A portfolio is a selection of documents, work, papers and tests compiled over a period of time, which is used for assessing performance and progress.
This concept of student learning in elementary and secondary school is well documented. Arter (1990) sums it up concisely in this definition - "a portfolio is a purposeful collection of a student's work that tells a story of a student's efforts, progress or achievement. It must include student participation in the selection of portfolio content, criteria for selection, criteria for judging merit and evidence of student self-reflection."
Portfolio assessment enables teachers to continually assess the student's progress with regard to the learning processes used by the teachers and the output by the students. Pierce & O'Malley (1992) believe that this form of assessment allows students to use their higher-order thinking skills and create a collaborative approach to assessment, enabling teachers and students to interact in the teaching and learning process.
According to Taylor (1994), the collation of work produced over a period of time demonstrates the student's performance, progress, achievement, experience, knowledge and skills acquired. The assessment element compares the work accomplished relative to specific instructional goals set by the teacher. The collated work should represent a record of a variety of modes of learning the student has been taught, showing the depth, breadth and development of their competence.
Teachers can use portfolios as a source of information to make decisions regarding a student's progress and program evaluation to document their growth. Ohlhausen and Ford (1990) propose that portfolios can also be used as a means of reflection and self-evaluation for the student. The collection of work should provide teachers, parents and the student a comprehensive illustration of the student's abilities over a long period of time.
Portfolios act as a vehicle for connecting prior and present learning. The student's awareness of benchmarks of their learning is a central concept of portfolio, which can be facilitated in conversion with the teacher. Knowing which tasks are easy and difficult give the student valuable information toward self-understanding as a learner.
Danielson and Abrutyn (1997) suggest that portfolios can achieve the goals of authentic assessment, in respect of engaging students in learning content, skills of reflection and self-evaluation and document student learning. Portfolios allow students to take responsibility for their learning and solve problems independently. They also provide teachers the opportunity to consider different sources of data when assessing student progress, and gain a more complete picture of the student's strengths and learning needs.
Use of electronic or digital portfolios for authentic student assessment offers a number of benefits over traditional paper-based portfolios. These advantages include portability from one institution or application, to another, wider accessibility, and reusability of artifacts. The ability to create multiple portfolios is another distinct advantage.
A study by Meadows and Dyal (1999) reveals that students strongly agree portfolio assessment measures academic performance more adequately that traditional comprehensive examination process. It examines performance but also provides authentic appraisal of student performance, enables a student to exhibit examples of achievement and gives a reflection on their work. Advocates of portfolio assessment argue that proper use can lead students to master a broad range of material. The portfolio is a collection of key pieces that provide evidence in important areas of learning. These may vary with differing curriculum and degree of learning.
Critics of portfolio assessment like the emphasis on demonstrated writing skills but argue that there is a lack of traditional tests of factual recall. Advocates of standardized testing propose that portfolio assessments are slow and cumbersome. They also suggest external assessment is based on subjectivity and unreliability. Holland highlights the issue of cheating, as scorers have no way to tell if the samples of work originate from the student, other person or Internet download.
Portfolio assessments have been adopted within many teacher education institutions for prospective teaching candidates. In some education establishments, portfolios are also incorporated into the structure of teacher performance appraisals. They can be used to evaluate leadership skills and accomplishments.
It is suggested that the use of this type of assessment could provide a more accurate and authentic assessment of candidate's knowledge, abilities, competencies, experiences, ultimately determining their potential of success in the field of educational leadership. Examples of components of a prospective educational leader may include a current resume, credentials, transcripts and diplomas, references, personal education platform, artifacts and evidence of leadership potential, indicators of professional success.