A student portfolio is a systematic collection of student work and related material that depicts a student’s activities, accomplishments, and achievements in one or more school subjects. The collection should include evidence of student reflection and self-evaluation, guidelines for selecting the portfolio contents, and criteria for judging the quality of the work. The goal is to help students assemble portfolios that illustrate their talents, represent their writing capabilities, and tell their stories of school achievement.
Process and product portfolios represent the two major types of portfolios.
A process portfolio documents the stages of learning and provides a progressive record of student growth. A product portfolio demonstrates mastery of a learning task or a set of learning objectives and contains only the best work. Teachers use process portfolios to help students identify learning goals, document progress over time, and demonstrate learning mastery. In general, teachers prefer to use process portfolios because they are ideal for documenting the stages that students go through as they learn and progress
First, the teacher and the student need to clearly identify the portfolio contents, which are samples of student work, reflections, teacher observations, and conference records.
Second, the teacher should develop evaluation procedures for keeping track of the portfolio contents and for grading the portfolio. Third, the teacher needs a plan for holding portfolio conferences, which are formal and informal meetings in which students review their work and discuss their progress. Because they encourage reflective teaching and learning, these conference are an essential part of the portfolio assessment process
One form of authentic assessment being widely adapted in schools today is portfolio assessment. Diane Hart defines a portfolio as “a container that holds evidence of an individual’s skills, ideas, interests, and accomplishments.” The ultimate aim in the use of portfolios is to develop independent, self-directed learners. Long-term portfolios provide a more accurate picture of students’ specific achievements and progress and the areas of needed attention. Portfolios make it easier to develop grading schemes that emphasize assessing individual student growth rather than competition with other students. As self-evaluation is an integral part of portfolio assessment, a highly competitive climate will prove counterproductive.
Students will be reluctant to focus upon their deficiencies if they believe it will put them at a disadvantage in the competition for the top grades. Often portfolios are used to supplement, not replace, traditional assessment procedures.
1. Remember, portfolios should be developed by the students, not the teacher. Students should have freedom in selecting items to include in their portfolios. It is advantageous to make the whole portfolio process a collaborative teacher-student effort, with the teacher becoming more of a consultant to the student. The teacher functions more as a coach than a director.
2. Any item that provides evidence of a student’s achievement and growth can be included in a portfolio. Commonly used items include:
3. Each item in the portfolio should be dated to facilitate the evaluation of progress through the year.
4. Typically, teachers hold periodic individual conferences with their students to review their portfolios. During this interview it is important to listen to the students’ assessments of the items in their portfolio. The focus of the discussion should be upon the products included in the portfolio. The teacher and student work together to set a limited number of objectives for future work. Strive to achieve a dialogue, not a lecture.
5. Much of the value of portfolios derives from the students’ reflection on which items are worth including in their portfolios.
6. The portfolios may be kept in folders, file boxes, assigned drawers, or other appropriate containers. Whatever the storage container, it must be readily accessible to the students.
7. Portfolios are especially helpful at parent conferences. Help the parent examine the portfolio, pointing out evidence of progress and areas of needed improvement.
8. Be patient. Portfolios are a new concept to most students and parents. There is a learning curve involved in adapting to the process. Experiment to determine what works and feel free to modify as needed. Portfolio assessment is a term with many meanings, and it is a process that can serve a variety of purposes. A portfolio is a collection of student work that can exhibit a student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in various areas of the curriculum.
A portfolio assessment can be an examination of student-selected samples of work experiences and documents related to outcomes being assessed, and it can address and support progress toward achieving academic goals, including student efficacy. Portfolio assessments have been used for large-scale assessment and accountability purposes (e.g., the Vermont and Kentucky statewide assessment systems), for purposes of school-to-work transitions, and for purposes of certification. For example, portfolio assessments are used as part of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards assessment of expert teachers.
While portfolios have broad potential and can be useful for the assessments of students’ performance for a variety of purposes in core curriculum areas, the contents and criteria used to assess portfolios must be designed to serve those purposes. For example, showcase portfolios exhibit the best of student performance, while working portfolios may contain drafts that students and teachers use to reflect on process. Progress portfolios contain multiple examples of the same type of work done over time and are used to assess progress. If cognitive processes are intended for assessment, content and rubrics must be designed to capture those processes.
Portfolio assessments can provide both formative and summative opportunities for monitoring progress toward reaching identified outcomes. By setting criteria for content and outcomes, portfolios can communicate concrete information about what is expected of students in terms of the content and quality of performance in specific curriculum areas, while also providing a way of assessing their progress along the way. Depending on content and criteria, portfolios can provide teachers and researchers with information relevant to the cognitive processes that students use to achieve academic outcomes.
Much of the literature on portfolio assessment has focused on portfolios as a way to integrate assessment and instruction and to promote meaningful classroom learning. Many advocates of this function believe that a successful portfolio assessment program requires the ongoing involvement of students in the creation and assessment process. Portfolio design should provide students with the opportunities to become more reflective about their own work, while demonstrating their abilities to learn and achieve in academics. For example, some feel it is important for teachers and students to work together to prioritize the criteria that will be used as a basis for assessing and evaluating student progress. During the instructional process, students and teachers work together to identify significant pieces of work and the processes required for the portfolio. As students develop their portfolio, they are able to receive feedback from peers and teachers about their work.
Because of the greater amount of time required for portfolio projects, there is a greater opportunity for introspection and collaborative reflection. This allows students to reflect and report about their own thinking processes as they monitor their own comprehension and observe their emerging understanding of subjects and skills. The portfolio process is dynamic and is affected by the interaction between students and teachers. Portfolio assessments can also serve summative assessment purposes in the classroom, serving as the basis for letter grades. Student conferences at key points during the year can also be part of the summative process. Such conferences involve the student and teacher (and perhaps the parent) in joint review of the completion of the portfolio components, in querying the cognitive processes related to artifact selection, and in dealing with other relevant issues, such as students’ perceptions of individual progress in reaching academic outcomes.
The use of portfolios for large-scale assessment and accountability purposes pose vexing measurement challenges. Portfolios typically require complex production and writing, tasks that can be costly to score and for which reliability problems have occurred. Generalizability and comparability can also be an issue in portfolio assessment, as portfolio tasks are unique and can vary in topic and difficulty from one classroom to the next. For example, Maryl Gearhart and Joan Herman have raised the question of comparability of scores because of differences in the help students may receive from their teachers, parents, and peers within and across classrooms.
To the extent student choice is involved, contents may even be different from one student to the next. Conditions of, and opportunities for, performance thus vary from one student to another. These measurement issues take portfolio assessment outside of the domain of conventional psychometrics. The qualities of the most useful portfolios for instructional purposes – deeply embedded in instruction, involving student choice, and unique to each classroom and student – seem to contradict the requirements of sound psychometrics. However, this does not mean that psychometric methodology should be ignored, but rather that new ways should be created to further develop measurement theory to address reliability, validity, and generalizability.