Malay Mail Online

What You Think

Are we really using portfolios for our educational assessment? — Azizi Ahmad

JANUARY 20 — Portfolios are a form of alternative/authentic assessment in which a student's progress is measured over a period of time in various language learning contexts.

Portfolios come in many forms, from notebooks filled with documents, notes, and graphics to online digital archives and student-created websites, and they may be used at all levels.

Portfolios can be a physical collection of student work that includes materials such as written assignments, journal entries, completed tests, artwork, lab reports, physical projects, and other material evidence of learning progress and academic accomplishment, including awards, honors, certifications, and recommendations, written evaluations by teachers or peers, and self-reflections written by students.

Online portfolios are often called digital portfolios or e-portfolios, among other terms. In some cases, blogs or online journals may be maintained by students and include ongoing reflections about learning activities, progress, and accomplishments.

Using a combination of testing instruments lends validity and reliability to the portfolio.

Clear definition of purpose is one of the most important steps in planning the uses of portfolios.

Clarity of purpose provides the foundation for determining the contents of a portfolio, how entries will be selected and how the portfolio will be evaluated.

The two primary purposes for using portfolios in the classroom are teaching and assessment.

It is critical that the relative emphasis be clarified before work begins on the construction of portfolios.

It is important to distinguish between using the portfolio for purposes of formative or summative assessment.

The formative uses are readily compatible with portfolios intended to be used primarily as teaching tools.

Summative assessment, such as grades and the award of honours, may also contribute to learning, but issues of comparability from student to student and fairness constrain the freedom with which portfolios can be constructed.

Guidelines should provide students with a sound understanding of what is expected and a reasonable basis for selecting entries.

Guidelines must be specific enough so that students know what they need and should do but not so specific that they stifle the creativity and freedom of choice that is reasonable within the constraint of the portfolios’ purpose.

Guidelines should specify the contents, types and minimum number of entries that students are expected to include.

Requirements for self-reflection and self evaluation of both entries and the portfolio as a whole should be stated in the guidelines.

Guidelines should clarify the evaluation criteria that will be used in placing entries and portfolios as a whole.

Important strengths in portfolios are the ease with which they can be integrated with classroom instruction; they value in encouraging students to develop self evaluation skills, take responsibility for their own learning and become reflective learners, and their effectiveness in communicating with parents and other audiences outside the classroom.

While weaknesses or drawbacks most cited are the portfolios are labour intensive for the teacher, requiring monitoring and providing feedback to students and those they are difficult to score reliably.

* Azizi Ahmad is an educator

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.