Assessment in Mathematics Assessment Logo

Assessment Strategies and Tools: Portfolios

A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work samples, student self-assessments and goal statements that reflect student progress. Students generally choose the work samples to place in the portfolio, but the teacher may also recommend that specific work samples be included. Portfolios are powerful tools that allow students to see their academic progress from grade to grade.

The physical structure of a portfolio refers to the actual arrangement of the work samples, which can be organized according to chronology, subject area, style or goal area. The conceptual structure refers to the teacher's goals for student learning. For example, the teacher may have students complete a self-assessment on a work sample and then set a goal for future learning. The work sample self‑assessment and the goal sheet may be added to the portfolio.

Work samples from all curricular areas can be selected and placed in a portfolio. These can include stories, tests and reflections about work samples.

Effective portfolios:

  • are updated regularly to keep them as current and complete as possible
  • help students examine their progress
  • help students develop a positive self-concept as learners
  • are shared with parents or guardians
  • are a planned, organized collection of student-selected work
  • tell detailed stories about a variety of student outcomes that would otherwise be difficult to document
  • include self-assessments that describe the student as both a learner and an individual
  • serve as a guide for future learning by illustrating a student's present level of achievement
  • include a selection of items that are representative of curriculum outcomes, and what the student knows and can do
  • include the criteria against which the student work was evaluated
  • support the assessment, evaluation and communication of student learning
  • document learning in a variety of ways—process, product, growth and achievement
  • include a variety of works—audio recordings, video recordings, photographs, graphic organizers, first drafts, journals and assignments that feature work from all of the multiple intelligences.

Work samples not only provide reliable information about student achievement of the curriculum, but also provide students with context for assessing their own work and setting meaningful goals for learning. Displaying concrete samples of student work and sharing assessments that illustrate grade level expectations of the outcomes are key to winning the confidence and support of parents.

Encourage students to provide evidence of their learning in their work products. Have students include evidence of their learning, such as graphic organizers, journals, solved problems that were challenging, problems that have been solved in multiple ways, problems that the student has extended. Have them state where they see evidence of strong product or performance. Periodically have students select a number of pieces of work that they have analyzed for evidence of understanding and include these work products in a portfolio that provides evidence of their learning over time.

An essential requirement of portfolios is that students include written reflections that explain why each sample was selected. The power of the portfolio is derived from the descriptions, reactions and metacognitive reflections that help students achieve their goals. Conferencing with parents, peers and/or teachers helps synthesize learning and celebrate successes. Some students become adept at writing descriptions and personal reflections of their work without any prompts. For students who have difficulty deciding what to write, sentence starters might be useful.