As an alternate assessment strategy, the portfolio provides students with the opportunity to select a progression of work to demonstrate knowledge of a topic. For example, in an English course, a student may collect essays over the series of a semester to demonstrate increased writing capability and to showcase favorite pieces of writing. In a science course, a student may keep a portfolio for the duration of an experiment, demonstrating results and tracking hypotheses.

Types of Portfolios

Although the purpose of the portfolio is to provide a means of assessing student learning and understanding, a portfolio can take on a variety of forms. The growth portfolio is used over an extended period of time as students collect samples of their work to demonstrate their understanding of concept. Additionally, focusing on end products or a demonstration of a student's best work takes place in a presentation portfolio. In this second format, the student tries to select work that best shows his learning. Finally, an evaluation portfolio demonstrates a student's work over the course of a year or semester of work, providing information about student achievement in a variety of topics.

Features of Portfolios

In addition to a compilation of a student's work, the portfolio assessment includes other items provided by both student and teacher to provide evaluation of student learning and understanding. The National Council on Measurement in Education includes student participation, guidelines for selection, criteria for evaluation and student self-evaluation as elements of portfolio assessment. Student selection of items for inclusion in a portfolio and self-evaluation contribute to the learning process as students determine value and importance of selected pieces. The criteria for both evaluation and selection provided by teachers give students clear parameters of how items will be assessed so the student can make informed decisions during the creation process.

Function of Portfolio Assessment

Using a portfolio for assessment allows the student to self-monitor her own learning, but it also gives the teacher opportunity to see growth and development in the form of one project. Additionally, the portfolio assessment can be easily shared with parents, giving teachers concrete evidence of a student's achievements and struggles. Other purposes for a portfolio assessment include use as an element of an admission package, final exams and grades, and a means for students to celebrate their own accomplishments.

Benefits of Portfolio Assessments

The portfolio assessment is a means of providing alternate assessment and provides benefits to both students and teachers as an instructional method. The portfolio allows students to earn credit for the process of learning rather than for performance on a test. The process of assembling a portfolio can also increase communication between students and teachers, as discussion can surround decisions about inclusion of items in a portfolio. Additionally, the process creates clear requirements for completion and may be an advantage for students who struggle with traditional assessments.