Student portfolios

Many teachers have found student portfolios helpful in developing language arts skills and in keeping a record of student progress. Roger Farr, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Studies and Associate Director of the ERIC/RCS Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills, Indiana University, informs us that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has plans to pilot test portfolios as a means to assess the reading and writing abilities of students.

Farr cautions, however, that using student portfolios in this way could jeopardize their usefulness as learning tools for students and teachers. Before we substitute student portfolios for national multiple choice tests, Farr advises that we review the purposes for which teachers currently use portfolios.

Portfolios enable students to examine and critique their reading and writing skills and explore their interests with their teacher. Portfolios serve as direct, up-to-date records of student literacy development. Used this way, Farr believes that portfolios have real merit. But, if portfolios are used as a product to assess student achievement, he warns, their usefulness as a teaching tool could be compromised. Portfolios could well become ‘packaged’ collections of students’ ‘best work’, material that has been reworked by student and teacher, until it no longer represents the students’ true ability and, at which point, the portfolio would no longer be a valid measure of student achievement.

Farr concludes that the greatest value of student portfolios is that they afford an opportunity for improving students’ daily work. If these work samples are to be considered products reflecting achievement rather than development, we stand to sacrifice the benefits they currently provide. He recommends that portfolios be seen as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for standardized tests.

“Setting Directions for Language Arts Portfolios” Educational Leadership Volume 48, No. 3, p. 103

Published in ERN March/April 1991 Volume 4 Number 2

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