Portfolio – a portable case for holding papers – a simple name for a collection of works into which a person has poured hours of deliberation and sweat. Today the portfolio is just as likely to be stored on a flash drive that fits into the palm of a hand as in a case. But its purpose is still the same – to demonstrate the quality of work a person can do.
Prospective buyers and employers have been scrutinizing people’s portfolios for centuries. At one time most schools encouraged students to produce works worthy of their portfolio. However, with the increased popularity and ease of standardized testing, the production of quality work has often taken a back seat to test scores. Are the multiple-choice standardized tests scores easier to compare – Yes. Are they a more accurate indicator of higher order thinking skills – not according to a sizable portion of educators.
But, there are draw backs to requiring educational portfolios. Selecting pieces for it can be a mammoth task. This requires that students learn to keep track of all stages of their work–unfinished and preliminary work, and not just completed produces. Often they seem to struggle just to find yesterdays homework.
First, students must know what kind of things they must be able to put their hands on in order to review their own development, discuss work with teachers or peers, and finally fill their portfolio. Students should share with each other to present alternate ideas on how to track their work. Finally, using electronic storage, with appropriate back ups becomes a necessity to keep massive amounts of work in the classroom.
This task of maintaining what they have produced actually works better if the students determine how they will do this. Forcing a uniform system on all students often creates a disadvantage for capable students who do not think about organization in the same way. The portfolio should include documentation of a project in various stages (initial concept or sketch, rough and final draft), students’ ideas on the selection of products, and teachers’ written assessments of products. It also helps to have another teacher of the same subject to review possible portfolio products. That does double the work, but also makes the selection process easier and more accurate.
In 1983, Teresa Amabile first promoted use of “consensual assessment,” a way to grade the creative products without depending on any particular definition of creativity. Instead it relied on the knowledge and experience of judges. For this kind of comparative rating to work, the creative products must be from the same domain (i.e., writing, music, computer science). The judges must be very familiar with domain and should not confer with the other judges or do anything else to impose their criteria on the others.
More recently, John Baer found that different kinds of experts (practitioners, critics, educators) in one field tend to agree on creativity. One group of judges rated the creativity of student poems, and stories and the following year, a different group with similar backgrounds evaluated the same works with similar results. But a major drawback remains with this “consensual assessment” technique it that it requires products be compared with each other because there are no norms.
Even though a statewide comparison would be impossible using this technique, it works well on a small scale. When students finish school and enter the workforce, prospective employers will basically be doing the same thing__gathering in small groups to compare the resumes and work samples and using this comparison to determine who will be the most promising next, new employee.