Using Electronic Portfolios to Assess Student Growth and Mastery

Have you ever given serious consideration to the idea of having your students collect and assemble learning artifacts into a well-organized portfolio?  Perhaps the idea is intriguing because your best intuition tells you that you can better assess real learning when growth is monitored over time instead of in one short event, such as a test.  According to research, a portfolio is “A purposeful collection of student work that illustrates efforts, progress and achievement in one or more areas.” (Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer, 1991). Portfolios are practical ways to showcase learning and demonstrate mastery of concepts.  The portfolio development process (leading to showcase) is a practical way to accurately depict growth in pursuit of that mastery.  The common goal of maintaining a portfolio is to continuously develop a purposeful collection of work and create a vehicle for constructive, developmental learning.

Technology tools have matured tremendously since the early days of discussing electronic portfolios.  Schools and teachers have tried, often with limited success, to use file servers, html web pages and more to create a showcase. But the barrier-to-entry and learning curve often made any attempt not worthwhile.  New tools, including those provided to all Texas educators through Project Share, have removed almost all of the hurdles and road blocks to successful and enjoyable e-portfolio development.

Ponder the major learning benefits for your students….

  • E-portfolios are effective in helping students become critical thinkers and aiding in the development of their writing and multimedia communication skills
  • E-portfolios help students become more technology literate
  • E-portfolios develop critical thinking skills and challenges learners to make connections among peers, professionals and learning experiences and to real-world applications

Categorize student e-portfolios into two categories: Formative/Learning portfolios and Summative/Showcase portfolios.  Formative/Learning portfolios:

  • Are intended to personalize learning experiences and provide a vehicle for collaboration, communication, and review by peers and professionals
  • Provide teachers with evidence of learning over time
  • Allow learning patterns to emerge which allow for the creation of personalized learning plans
  • Form the foundation for artifacts that will eventually end up on display in the Summative/Showcase portfolio.

Summative/Showcase portfolios:

  • Are organized after the work is completed over time, cleaned up and professional – removes elements not of interest to a non-participating reviewer
  • Provide opportunity to share authentic examples of work that represents more than grades
  • Work as a tool to focus interests and strengths on career goals and markets skills and characteristics specific to the target market and audience

As you consider how to begin an e-portfolio initiative, remember these important cues:

  • Students should organize and classify work into universally important abilities, such as communication, decision making, global perspective and aesthetic engagement.  Don’t be tempted to organize by unit title or other narrow topics.  You will need to think about your assignments and which major concepts they address.
  • Utilize rubrics to guide the learning along a path of increasing performance and quality.
  • Work with students to define both academic and personal goals for a long range showcase.  Coach them in understanding that the audience for their portfolio will evolve over the years.
  • Younger students will need much more structure and direct instruction than high school aged students.  Senior portfolios should be extremely self-directed.
  • Provide encouragement and opportunity for students to include artifacts from activities in enrichment areas and outside of school that fit their goals.

Finally, and most important of all, consider the sharing and reflecting components of e-portfolios as absolutely critical to the process.  This is likely the place of most discomfort and hesitation.  It is too often and easily skipped.  However, student work should be reviewed and constructively commented on by (as appropriate) teachers, peers, community, professionals, parents, and more.  Furthermore, the most essential step of all is the student self-reflection on selected artifacts.  For each included work, students need to write a personal narrative concerning the what, why, and how of the work as well as thoughts, comments and feelings about the level of learning, needs for improvement, pride in achievement and remaining questions.

There is still a list of critical questions for district IT, classroom practitioners and administrators that need attention for success.  Additionally, selecting the appropriate electronic platform can make or break a successful e-portfolio initiative.  Teachers are encouraged to learn the process of e-portfolio development by learning to create and maintain a simple professional e-portfolio for reflective practice and as a model for learners.  To assist with these needs, Region XIII offers targeted support services to ensure you have the technical and pedagogical knowledge that will empower you to succeed with e-Portfolios.  To discuss what we can do for you, send an e-mail to

Hebert, E. The Power of Portfolios: What
Children Can Teach Us About Learning and
Assessment. San Francisco: Jossey Bass,
Rolheiser, C., Bower, B., & Stevahn, L. The
Portfolio Organizer: Succeeding with Portfolios
in Your Classroom. Alexandria VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development, 2000

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