Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio approaches to assessing literacy have been described in a wide variety of publications (Flood & Lapp, 1989; Lamme & Hysmith, 1991; Matthews, 1990; Tierney, Carter, & Desai, 1991; Valencia, 1990; Wolf, 1989) so that many descriptions of portfolios exist. Generally speaking, a literacy portfolio is a systematic collection of a variety of teacher observations and student products, collected over time, that reflect a student's developmental status and progress made in literacy.

Instructional Outcomes

A portfolio is not a random collection of observations or student products; it is systematic in that the observations that are noted and the student products that are included relate to major instructional goals. For example, book logs that are kept by students over the year can serve as a reflection of the degree to which students are building positive attitudes and habits with respect to reading. A series of comprehension measures will reflect the extent to which a student can construct meaning from text. Developing positive attitudes and habits and increasing the ability to construct meaning are often seen as major goals for a reading program.

Multiple Products Collected over Time

Portfolios are multifaceted and begin to reflect the complex nature of reading and writing. Because they are collected over time, they can serve as a record of growth and progress. By asking students to construct meaning from books and other selections that are designed for use at various grade levels, a student's level of development can be assessed. Teachers are encouraged to set standards or expectations in order to then determine a student's developmental level in relation to those standards (Lamme & Hysmith, 1991).

Variety of Materials

Portfolios can consist of a wide variety of materials: teacher notes, teacher-completed checklists, student self- reflections, reading logs, sample journal pages, written summaries, audiotapes of retellings or oral readings, videotapes of group projects, and so forth (Valencia, 1990). All of these items are not used all of the time.

Student Involvement

An important dimension of portfolio assessment is that it should actively involve the students in the process of assessment (Tierney, Carter, & Desai, 1991).

Effective Means of Evaluating Reading and Writing

There are many ways in which portfolios have proven effective. They provide teachers with a wealth of information upon which to base instructional decisions and from which to evaluate student progress (Gomez, Grau, & Block, 1991). They are also an effective means of communicating students' developmental status and progress in reading and writing to parents (Flood & Lapp, 1989). Teachers can use their record of observations and the collection of student work to support the conclusions they draw when reporting to parents. Portfolios can also serve to motivate students and promote student self-assessment and self-understanding (Frazier & Paulson, 1992).

Linn, Baker, and Dunbar (1991) indicate that major dimensions of an expanded concept of validity are consequences, fairness, transfer and generalizability, cognitive complexity, content quality, content coverage, meaningfulness, and cost efficiency. Portfolios are an especially promising approach to addressing all of these criteria.

Brings Assessment in Line with Instruction

Portfolios are an effective way to bring assessment into harmony with instructional goals. Portfolios can be thought of as a form of "embedded assessment"; that is, the assessment tasks are a part of instruction. Teachers determine important instructional goals and how they might be achieved. Through observation during instruction and collecting some of the artifacts of instruction, assessment flows directly from the instruction (Shavelson, 1992).

Portfolios can contextualize and provide a basis for challenging formal test results based on testing that is not authentic or reliable. All too often students are judged on the basis of a single test score from a test of questionable worth (Darling-Hammong & Wise, 1985; Haney & Madaus, 1989). Student performance on such tests can show day-to-day variation. However, such scores diminish in importance when contrasted with the multiple measures of reading and writing that are part of a literacy portfolio.

Valid Measures of Literacy

Portfolios are extremely valid measures of literacy. A new and exciting approach to validity, known as consequential validity, maintains that a major determinant of the validity of an assessment measure is the consequence that the measure has upon the student, the instruction, and the curriculum (Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991). There is evidence that portfolios inform students, as well as teachers and parents, and that the results can be used to improve instruction, another major dimension of good assessment (Gomez, Grau, & Block, 1991).
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