Portfolios: A New Wave in Assessment


Teachers andadministrators across the country are becoming part of a "new wave"of assessment in the classroom -- assessment that includes authenticand performance-based measures. Such methods of assessment are notlimited to multiple-choice and standardized tests, but includeprojects that require students to demonstrate their problem-solvingskills as well as their skills in analyzing and synthesizinginformation. Many schools are developing new methods for measuringstudents' progress in both the elementary and secondary classroom.One of these new assessment measures, the portfolio, has becomeincreasingly popular, and technology is helping with its creation andmanagement.

A portfolio at theK-12 education level is a collection of a student's work which can beused to demonstrate his or her skills and accomplishments. Aneducational portfolio is more than just a group of projects andpapers stored in a file folder. It includes other features such asteachers' evaluations, rubrics and studentself-reflections.

According to theNorthwest Evaluation Association, a portfolio is "a purposefulcollection of student work that exhibits the student's efforts,progress and achievements. The collection must include studentparticipation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, thecriteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection"(Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer, 1991). A portfolio may be used todemonstrate a student's achievements in specific subject areas suchas mathematics and science or it may be used across the curriculum toassess abilities in all subject areas.

WhyUse a Portfolio?

There are a varietyof ways a portfolio can be used in education. The type of portfoliocreated depends upon its ultimate use. Here are a few types ofportfolios and how they can be used.

1. Developmental. Ateacher who is interested in documenting a student's improvements inwriting or mathematics throughout a school year can have the studentkeep a developmental portfolio. This portfolio would contain samplesof the student's work along with self evaluations of specificassignments. Such a portfolio provides specific documentation thatcan be used for student evaluations and parentconferences.

2. Proficiency. Aproficiency portfolio can be used to prove mastery in a subject area.Central Park East Secondary School in New York City uses proficiencyportfolios as a means for determining graduation eligibility. Theirstudents are required to complete 14 portfolios, which demonstratecompetence and performance in a variety of areas including communityservice, science and technology, and ethics and social issues. Theportfolios are then presented to a panel of administrators, teachers,parents and peers for evaluation.

3. Showcase. Ashowcase portfolio documents a student's best work accomplishedduring a school year or an entire educational career. It can includethe research papers, art work and science experiments that bestrepresent the student's skills and abilities.

4. Teacher planning.Teachers may use an existing portfolio system to acquire informationabout an incoming class of students. The teacher may gain a betterunderstanding of the ability levels of his or her students prior tothe start of the school year and plan accordingly.

5. Employmentskills. Businesses across the country are increasingly interested inviewing student portfolios in order to evaluate a prospectiveemployee's work readiness skills. Areas of interest for an employermight include attendance records and demonstrations of problemsolving and critical thinking tasks.

6. Collegeadmission. Colleges and universities are using showcase portfolios todetermine eligibility for admission. By requiring portfolios fromprospective students, admissions officers are better able to assessapplicants' potential for success at their institutions.

CreatingElectronic Portfolios

Storing and managingportfolio materials is a concern shared by many educators interestedin implementing portfolio programs. In order to keep portfolioscontaining papers, projects and video/audio tapes for a class ofstudents for 13 years (K-12), a school would need several additionalclassrooms to store this wealth of information. This is certainly adrawback! A likely solution to this problem is the creation andstorage of portfolios using computer technology.

The terms"computer-based portfolio" and "electronic portfolio" are used todescribe portfolios saved in an electronic format. Electronicportfolios contain the same types of information as the portfoliosdiscussed earlier, but the information is collected, stored andmanaged electronically. Since current technology allows for thecapture and storage of information in the form of text, graphics,sound and video, students can save writing samples, solutions tomathematics problems, samples of art work, science projects andmultimedia presentations in one coherent document.

A single computerwith a large storage capacity could store portfolios for all thestudents in a class for one year. Student folders located on theserver of a campus network could store portfolios for studentsthroughout their enrollment. An alternative is to store studentportfolios on a CD-ROM. Student folders on a network or CD-ROM can beeasily shared among teachers and administrators.

There are severalcommercially available portfolio programs that offer teachers theability to track student achievement. Aurbach's Grady Profile is oneprogram that provides a template for teachers and students to enterwork samples. Packages may include writing samples, standardized testscores, oral communication skills and mathematics assessments. Othersoftware programs, such as Roger Wagner Publishing's HyperStudio,allow teachers to create their own templates for portfolioassessment. Educators can use these programs to customize portfoliosto suit the needs of their classes. For example, one high schoolEnglish portfolio might include outlines and drafts for each writingassignment, while another might include only the finished productalong with self-reflections by the student.


One school involvedin creating electronic portfolios for all its students is EastSyracuse-Minoa High School in East Syracuse, New York. Students atthis high school (grades 10-12) are creating electronic portfoliosthat are being sent to colleges as part of the admissions process andto potential employers to determine workplace readiness. Oneelectronic portfolio, called "Portfolio Manager," was created usingHyperStudio and contains traditional information about students(transcripts, letters of recommendation, and work history) as well asstudent-selected work samples (writing samples, multimedia researchpapers, art work, and video clips from a performance in the schoolplay).

The students areresponsible for updating and selecting the work samples they includein the portfolio, adding virtually any piece of work that theybelieve best represents their skills and abilities. Students begincreating portfolios during their sophomore year and continue updatingand revising their samples throughout their high school careers. Uponcompletion, the portfolio can be distributed on diskette, videotapeor print and, in the near future, via CD-ROM or theInternet.

In the fourth yearof implementation, all students at East Syracuse-Minoa High Schoolhave portfolios. During the last two years, approximately 110portfolios have been distributed along with college applications.Colleges and universities across the country have been very receptiveto these electronic portfolios. The school plans to place theseportfolios on the Internet and provide colleges with a URL and apassword to view them. (http://www.dreamscape.com/esmhs/)

Some otherexamples:
Students at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska, createportfolios for the Internet by learning HTML programming. EachElectronic Learner Portfolio includes a cover page, table ofcontents, resume, personal statement and eight samples of workrepresenting at least four academic subject areas (see box). As ofJanuary 1998, over 500 students at the school had created HTMLportfolios.

Students at UnionElementary School in Montpelier, Vermont, use a rubric to guide themin the development of their writing. Students use the rubric toevaluate their writing samples according to purpose, organization,details, voice/tone and grammar. There are four levels ofachievement. (http://plainfield.bypass.com/~union/)

Fifth grade studentsat North Woods Elementary School in LaCrosse, Wisc., use HyperStudioto create their portfolios, which can include recitals, class playsand art projects. The students are responsible for selecting thesamples to include in their portfolios, which reflect the nine basiccompetencies identified by the school. At the end of the school year,the portfolio is transferred to videotape and taken home.(http://www.macomb.k12.mi.us/pionpart/wrs/wilacr95.htm)


The implementationof computer-based portfolios for student assessment is an excitingeducational innovation. This method of assessment not only offers anauthentic demonstration of accomplishments, but also allows studentsto take responsibility for the work they have done. In turn, thismotivates them to accomplish more in the future. A computer-basedportfolio system offers many advantages for both the education andthe business communities and should continue to be a popularassessment tool in the "information age."

TheOnondaga-Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services(OCM BOCES) provides information and instructional system supportservices to educational institutions throughout central New YorkState and beyond. For details on specific programs, visithttp://www.ocmboces.org.The author can be reached at [email protected].

Aurbach and Associates, St. Louis, MO, (800) 774-7239,www.aurbach.com
Roger Wagner Publishing, El Cajon, CA, (800) HYPERSTUDIO,www.hyperstudio.com

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.