Introduction to Portfolios

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Portfolios are very popular these days. Even in a time when calls for higher standards and tougher testing are louder than ever, many schools are doing portfolios – or at least talking about doing them. So what are portfolios? Aren't they for students who want to go to art school? Don't they have something to do with stocks? And besides, if all you need are good grades and test scores to get into college, why even bother?

Well, if you believe that students at all levels should be doing more than studying for tests; if you believe that teachers should be doing more than teaching to tests; if you believe that students should take a more active role in the learning process; and, if you believe in catering to a wider variety of learners while maintaining high standards, then portfolio assessment is an idea worth exploring.

Portfolio assessment programs have been implemented on many levels, from the individual classroom to state wide. They represent a profound shift in attitudes about the role of evaluation in education. Teachers who use this strategy in their classrooms have shifted their emphasis away from comparisons of achievement (grades, percentile rankings, test scores) and toward improving student achievement through evaluative feedback and self-reflection.

The challenge is designing a portfolio program that works, one that truly impacts teaching and learning in such a way that ultimately transforms the static, mechanical, disengaging moments when learning stops and testing begins into a continuum of moments combining assessment, instruction, and learning. This is the promise of an effective portfolio assessment program. No doubt it takes time, but in almost every case, it is time well spent.

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