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Information about Education Student Portfolios

Dr. Bob Kizlik

It seems as though the use of portfolios as an alternate means of assessment (sometimes called authentic assessment) has taken firm root in education. Often times, some "new" idea gets implemented simply because it is novel, or more often, because there are funds available for doing so. Although portfolios are hardly a new idea, their putative benefits are highly touted, and often times those who question their validity are thought to be "old-fashioned," or even obstructionists. But like them or not, portfolios are likely to be around for awhile. The ADPRIMA site offers the following commentary:

Portfolios are intended to provide a sample of a wide range of student work that is ancillary to other indices of achievement, such as objective and subjective examinations, performance tests, demonstrations, writings, and projects. Students in colleges of education are being required to prepare portfolios that demonstrate their abilities to collect, organize, and assemble a number of documents, pictures, and writings. The contents of a portfolio are intended to provide information about the student, ostensibly for the purpose of making decisions relative to the student's competence. Portfolios are also thought to be an efficient way for students to organize materials and samples of their work that could be useful in obtaining employment.

In schools and colleges of education, one can always tell when the end of a semester is near. The evidence is that most education students can be seen carrying around three inch notebooks with pretty covers. The notebooks are jammed with clear plastic inserts containing whatever information they are required to have. The students are told the portfolios are a good way to keep their education records and accomplishments up-to date, and they certainly represent a good deal of work on their part. What actually happens to the portfolios once they are turned in to the professors is anyone's guess. Estimating (and this is being generous) that the average portfolio contains about 30 pages, and that there is an average of 30 students in an education class, it means that a professor has to look at a minimum of 900 pages per class. If the professor is teaching three such classes, it means looking at and appraising at least 2700 pages of student information at the end of the semester! How long does a professor spend on each page, on the average? Let's say 30 seconds. That means, just looking at the pages will require about 22 hours. Whew!!! That is a heavy load, because there are still final examinations to grade, other papers to grade, projects to examine, and so on. No wonder education professors look so haggard at the end of the term!

A couple of things seem evident about portfolios that bear further comment. First, there is no reliable way to ascertain, without a lot of extra work, whether the information (documents, pictures, samples of student work, etc.) contained in a portfolio was actually created by the student. From personal experience, I have spoken to numerous students who confide that much of the content of their portfolios is simply rewritten based on other students' portfolios that received high grades. The Internet also provides fertile ground for obtaining information to be placed in one's portfolio. For example, samples of lesson plans are almost always required in an education student's portfolio. All a student has to do is either rewrite someone else's successful lesson plan, or download one from the thousands available on the Internet. Professors can guard against this by requiring certain, specific information in the lesson plans, but still the possibility exists that any given lesson plan contained in a portfolio was originally created by someone other than the student whose name appears on the cover.

Another concern about portfolios is that taken as a whole, feedback about the final product is delayed. Outside of colleges of education, in everyday classroom use, parents have commented that it is only after their child's portfolio has been completed that they are able to actually see what the child did during the marking period. Of course, making changes in procedures can help provide appropriate feedback to students as they are completing specific assignments. Such changes, if necessary, require additional work on the part of teachers, many of whom feel they already have enough to do.

Here is a link to a very good source of information about portfolios.

Do you have a reaction to all of this? If so, please go to the Discussion Section of the ADPRIMA site and post it. After all, it is only when educators get a dialog going that important insights and ideas are exchanged. If you have a paper that addresses portfolios, please let me know, and if appropriate, it will be included in the Papers and Commentary Section of the ADPRIMA site.

"Anything not understood in more than one way is not understood at all."

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