Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Assessment Strategies/Portfolios

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Using Portfolios as a tool of Assessment

by Megan Ricardo

Learning Targets

1. Readers should be able to fully understand what a rubric is.

2. Readers will start to understand how rubrics can be assessed.

3. Readers will learn how to use portfolios in a variety of class subjects.

What is a Portfolio?[edit]

A portfolio has been defined as "a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student's efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas, the collection must include student participation in selecting contents, and show evidence of self-reflection (Paulson 1991). Rubrics have been used for several years in classes such as english and art, however are becoming more popular and are gaining more support in terms of assessment. A portfolio is basically a way for a student to reflect work done, and perhaps see growth building learning provided by the student himself. Portfolios are also used to be sent into some colleges or jobs, it provides an example of your current values and the way you make choices, without you even knowing it (Paulson 1991)! Assessment is becoming harder and harder with pressure on scaffolding and building learning for each individual. A portfolio allows "staff and students to understand the educational process at the level of the individual," making the learning and assessment based on the individual and not the general class such as a test (Paulson 1991). By learning more about portfolio and portfolio assessment, we as educated teachers can decide how they might be used in our own classrooms.

"Portfolios allow students to assume ownership in ways that few other instructional approaches allow, it requires students to collect and reflect on examples of their work, providing both an instructional component to the curriculum and offering the opportunity for authentic assessments" (Paulson 1991)

Guidelines for Realizing the Power of Portfolios[edit]

Portfolios include the power to reveal a lot about their creator and their learning in a formal way (Paulson). This power would not be useful if several key characteristics mentioned in the article "What makes a Portfolio a Portfolio" are not kept in mind. First, the portfolio must allow the student to learn about learning, this makes them involved and actively aware of the process. Second, the portfolio must be done "by the student and not to the student," this helps the student to "value themselves as learners". Third, the portfolio is not a cumulative folder, the student must be concise in deciding what will go into the portfolio, not everything should be in there. Fourth, the portfolio must contain the following parts, the rationale, intents of the student, contents, standards, and judgements as well as a reflection. This will allow students to "bring understandings and applications to the surface, thus encouraging metacognitive and reflective thinking (King 2008). Fifth, work should be kept throughout the year with the portfolio in mind but may be sorted through before producing the final portfolio. This is a great chance for students to keep up with unfinished work. Sixth, a portfolio may have multiple purposes but they should never conflict. Seventh, the portfolio should have information that shows growth within the class period. If there is no growth in a full year this may be a sign that learning did not occur. And finally, these portfolios will not happen themselves, be sure to guide the students and give proper instruction to make this a learning tool and not a punishment or stressful activity.

The impact of Portfolios as a tool of Assessment[edit]

Portfolios are different than standardized tests. Some argue that they are better, some argue they are worse. Naturally two sides will occur. The best we can do is to examine the characteristics of assessment and make the choice ourself. Achievement tests can give outcomes which can be "counted and accounted," yet "portfolio assessment offers the opportunity to observe students in a broader context: taking risks, developing creative solutions, and learning to make judgements about their own performances. (Paulson 1991). One of the problems of assessments such as tests or rubrics is that the student is only allowed statistics to be produced of their work, portfolio assessment is different. The student puts so much into the portfolio, the teacher is almost an outsider looking in when they grade it, on tests or rubrics, the teacher is looking for something they wrote down to look for. Portfolios allow a teacher to be taught on what might come out of the portfolio. "Portfolios provide an intersection between instruction and assessment and a means for the student to value themselves as learners, (King 2008) this helps students to be more positive and creative when turning in their portfolio which will thus produce a more satisfying grade. Since a student may not know what to put into the portfolio, teachers can guide the student by giving them "key assignments," these allow students to "write a metacognitive description explaining their thinking on how they showed the connections among theories" (King 2008). The key assignments are basically just main subjects from which a student can pick one of their works to relate to. Using portfolios can strongly help assessment in the classroom.

Ways to use Portfolios in a variety of classes.[edit]

Up to this point, you may have been thinking a portfolio is only useful in art. But portfolios have been effectively used in many different subject areas. There are different kinds of portfolios and perhaps by looking at them we can get ideas of which ones we might be able to use for which subjects. A showcase portfolio "displays the candidate's depth of knowledge and is a compilation of successfully completed work" (King 2008). A great example of this kind of portfolio would be an art portfolio including several pieces of work, or maybe a history portfolio containing maps or other related works, or perhaps a Spanish portfolio of different Spanish speaking countries and information about each. Next there is a formative portfolio which "illustrates a student's learning processes over time and demonstrates growth" (King 2008). An example of this type of portfolio might be an English portfolio containing papers, poems or other forms of literature. Also, a math portfolio containing several examples of the main points of each chapter and how to do the problems step by step with the students comments on the best way to learn how to do this problem. Either way you look at it, showcase or formative, a portfolio can be used in any classroom in multiple ways but still holds the same benefits of the assessment of it.

Example Portfolio Assessment[edit]

This is an example of a perfect portfolio assessment sheet/rubric. By scrolling down to the "Content Assessment Rubric" we can see an assessment of a portfolio. (Click the one to go to the link) [1] (Gonzalez 2004). This is an example of a rubric to grade a portfolio keeping in mind the student's process of creating the portfolio and the individual. It shows how a portfolio might be graded for not only completion but elements required for the full learning through using the portfolio to occur. This is a good example because it does not only grade on content but also on what the student did to further their learning and how effective the assignment was and it even goes as far as showing the effectiveness of the learning outcomes. This is a strong rubric with high expectations of learning to have happened in making the portfolio, a perfect assessment for this type of assignment.


Portfolios have "become a mechanism to guide our own individual practices," the students are learning how to learn and the teachers are being taught by what the students have learned. By reflection on what a portfolio is, how it can be used, and its relationship to assessment, we as teachers can now start to form our opinion about using portfolios. The way we use a portfolio will vary from class to class and subject to subject, but one thing will always remain the same, "a portfolio provides a forum that encourages students to develop the abilities needed to become independent, self-directed learners," (Paulson 1991) and when they have done this, is our job of assessment not already half over?

Quiz Time[edit]

1. What is a characteristic of a portfolio? A. Allows students to fill out multiple choice questions. B. Contains all documents from the entire course. C. Must show reflection in the portfolio making process. D. None of the above.

2. What are the two types of portfolios? A. Formative and Summative B. Formal and Informal. C. Showcase and Formative. D. Terrible and Good.

3. Which assignment listed below could a portfolio and portfolio assessment be used in to effectively grade a students learning: A. A study of painting and growth of students painting technique B. Doing a collection of history maps and reflecting on old maps versus new maps. C. A and B D. Neither A or B.

4. A Portfolio cannot be used to grade: A. A students growth in general writing processes. B. A multiple choice math problem assignment. C. A collection of designs for a small engine project. D. A compilation of poems written in a Spanish class.

Answers. 1 C. 2 C. 3 C. 4 B.


Gonzalez, (2004). Portfolio Assessment Rubrics. Retrieved March 23, 2009, from Web site:

King, Caryn M., Patterson, Nancy G., & Stolle, Elizabeth P. (2008). Portfolio assessment: Making connections, guiding change.. English Teaching: Practice and Critique. 7, Number 3, 4-9.

Paulson , F. Leon, Paulson , P.R., & Meyer, C.A. (1991). What Makes a Portfolio a Portfolio?. Educational Leadership. 60-63.