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Topic How to Assess?

7 Portfolio
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Explain the role of portfolio assessment as an alternative
assessment strategy;
2. Explain the methods to assess portfolios;
3. List the advantages and disadvantages of portfolios; and
4. Determine how and when portfolios should be assessed.

In the previous topic, we discussed the role of projects and practical assignments
in the assessment of student learning. In this topic, we will examine another type
of assessment tool commonly used in assessing student learning in certain
subject areas. The assessment tool is portfolio assessment. Educators are always
observing behaviour in the classroom and making decisions based on their
observations. Oral tests which are often used in the language arts are becoming a
popular evaluation technique in other subject areas. Increasingly, portfolio
assessment, an authentic assessment method, is gaining importance as an
assessment strategy seeking to present a more holistic view of the learner. A
portfolio is not simply a collection of all students work. It is neither a scrapbook
nor a dumping ground for all students accomplishments.

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To increase the reliability of the portfolio as an assessment tool, the evidence

should be drawn from various sources, such as teacher, parent, peer and student.
Reliability is also increased when students create products for the portfolio using
a pre-established set of criteria; for example, when students present an oral
speech using the criteria as guidelines for preparation. In a case such as this, the
results of assessment are more accurate and fair.


What is a portfolio? Portfolios tend to be associated with art, where the student
keeps his or her pieces of work in a kind of folder to be presented for evaluation.
Student portfolios take many forms. It is not easy to describe them. Our students'
portfolios may have one goal or several. The students will select and submit
works to meet these goals. The works submitted should provide evidence of
students' progress toward the goals and reflect both student production and
process. A portfolio is not the pile of student work that accumulates over a
semester or year. Rather, a portfolio contains a purposefully selected subset of
student work which reflects his/her efforts, progress and achievements in
different areas of the curriculum. Some people may associate portfolios with the
stock market where a person or organisation keeps a portfolio of stocks and
shares owned. A portfolio can be defined as a container that holds evidence of an
individuals skills, ideas, interests and accomplishments. The organised
collection of contents such as text, files, photos, videos and more to tell that story,
are generically referred to as artefacts, and are the evidence of what students
have learned. These artefacts are usually accompanied by students reflection.

The particular purposes of portfolio determine the number and type of items to
be included, the process for selecting the items, how and whether students
respond to the items selected. According to Paulson, Paulson and Meyer (1991),
portfolios offer a way of assessing student learning that is different from
traditional methods. Portfolio assessment provides the teacher and students an
opportunity to observe students in a broader context: taking risks, developing
creative solutions, and learning to make judgements about their own
performances (p. 63).

Portfolios typically are created for one of three purposes; to show growth, to
showcase current abilities, and to evaluate cumulative achievement. Many
educators who work with portfolios consider the reflection component the most
critical element of a good portfolio. Simply selecting samples of work can
produce meaningful stories about students, and others can benefit from
reading these stories.

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The students themselves are missing significant benefits of the portfolio process
if they are not asked to reflect upon the quality and growth of their work. As
Paulson, Paulson and Meyer stated, The portfolio is something that is done by
the student, not to the student. Most importantly, it is something done for the
student. The student needs to be directly involved in each phase of the portfolio
development to learn the most from it, and the reflection phase holds the most
promise for promoting student growth.

7.1.1 What is Portfolio Assessment?

The collection of works by students are assessed and hence the term portfolio
assessment. However, some suggest that portfolios are not really assessments at
all because they are just collections of previously completed assessments. In
portfolio assignment, students are in fact performing authentic tasks which
capture meaningful application of knowledge and skills. Their portfolios often
tell compelling stories of the growth of the students' talents and showcase their
skills through a collection of authentic performances.

The portfolio provides for continuous and ongoing assessment (i.e. formative
assessment) as well as assessment at the end of a semester or a year (i.e.
summative assessment). Emphasis is more on monitoring students progress
towards achieving the learning outcomes of a particular subject, course or
programme. Portfolio assessment has been described as multidimensional
because it allows students to include different aspects of their works such as
essays, project reports, performance on objective tests, objects or artefacts they
have produced, poems, laboratory reports and so forth. In other words, the
portfolio contains samples of work over an entire semester, term or year, rather
than single points in time, such as during examination week only.

Using portfolios introduces students to an evaluation format with which they

may need to become familiar as more schools adopt portfolio assessment.
Although many portfolios reflect long-term projects completed over a period of
time, it does not have to be that way. Teachers can have students create portfolios
of their work for a particular unit. That portfolio might count as a project for that
particular topic of study. Though portfolios assessment is currently quite popular
in our school system, there are still teachers who are uncomfortable to use it as
assessment tools. These teachers may have the thinking that the portfolio is a
verys subjective form of assessment. They may be unsure themselves of the
purpose of a portfolio and its uses in the classroom. To them, there is also the
question of how the portfolio can be most effectively used to assess student
learning. The situation can be overcome if these teachers understand the purpose
of portfolios, how the portfolios can be used to evaluate their students work, and
how grades will be determined.

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Portfolio assessment represents a significant shift in thinking about the role of

assessment in education. Teachers who use this strategy in the classroom have
shifted their philosophy of assessment from merely comparing achievement
(based on grades, test score, percentile rankings) toward improving student
achievement through feedback and self-reflection. Teachers should convey to
students the purpose of the portfolio, what constitute quality work and how the
portfolio is graded.

7.1.2 Why Portfolio Assessment?

It has frequently been suggested that paper-and-pencil tests (objective and essay
tests) are not able to assess all the learning outcomes in a particular subject area.
For example, many higher-level cognitive skills and the affective domain
(feelings, emotions, attitudes and values) are not adequately assessed using
traditional assessment methods. Portfolio assessment allows for the assessment
of a wider range of skills and understanding and, most importantly, it provides
an opportunity for the teacher to trace or monitor change and growth over a
period of time. Since portfolio assessment is an ongoing process, it provides an
opportunity for students to reflect their own learning and thinking. They have an
opportunity to monitor their understanding and approaches to solving problems
and decision-making (Paulson, Paulson and Meyer, 1991). Upon reflection,
students can identify where they went wrong or how they can improve themselves.

Epstein (2006) in Introduction to Portfolios, Synapse Learning Design, cited in

Teachervision.com, argued that portfolio assessment:

(a) Allows the teacher to see the student as an individual, each with his or her
own unique characteristics, needs and strengths. Since assessment
portfolios are individualized, students and teachers have the opportunity to
choose the documents they want to include in the portfolio and to make
decisions about how to improve the students work;

(b) Emphasises on improving student achievement rather than ranking

students according to their performance on tests;

(c) Helps students to be more accountable for their work. Portfolio assessment
can hold students accountable for mastering content standards in a subject
area. Portfolios offer students tangible evidence to show their academic
achievements as well as their participation in community service projects;

(d) Allows the adaptation of instruction to the learning styles of students;

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(e) Involves students in the assessment process. As students judge their work
using explicit criteria to identify strengths and weaknesses, they are
monitoring their own progress; and

(f) Invites students to reflect upon their growth and performance as learners.
Assessment portfolios require students to continuously reflect and perform
self-evaluations of their work. Teachers should convey to students the
purpose of the portfolio, what constitutes quality work and how the
portfolio is graded. Feedback enables learners to reflect on what they are
learning and why.

However, Epstein (2006) also listed some of the problems with portfolio
assessment. Portfolio assessments may be less reliable because they tend to be
more qualitative rather than quantitative. Society is still strongly oriented
towards grades and test scores and in addition, most universities and colleges
still use test scores and grades as the main admission criteria. Also, portfolio
assessment may be time-consuming for teachers and data from portfolio
assessments can be difficult to analyse.

7.1.3 Types of Portfolios?

There are two main types of portfolios: process-oriented and product-oriented

(a) Process-Oriented Portfolios These portfolios tell a story about the student
and how the learner has grown. It will include earlier drafts and how these
drafts have been improved upon. For example, the first draft of a poem
written by a Year Three student is reworked based on the comments by the
teacher and the student reflecting on his or her work. All the drafts and
changes made are kept in the portfolio. In this manner, student works can
be compared by providing evidence of how the students skills have

(b) Product-Oriented Portfolios These portfolios contain the works of a

student which he or she considers the best. The aim is to document and
reflect on the quality of the final products rather than the process that
produced them. The student is required to collect all his or her work at the
end of the semester, at which time he or she must select those works which
are of the highest quality. Students could be left to make the decision
themselves or the teacher can set the criteria on what a portfolio must
contain and the quality of the works to be included.

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7.1.4 How is a Portfolio Developed?

The design and development of a portfolio involves FOUR main steps: collection,
selection, reflection and connection (Epstein, 2006).

(a) Collection: This step simply requires students to collect and store all of
their work. Students have to get used to the idea of documenting and
saving their work which they may not have done before.

(i) How should the works be organised? By subject or by themes?

(ii) How should the works be recorded and stored? and

(iii) How to get students to form the habit of documenting evidence?

(b) Selection: This will depend on whether it is a process or product portfolio

and the criteria set by the teacher. Students will go through the works
collected and select certain works for their portfolio. This might include:
examination papers and quizzes, audio and video recordings, project
reports, journals, computer work, essays, poems, artwork and so forth.

(i) How does one select? What is the basis of selection?

(ii) Who should be involved in the selection process? and

(iii) What are the consequences of not completing the portfolio?

(c) Reflection: This is the most important step in the portfolio process. It is
reflection that differentiates the portfolio from a mere collection of student
work. Reflection is often done in writing but it can also be done orally.
Students are asked why they have chosen a particular product or work (e.g.
essay); and how it compares with other works, what particular skills and
knowledge were used to produce it (e.g. the essay) and how it can be
further improved.

(i) Should students reflect on how or why they chose certain works? and

(ii) How should students go about the reflection process?

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(d) Connection: As a result of reflection, students begin to ask themselves,

Why are we doing this? They are encouraged to make connections
between their schoolwork and the value of what they are learning. They
are also encouraged to make connections between the works included in
their portfolio with the world outside the classroom. They learn to exhibit
what they have done in school to the community.

(i) How is the cumulative effect of the portfolio evaluated, and

(ii) Should students exhibit their works?

7.1.5 Advantages and Disadvantages of Portfolio

As a formative assessment tool, student portfolios can be used by the teachers as
informal diagnostic techniques or feedback. The feedback enables the students to
reflect on what they are learning and why. Assessment portfolios require
students to continuously reflect and perform self-evaluations of their work. The
advantages and disadvantages of portfolios assessment can be summarised as

(a) Advantages of Portfolio Assessment

Ongoing assessment is the main benefit of portfolio assessment. Besides
that, the following are also significant factors to support portfolio assessment:

(i) Promoting student self-evaluation, reflection and critical thinking;

(ii) Holding students accountable for mastering content standards in a

subject area;

(iii) Measuring performance based on genuine samples of student work;

(iv) Providing flexibility in measuring how students accomplish their

learning goals;

(v) Promoting communication between teachers and students, enabling

the sharing of the responsibility for setting learning goals and for
evaluating progress towards meeting those goals;

(vi) Giving students the opportunity to have extensive imput into the
learning process; and

(vii) Facilitating cooperative learning activities, including peer evaluation

and tutoring, cooperative learning groups and peer conferencing.

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(b) Disadvantages of Portfolio Assessment

Effective portfolio assessment can be difficult to achieve for a big group
of students. Firstly, it may be logistically impossible to offer detailed
descriptive feedback for every student in a large class. It is a subjective
assessment method and teachers sometimes find also it difficult to assess,
as it is difficult to measure reliability. Furthermore, there are people who
think that portfolios cannot yield the trustworthy information that is
needed for a sound assessment of student learning.

To them the faults of the portfolio assessment are due to the lack of
standardisation, difficulty to implement for large-scale assessment and
potential for personal bias. Therefore, the main disadvantages are:

(i) Extra time needed to plan an assessment system and conduct the
assessment especially for large assessment;

(ii) The gathering of all the necessary data and work samples can make
portfolios bulky and difficult to manage;

(iii) Scoring portfolios involves extensive use of subjective evaluation

procedures such as rating scales and professional judgement, and
thus open up the assessment to the question of reliability; and

(iv) Scheduling individual portfolio conferences is difficult and the length

of each conference may interfere with other instructional activities.

7.1.6 How and when Portfolios should be Assessed?

If the purpose of the assessment is to demonstrate progress, the teacher could
make judgments about the evidence of progress and provide those judgments as
feedback to the student. The student could self-assess progress to check goals met
or not met.

The portfolio is more than just a collection of student work. The teacher may
assess and assign grades to the process of assembling and reflecting upon the
portfolio of a students work. The students might have also included reflections
on growth, on strengths and weaknesses, on goals that were or are to be set, on
why certain samples tell a certain story about them, or on why the contents
reflect sufficient progress to indicate completion of designated standards. Some
of the process skills may also be part of the teachers or schools or districts
standards. So, the portfolio provides some evidence of attainment of those
standards. Any or all of these elements can be evaluated and/or graded.

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The portfolio assignments can be assessed or graded with a rubric. Rubric is

useful in avoiding personal judgment in assessing a complex product such as a
portfolio. Clear criteria for assessment, including what must be included in the
portfolio and rubrics are vital to successful portfolio assessment. Rubric can
provide some clarity and consistency in assessing and judging the quality of the
content and the elements making up that content. Moreover, application of a
rubric increases the likelihood of consistency among the teachers who are
assessing the portfolios. Table 7.1 is a sample portfolio rubric that may be used
for self-assessment and peer feedback.

Table 7.1: Portfolio Rubric

Adapted from Digital Portfolio Rubric (https://www2.uwstout.edu/)

Criteria Unsatisfactory Emerging Proficient Exemplary Rating

Selection of The artefacts Some of the Most artefacts All artefacts
artefacts and work artefacts and and work and work
samples do work samples samples are samples are
not relate to are related to related to the clearly and
the purpose of the purpose of purpose of the directly
the portfolio. the portfolio. portfolio. related to the
purpose of the
portfolio. A
wide variety
of artefacts is
Descriptive No artefacts Some of the Most of the All artefacts
text are artefacts are artefacts are are
accompanied accompanied accompanied accompanied
by a caption by a caption by a caption by a caption
that clearly that clearly that clearly that clearly
explains the explains the explains the explains the
importance of importance of importance of importance of
the item the item the item work the item
including title, including title, including title, including title,
author, and author, and author, and author, and
date. date. date. date.

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Reflections The reflections A few of the Most of the All reflections

do not explain reflections reflections clearly explain
growth or explain explain how the
include goals growth and growth and artefacts
for continued include goals include goals demonstrate
learning. for continued for continued students
learning. learning. growth,
nts, and
include goals
for continued
The reflections A few Most of the All reflections
do not reflections reflections illustrate the
illustrate the illustrate the illustrate the ability to
ability to ability to ability to effectively
effectively effectively effectively critique work
critique work critique work critique work and provide
or provide and provide and provide suggestions
suggestions suggestions suggestions for
for for for constructive
constructive constructive constructive practical
practical practical practical alternatives.
alternatives. alternatives. alternatives.
Citations No images, Some of the Most images, All images,
media or text images, media media or text media or text
created by or texts created by created by
others are created by others are others are
cited with others are not cited with cited with
accurate, cited with accurate, accurate,
properly accurate, properly properly
formatted properly formatted formatted
citations. formatted citations. citations.

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Usability The portfolio The portfolio The portfolio The portfolio

and layout is difficult to is often is generally is easy to read.
read due to difficult to easy to read. Fonts and
inappropriate read due to Fonts and type size vary
use of fonts, inappropriate type size vary appropriately
type size for use of fonts appropriately for headings,
headings, sub- and type size for headings, sub-headings
headings and for headings, sub-headings and text.
text and font sub-headings, and text.
styles (italic, text or long
bold, paragraphs.
Many Some Use of font Use of font
formatting formatting styles (italic, styles is
tools are tools are bold, consistent and
under or over- under or over- underline) is improves
utilised and utilised and generally readability.
decrease the decrease the consistent.
reader readers'
accessibility to accessibility to
the content. the content.
Writing There are There are four There are a There are no
convention more than six or more errors few errors in errors in
errors in in grammar, grammar, grammar,
grammar, capitalisation, capitalisation, capitalisation,
capitalisation, punctuation, punctuation, punctuation,
punctuation, and spelling and spelling. and spelling.
and spelling requiring These require
requiring editing and minor editing
major editing revision. and revision.
and revision.


1. To what extent is portfolio assessment used in Malaysian


2. Do you think portfolio assessment can be used as an assessment

technique in your subject area? Explain.

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The definition of oral assessment has been widened to include the assessment
of content.

A portfolio is a purposeful collection of the works produced by students

which reflects their efforts, progress and achievements in different areas of
the curriculum.

Teachers need to know the benefits and weaknesses of portfolios and use
them to help in students learning.

The portfolio provides for continuous and ongoing assessment (i.e. formative
assessment) as well as assessment at the end of a semester or a year (i.e.
summative assessment).

As a formative assessment tool, student portfolios can be used by teachers as

informal diagnostic techniques or feedback.

The portfolio assignments can be assessed or graded with a rubric.

Artifacts Portfolio assessment

Formative assessment Rubrics
Peer evaluation Self assessment
Portfolios Summative assessment

Epstein, A. (2006). Introduction to portfolios. Synapse Learning Design.

Retrieved from http://www.teachervision.com

Paulson F. L., Paulson, P. R., & Meyer, C. (1991). What makes a portfolio a
portfolio? Educational Leadership, 48, 1, 6063.

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