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Using Portfolios for Authentic Assessment

by Mary Ellen Sullivan

 If you’re ready to try the portfolio assessment option, now is the time to get your plans together. Here are some tips and references from the education literature I’ve gathered. First, a definition: “Portfolios are purposeful, collaborative, self-reflective collections of student work generated during the process of instruction.”[1]

 What Goes Into a Portfolio?

A portfolio tends to include:

·         a range of work over time;

·         work assigned by the teacher and work selected by the student (the teacher specifying the type and number of pieces to include, the student choosing the pieces);

·         an introduction in which the student explains why individual pieces were chosen;

·         a summary statement describing what was learned from selecting and reflecting as the portfolio was compiled.

 Like the portfolio assembled by a professional seeking a job, the student portfolio is a file or folder containing materials reflecting the student’s experience and competence.

 Portfolio contents fall into three categories:

·         samples of work (pieces of writing, designs & blueprints, audio, video and photographic recordings of performances and projects)

·         testimony (letters of reference or other testimony on student work or personal characteristics such as creativity, initiative, dedication).

·         summary indicators (grades in school or correspondence courses, test scores, employment records, participation in clubs, volunteer work, awards).[2]

 Here are some more things to keep in mind:

 Make a Plan! -- Portfolios are the most individualized method of evaluation you’ll find, and they require an individualized program to evaluate. Look at what your children have already learned, how they learned best, what their interests are, and what goals you all have. Write down these goals and interests, have the children write theirs down (or dictate them to you), and figure out a plan of action. As you accomplish a goal, save the evidence (in writing, photos, tapes, artwork, etc.). Add or revise goals as you go along. The portfolio will build itself around your plan.

 Customize -- What do you like? What is your family’s situation? What time, money, and location limitations do you have? Make your program fit your life. A report on a study set in a rural mountain community in New York stated: “Curriculum must be responsive to students’ needs and interests and relevant to their futures.”[3] It’s your life!

 Keep Good Records -- Experts recommend keeping a logbook as a means of increasing the accuracy of portfolio scores.[4] In addition to the original plan, logbooks could include ongoing notes about student performance, formal ratings of achievement, and goals for the student. These notes make assessment by the certified teacher much easier, especially if you communicate regularly with the teacher or other evaluator who will be writing the summary of your portfolio. If this evaluator sees the logbooks as you go along, assessment of progress based on portfolios can be complete and accurate.

Portfolios. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/students/earlycld/ea5l143.htm

 Assessment, St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX.  http://www.stedwards.edu/cte/evaluation/assessment.htm

 Dr. Helen Barrett's favorite links on Alternative Assessment & Electronic Portfolios


 Using Portfolios for Authentic Assessments by Jane Smith http://tiger.coe.missouri.edu/~vlib/Jane's.stuff/Jane's.Page.html

 Lankes, Anna Maria D., Electronic Portfolios: A New Idea in Assessment, ERIC Digest.1995-12-00 ED390377 http://www.ericfacility.net/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed390377.html


[1] DeFina, Allan A., Portfolio Assessment: Getting Started. New York: Scholastic Professional Books, 1992.

 [2] Archbald, Doug A., "Authentic Assessment: What It Means and How It Can Help Schools," National Center for Effective Schools Research and Development, Madison, Wisconsin, December, 1991.

 [3] Brandau, D. & Collins J., “Schooling, literature and work in a rural mountain community.” Technical Report Series 7.1, National Research Center on Literature Teaching and Learning, Albany, NY. 1992

 [4] Calfee, R. C., & Perfumo, P. A. “Student Portfolios and Teacher Logs: Blueprint for a Revolution in Assessment,” National Center for the Study of Writing, April, 1993. http://www.writingproject.org/downloads/csw/TR65.pdf.