George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Power of Portfolios: A Positive Practice

Portfolios can help students aim high.
Edutopia Team
Related Tags: Assessment, 9-12 High School
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The limitations of multiple-choice tests are apparent in subjects such as writing, music, and visual arts -- a good test score indicates very little about a student's ability to analyze or create an essay, a musical composition, or a work of art.

The best way to assess a person's abilities and understanding in these fields is to review samples of their work. That is why professionals in these fields compile portfolios, and it is also why portfolios are now used in all of Pittsburgh's secondary schools to assess student learning in writing, music, and visual arts.

Each of the district's 18,900 sixth through twelfth graders compile portfolios containing a history of their learning on selected projects. The portfolios contain a range of work, such as initial sketches, early and final drafts, and self- and peer-assessments. The work collected in the portfolios is used as a source of instruction.

Teachers used samples of student work to develop models of excellence along a six-point scale. At annual districtwide portfolio audits, portfolio samples are evaluated by teachers and administrators from different schools, as well as by community members. As a result, score reliability has been very high.

The emphasis on meaningful tasks, self-reflection, and self-assessment are natural outgrowths of portfolios. "Student reflection opened the door to what was missing in my experience and my knowledge as a writing teacher," says Kathy Howard, a Pittsburgh teacher. "There is a shift in the power base from teacher to students. Students start looking at models of good writing and setting their own criteria and standards for good work."

Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

ANgie Franklin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I happen to think that portfolios are wonderful usages to grade an indiviual on their growth. Over the years, I've compiled several portfolios and go back from time to time to see what I accomplished.

Carime's picture
3rd grade teacher from Minnesota

I think portfolios are an excellent way for students to assess their work and improve on it. Providing examples of high standard work can be valuable too. It is motivating for most students to do better when they assess on how they are currently doing or did in the past.

Bob Thomas's picture
Bob Thomas
9-12 grade Welding Instructor

A digital photo and document portfolio is the best teaching tool I've used in 28 years of teaching. New HQ photography allows students' progress to be saved in an electronic file that can be used for employment job applications years later. The portfolio contains a resume', safety tests, photos of work on various machinery, close up photos of work samples, projects, professionalism, and visual proof of "Standards" that are completed. Also included are work that displays Common Core and other "Integration" practices.

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