated with language use.
- Science and technology.* Students must demonstrate knowledge in traditional ways-a summary of the work they have completed in high school and passage of a teacher-made or state competency test as well as in performances that demonstrate use of scientific methodology (e.g., conducting and documenting an experiment) and awareness of how science is used in the modern world (e.g., by staging a debate or conducting research on a scientific development analyzing social costs and benefits).
- Mathematics.* Students must demonstrate basic skills knowledge by passing a state competency test and a teacher-made test. In addition, they must demonstrate higher-order thinking abilities by developing a project using mathematics for political, civic, or consumer purposes (e.g., social science statistics or polling; architectural blueprints) and either scientific or “pure” mathematics (e.g., using mathematics in a scientific application and/or studying a theoretical problem.
- Literature.* Students prepare a list of texts they have read in a wide range of genres to serve as the basis for discussion with the graduation committee. They also submit samples of their own essays about literary works or figures, demonstrating their capacity to reflect on and communicate effectively about literary products and ideas.
- History.* In addition to passing a state competency test or faculty- designed test in history, students must prepare all overview of the areas of history they have studied in secondary school and a timeline of major significant events and persons. They must also demonstrate understanding of historical work by conducting historical research using primary and secondary sources and developing a bibliography. Their work must draw connections between and among past and present events, weigh and use evidence, speculate on other possibilities, and evaluate how history is used or abused in current debates.
- Physical challenge. Students demonstrate and/or document their participation and proficiency in any team or individual sport or activity over the past four years. The goal is to encourage the development of lifelong health habits and attitudes of independence, interdependence, personal responsibility, and sportsmanship.
A more extensive final senior project is also required in an area of particular interest to the student, which may be one of the portfolio items explored in greater depth.
Portfolio items are evaluated for quality and demonstrated mastery using a grid that reflects five major criteria: a viewpoint that encompasses wide knowledge and deep understanding; an ability to draw connections among information and ideas; appropriate use of evidence; an engaging voice and awareness of audience; and use of proper conventions. When students have completed the portfolio, they have learned to inquire, critique, analyze, present, and defend their ideas. They have also learned to manage long-range tasks that require invention, planning, perseverance, initiative, reflection, and revision. In short, they are ready for the world outside of school.