Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 14/14.7.1

Portfolios: An Alternative Assessment
by Heather Alderman
Learning Targets
Upon completion, the reader should understand the following:
   • The definition and purpose of portfolios
   • Who and what is involved in the implementation process of portfolios 
   • The advantages of electronic portfolios
   • The disadvantages of portfolios 



Educators are becoming more and more frustrated with the pressures of standardized tests and how they are used as a method of assessment. Teachers must center their instruction around these standards because they are accountable for their students’ preparation of these tests (Blackbourn et al., 2004). In the end, are standardized tests truly a justified method of measuring each student’s progress? Are there alternative approaches to assess those students who do not perform well on tests?

Portfolio-based assessment was designed as an evaluation that centers around each individual student (Blackbourn et al., 2004). The definition of a portfolio is a collection of a student’s work over a period of time. They are used as a performance-based assessment tool to demonstrate what the student is learning and to track their progress (Abrenica). They also allow the student to reflect on his or her strengths and weaknesses and then apply these skills to improve their performance (Valdez, 2001). Let’s take a more in-depth look at the structure, evaluation, and pros and cons of portfolio assessment.

Portfolio Implementation


Implementing a portfolio uses a constructivist approach because it “deeply involves the students in the task assigned to them” (Valdez, 2001, p. 1) Portfolios should be designed by both the teacher and student. Specific goals and objectives need to be set to not only reflect the teacher’s standards, but the interests and learning styles of the student (Blackbourn et al., 2004). Portfolios should not only be a collection of test results, journal entries, and homework. They should also include written reflections to accompany each entry that demonstrate the student’s knowledge, skills, and application of what they have learned (Valdez, 2001).

Electronic Portfolios


Portfolio assessment began by collecting student work samples and organizing them in folders or binders so that the teacher, students, and parents could monitor student progress. Oftentimes these portfolios can become bulky and begin to take up space. There is also the problem with documents that are too large to be kept in a folder or binder (Abrenica).

Because of the digital age we are living in, electronic portfolios, or e-folios, have proven to be more popular and practical. Information and documents can easily be scanned and stored on a computer hard drive, floppy disk, CD, DVD, or any other storage media. This method takes up much less space and can be easily accessed. An electronic portfolio provides endless possibilities, which include voice recordings of a student reading, video recordings of student presentations, and pictures taken from a Science Fair awards presentation.

Once the portfolio entries have been chosen and organized, the electronic portfolio can be presented as a slideshow or uploaded as a website. This is where creating a portfolio becomes an active learning strategy because the students are encouraged to use their creativity (Valdez, 2001). The electronic portfolios can be enhanced with sound clips, music, graphics, and pictures, thus making it more appealing to those viewing the presentation.

Creating a portfolio is an active learning strategy where students are encouraged to use their creativity. -Penelope Valdez

An electronic portfolio not only encourages students to use their creativity, but also enhances their computer and technology skills. Students will be introduced to the use of computers, scanners, digital cameras, multimedia software programs, and web authoring programs. In the end, students will “feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment by displaying, sharing and presenting their electronic portfolios to teachers, fellow classmates and parents” (Abrenica, p. 1).

Sample Electronic Portfolios These electronic portfolio examples provide entries from all subject areas on the elementary level. These are excellent examples of different types of media. Each student created their own personal website that reflects their personality. While I thought these were creatively and visually excellent electronic portfolio examples, I was disappointed that not every entry provided a personal written reflection from the student. I think a written reflection should be a requirement for every portfolio entry so that the students can analyze and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses.

Portfolio Assessment Example


Penelope Valdez is a seventh grade science teacher in Los Angeles, California. She requires her students to turn in monthly portfolio entries so that by the end of the school year they will have a total of ten entries in their portfolio. Her students may choose any of the topics covered during the given month and do the following:

“State and explain in detail what concept they have learned. Students should write this section in their own words, and it should be about a page long. Statements should always begin with “I learned that . . . ” or “I learned how to . . .” Some examples include: I learned that high blood pressure afflicts African Americans more than people from other ethnic backgrounds; I learned that HIV is called a genetic disease, not because it is a disease transmitted by inheritance, but because it is a disease that afflicts DNA, which is the building blocks of our genes; or I learned how to use, handle, care, and store microscopes properly. . Create a product applying the concept they have learned with the purpose of presenting the science concept in an easy-to-understand way. For example, students could make a family tree showing incidence of high blood pressure among relatives or have someone take photographs of the student properly using, caring for, and storing a microscope; and evaluate, judge, and critique a popular magazine article, print or TV advertisement, or overheard quote from the news or media. They must base their evaluations on the concepts learned, determine if the science in their selection is accurate or not, and explain their appraisal. (Valdez, 2001, p. 2)”

Ms. Valdez is able to easily assign grades by basing her evaluation on the outline of what needs to be included in each entry. Figure I illustrates a sample of her scoring guide. For the first part she looks for “accuracy of the concept written about and makes sure the explanation of the concept is written in the student’s own words. The extent and depth of any extra research is also considered. For the second part of the entry, the level of originality and creativity is evaluated. For the third part, I look for originality in the student’s choice of an article or other media example, while also evaluating the role science plays in the student’s choice and the soundness of the student’s critique of the piece. (Valdez, 2001, p. 2)”

Disadvantages of Portfolios


While portfolios are beneficial to both the teacher and students by having a positive effect on student learning, there are some disadvantages. A large amount of a teacher’s time is consumed to plan, organize, and grade each portfolio. Penelope Valdez states that she often finds herself spending as much as ten minutes grading each portfolio entry and writing comments on how the students can improve their entries (Valdez, 2001). There is also another time issue if the students are not used to using computers and technology. They must learn to use and manipulate digital media in order to complete their portfolio (Abrenica). This certainly takes time away from instruction in the classroom.



Portfolio-based assessment offers an alternative to traditional, standardized testing. They allow the students to demonstrate their own skills of what they have learned rather than specific skills determined by test constructors (Blackbourn et al., 2004). Although portfolios are a lot of work and take longer to evaluate than a test, results reveal that portfolio assessment is well worth the investment.



1. Because it involves the students in what they are assigned, what type of approach do portfolios implement?

(A) Constructivism

(B) Existentialism

(C) Perennialism

(D) Progressivism

2. Which of the following is NOT considered an advantage of portfolio assessment?

(A) They allow students to feel a sense of accomplishment and ownership

(B) They are time consuming

(C) They encourage students to use their creativity

(D) They enhance computer and technology skills

3. Ryan wants to use his history presentation as an entry in his electronic portfolio. Which of the following would be the least effective way to electronically showcase his presentation?

(A) Scan his notes

(B) Scan his visual aids

(C) Upload a video of his presentation

(D) Upload pictures of the presentation

4. Sarah must write a reflection to accompany her portfolio entry about the HIV disease. Which of the following would be the best written reflection?

(A) HIV is a disease that can be inherited from our parents.

(B) HIV is called a genetic disease, not because it is a disease transmitted by inheritance, but because it is a disease that afflicts DNA, which is the building blocks of our genes.

(C) I learned about HIV in science class.

(D) I learned that HIV is called a genetic disease, not because it is a disease transmitted by inheritance, but because it is a disease that afflicts DNA, which is the building blocks of our genes.



Abrenica, Y. (n.d.) Electronic Portfolios Retrieved March 20, 2009 from

Blackbourn, J.M., Thomas, C., Britt, P., Blackbourn, R., Papason, B., Tyler, J.L., et al. (2004) Portfolio Assessment: A Guide For Teachers And Administrators [Electronic version]. National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal, 23 (4E) 1-8.

Valdez, P.S. (2001) Alternative Assessment Retrieved March 20, 2009 from



1. (A) 2. (B) 3. (A) 4. (D)

Reader ResponseTbandy001 (talk) 21:30, 16 April 2009 (UTC) I appreciated this article. I had no clue what portfolio assessment was before I read this article, but I'm glad I did because it sounds effective. You did a good job at explaining what a portfolio assessment was and how it works. You provided clear examples as well. You showed your audience how it could be effective if implemented.

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