Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Examining the Quality of the Evidence in Preservice Teacher Portfolios

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Examining the Quality of the Evidence in Preservice Teacher Portfolios

Article excerpt

National organizations have been working together in an effort to reform schools, curriculum, and teaching. The standards-based reform has yielded sets of professional teaching standards on the basis of which systems of assessment are being designed for the purpose of granting teaching licenses and certificates. In this reform movement, undertaken by a coalition of national organizations (e.g., INTASC, NBPTS, NCATE, and AACTE (1)), portfolios seem to be considered a preferred method of assessment for making decisions about teaching. Their use or proposed use by the INTASC and NBPTS for beginning teacher licensure and experienced teacher certification, and by NCATE as an indicator of performance for program accreditation, make portfolios a highly visible and high-stakes form of assessment. In light of these developments, many teacher education programs have required prospective teachers to develop portfolios to prepare them for the licensure or relicensure portfolio assessment systems that are in place or are being considered for implementation.

In this study, we examine the quality of the evidence represented in preservice student portfolios and the inferences drawn from them by addressing the following three specific questions: (a) For what purpose(s) are portfolios used in teacher education programs? (b) How is teaching represented, and what is the quality of the evidence reflected in the construction and assessment of the portfolios? and (c) What inferences are drawn from these portfolios? The study is based on three teacher education programs in which students develop portfolios in preparation for initial licensure. Program guidelines, portfolios, and other assessment materials were analyzed, and interviews were conducted with students and faculty members. In addition, students were surveyed and focus groups were organized with selected students. These data constitute the evidential basis for the study, which was conducted during the 1999 to 2000 academic year in three midwestern universities.


The study questions that we pose here cut across two areas of research that are used as a framework for our investigation. First, representations of teaching and teachers have been shaped in the course of this century by different societal and political forces (e.g., a traditional emphasis on the transmission of culture vs. the creation of new knowledge or an emphasis on the transformation of society) and by research on teaching and learning. Several teacher education paradigms (Zeichner, 1983, 1993) have emerged in different historical contexts. For instance, Zeichner (1993) distinguished the following four, traditions of preservice teacher education practice in the United States:

  (1) an academic tradition, which emphasizes teachers' knowledge of subject
   matter and general education, (2) a social efficiency tradition, which
   emphasizes teachers' abilities to apply a "knowledge base" about teaching
   that has been generated through research on teaching [decomposition of
   teaching in its component parts, competencies, and so forth], (3) a
   developmentalist tradition, which stresses teachers' abilities to base
   their instruction on the direct knowledge of their students' current
   understanding of the content under study, and their developmental readiness
   for and/or interest in particular activities [student-centered,
   multicultural concerns], and (4) a social reconstructionist tradition,
   which emphasizes teachers' abilities to see the social and political
   implications of their actions and the social contexts in which they are
   carried out for their contribution to greater justice, equality, and more
   humane conditions in schooling and society. (p. 7)

These traditions are not uniform, they overlap and contain contradictions and tensions, but the principles that underlie them are helpful in analyzing the implications of the current reform for teacher education and teaching in general. …

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