A portfolio is a collection of a student’s representative work in a discipline. Portfolios can be used to assess a student’s development or to evaluate the effectiveness of a program. The distinction is an important one.
When the objective is to assess the quality of students’ work, portfolios are required of all students. Students are asked to select – within certain guidelines – the work represented in the portfolio and to maintain it over one or more semesters. In this context, students are frequently asked to develop an oral presentation for their portfolios and/or an essay that critiques their choices and the development of their work.
To assess program quality, portfolios are often taken from a sample of students in a program. The contents of the portfolio are specified in advance and generally relate to questions faculty members have about the preparation students are receiving. When portfolios are used to assess programs, those in charge of the evaluation generally maintain the portfolios. Students may be interviewed about their work, or they may be asked to write essays on various topics related to their work.
Portfolio analysis represents an effective way to assess the breadth, depth, and overall richness of students' work. The downside of using portfolios involves difficulties in collecting and sorting the materials and reliably evaluating them. More information can be found in the Performance Assessment, Rubrics, and Rating Scales presentation.
Resources for developing rubrics for scoring portfolios can be found here.
(Note: Readers should not be put off by the fact that this web siteis geared toward primary and secondary schools; the principles of effective rubrics outlined here also apply to colleges and universities.)