Collaborating to Improve Portfolio Use

K-12 Testing

Portfolio Practices: Thinking Through the Assessment of Children's Work is an excellent addition to the literature on portfolios. The main contribution of this concise and clear book is to focus on collaboration within and across schools as essential to the development and wise use of portfolios. The book is based on research done at Harvard's Project Zero and is published by the National Education Association.


Authors Steve Seidel and Joe Walters and their associates list three principles that guided their work:


"1. Put student learning as the highest priority for assessments.


"2. Work with the whole school -- all students, all staff, and as many parents as possible.


"3. Learn about teaching and learning from looking at student work."


The first part of the book discusses many practical issues about doing portfolio assessment in a classroom. This chapter is thus a variation on common themes, such as what to keep in a portfolio depending on its planned uses.


The second part begins the discussion that makes this an important work. Chapter 2 explores how teachers can learn to use portfolios by undertaking "experiments," finding what works and does not work for them and their students and progressing at a manageable rate. The authors correctly argue that teachers must collaborate with one another if changes are to take root in classrooms, so Chapter 3 provides rich ideas and concrete guidance for structuring collaborative discussions which focus on student work, enabling teachers to learn from one another and their students' work.


Part Three considers changes at the school level. Chapter 4 explores the process of and necessity for building a common language and understanding of learning. The authors note, "Experience has shown that real progress in portfolio work is dependent on the willingness of the staff to engage collectively with the ideas behind portfolios as much as techniques for collecting or assessing them."


Chapter 5 addresses using portfolio information to assess the educational program and the distinctions between assessing individuals and programs. The authors term this dual role "bi- focal assessment," and they provide important guidance for evaluating portfolios with each of these lenses.


Developing school and district supports that will enable teachers to sustain portfolio assessment is the topic of Chapter 6. The crucial need to involve parents and inform the community is highlighted here.


Portfolio Practices is available from Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 321 Longfellow Hall, Appian Way, Cambridge, MA 02138; $16.50 + $1.65 shipping.