Worth Checking Out: Systematic Portfolio Assessment? ACT’s New Plan

Many Essential schools committed to portfolio assessment struggle to create and maintain consistent ways to collect, select, organize, assess, and follow student work in that manner. If they could, they might use portfolios as valid and reliable evidence of student learning over time, even substituting that documentation for standardized multiple-choice tests. A source of help has emerged, ironically, from American College Testing (ACT), in its new large-scale portfolio assessment system in three high school areas: English language arts, mathematics, and science. (Social studies and an interdisciplinary category are in a pilot stage.)

The program, known as Passport, includes professional development (in school and off-site), outside validation of teachers’ assessments, thoughtful but flexible performance tasks that adapt easily to a school’s curricular priorities and course descriptions, scoring rubrics tied to well-regarded national standards in each field, exemplars and “anchor papers” showing student work at different levels, narrative-style assessments, and an “improvement summary” that tracks a student’s progress over the high school years. To make collecting and organizing portfolios simpler and more consistent, Passport also provides the actual entry folders, checklists, cover sheets, and portfolio envelopes that students use throughout the year. Costs depend on what services schools use; a school with 400 students and 20 teachers that used the system in all three curriculum areas would end up paying about $22 per student, assuming teachers scored most portfolios on site and sent only 10 percent to ACT for validation.

Passport divides each subject area into ten or more categories of work, of which teachers choose five to include in the portfolio each year. For Essential school teachers who create their own curriculum, the method can help in aligning their assignments with a set of chosen learning goals. And because teachers can either use suggested assignments, adapt them, or create their own, the categories are highly adaptable to any level or particular course choices. For example:

In Language Arts
* Business and Technical Writing
* Explanation, Analysis, Evaluation
* Persuasive Writing
* Poetry
* Relating a Personal Experience
* Research and Investigative Writing
* Response to a Literary Text
* Short Story/Drama
* Writing about Uses of Language
* Writing a Review of the Arts or Media

In Mathematics
* Analyzing Data
* Another Class
* Challenging Problem
* Collecting and Analyzing Data
* Comparing Notions
* Connections
* Consumer Beware
* From Your Own Experience
* Logical Argument
* Multiple Methods
* Technology

In Science
* Literature Review and Evaluation
* Historical Perspective
* Societal Context of Science
* Applications
* Integrating Sciences
* Evaluating Scientific Claims
* Laboratory Observation
* Laboratory Experiment
* Design a Study
* Design and Perform a Study

It can take years of protracted and painful experiments for a school to develop a coherent system of reliable portfolio assessment, to say nothing of the school culture that can support it. If a school can agree that it wants to try, in one area or across the board, Passport offers a leg up on the more time-consuming aspects of the task, as well as providing the outside support many teachers will need.

For more information, contact Passport at ACT, P.O. Box 168, Iowa City, Iowa 52244- 9946; tel.  800-498-6480  800-498-6480 ; e-mail donovan@act.org; Web address: www.act.org.