Show Me Your Portfolio

By | 2016-10-29T11:37:01+00:00 August 2nd, 2011|

Do you remember the last time you went on a job interview?  Chances are, you carried a portfolio of your work along with you.  Some employers look at these with gusto (like Steve Jobs from Apple) and some just give them a passing glance.  Either way, it has become expected that you at least have a portfolio, whether digital or paper, to show the breadth and depth of your work.  Why should our students be any different?


Using portfolios as a way to assess student work has been around a long time.  However, lately we have become obsessed with more summative forms of assessment: standardized test scores, quarterly assessments, and benchmarking are all “preferable” ways of evaluating student knowledge.  Yet, these types of assessments only give you a snapshot of a student’s potential knowledge and are greatly influenced by exterior factors like student mood, prior knowledge and background, even if they ate breakfast.  How can we pretend to “know” at what level a student can achieve through a one-hour snapshot?

Here’s a tip that we share in our online course Assessment for Makers: try using a student-selected portfolio as it is a much more thorough and rich assessment of real student achievement.  These portfolios contain specified pieces of work (as outlined by the teacher through the use of a rubric) that the student chooses and collects over a given period of time.  They can be used for differentiation and inclusion and are truly a means for assessing everyone.  The teacher can then use these portfolios in a variety of ways to assess student learning:

1.) Through a conference with the student.  Teachers and students can go over the portfolios together and go through the rubric to see if students met the achievement standard.  This provides a way for students to visually see their own progress, take ownership of their work and for the teacher to get to know the student’s strengths and weaknesses through a variety of samples.

2.) Through a conference with the parents.  Teachers and parents can go over the portfolios at their quarterly conference to get a better idea of how fast/slow a student is progressing, as a comparison to the mean progression rate, and as a way for parents to visually see what kind of work their child is doing in relationship to the areas they are studying.  These portfolios can be presented by the student, or by the teacher depending on the situation.

3.) As a way to assess a project.  Throughout the project, students can keep work samples in their portfolios and have a compilation of information and assignments at the end of a project that can be measured against a rubric for achievement standards.  This is particularly helpful in an arts integration lesson when teachers are at a loss for how to assess the fine arts objectives with the content objectives.

Student portfolios are a wonderful way to assess true student knowledge and connections beyond the content.


About the Author:

Susan Riley is the founder and President of She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan
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