Defining the portfolio

pen_art is cDo you regret the time lost with state mandated assessments? What if the products being assessed were actually part of the learning experience. That is one of the ideas behind the move to assess students through their portfolios. However, before students head helter-skelter into creating work for their portfolios, some planning needs to occur. Both teachers and students should know the purpose of the portfolio. There are basically four types and students are likely to keep more than one:

Instructional portfolio contains work selected by the student based on teacher input. As a teacher, you use this collection of work to prod the student into reflecting on own thought processes, and to help student pin down long-term goals. The student sets a general goal such as “I want to write exciting stories.” The teacher directs the student to set specific objectives for this goal such as “plan development and resolution of conflict in plot” or “create mood through vivid images.” This kind of portfolio helps provide a framework for individualized instruction.[1]

Personal/professional portfolio is aimed at whatever goals the student wants to achieve. The student is the primary stakeholder in this portfolio, and therefore, the most important person in selecting the products.  However, don’t expect students to select work without guidance. A good rule of thumb is to have half the pieces concentrated on one area to show depth of work, and the other half distinctly different in concept design to show breadth of work.

Program/college entry portfolios are limited to the type and number of entries that the admitting institution requires. It often resembles a professional portfolio, and includes samples of the students’ best work, with careful attention to format and organization. It may also contain biographical data, transcripts and test scores.[2] If students are having a difficult time determining what needs to go into their personal/professional portfolio have them research what the best institution for their area of interest requires for a portfolio.

Assessment portfolio provides data for student records or school accountability, but it has to include whatever products and evaluation data required by the school, district, or state. Ideally this kind of portfolio contains both samples of the student’s best work and pieces that are responses to required assignments. However, because it is difficult to grade different products using same scale, the requirements tend to be rigid.

Kentucky was one of the first states to adopt a writing portfolio as one of the ways to measure students statewide. Other states such as Ohio, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Hawaii are all moving to requiring a “senior project” as a high school graduation requirement.[3] Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are adopting the use of an alternate assessment portfolio. If you have ever experience the adoption of this kind of assessment school, you’re probably familiar with the trials involved. (How many weeks do you want to spend grading?) These states’ have published grading rubrics for portfolios that you can adapt to your own needs. There is no need to reinvent the wheel to make education more relevant.

Art work by S.L.Listman

[1] Cole, K.B. & Struyk, L.R. (1997). Portfolio assessment: Challenges in secondary education. High School Journal, 80(4), 261- 272.

[2] Lankes, A.M. (1998). Portfolios: A new wave in assessment. T H E Journal, 25 (9),18-19. Paulson, F.L, & Paulson, P.R. (1991). The making of a portfolio. (ERIC)

[3]  Dietz, S. et al, (2010). State high school tests: Exit exams and other assessments. Center on Education Policy, Washington, DC.

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