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Portfolio Assessment

Betty Field & Ed Chandler, PVCC
Editor's note: Betty and Ed team teach MAT 235 following the Harvard Calculus model, a non-traditional method which emphasizes the introduction of concepts from three perspectives: numerically, analytically, and graphically ("the rule of three"). Students are also expected to do writing and to use technology tools, i.e., symbolic and graphics software like Maple.
Students in our Calculus with Analytic Geometry III (MAT 235) course are required to keep a portfolio of the work they produce throughout the semester. The portfolio is worth 100 points (about 20% of the final grade) and should include the following items:

The portfolios undergo a peer review and an instructor review near or at the end of each chapter. The standards for evaluating the portfolio contents include:

At the beginning of the semester, students receive the initial set of rules for preparing their portfolios. The rules and criteria for evaluation are included in the syllabus. Students are also given an additional handout with specific directions as to what is to be included in the portfolio. Students are asked to include not only homework problems or assignments, but extra things they produce which highlight their strengths and abilities. For example, they can choose to solve one extra problem from each chapter that meet our conditions: problems have to be non-trivial. If there are any doubts about the appropriateness of a problem, students are to check with us before investing time working on it.

The purposes of the writing component include:

  1. Writing does assist the learning process, "writing for learning." Writing helps clarify concepts for the students; helps the students organize, understand, make connections, clarify processes and solutions; helps the students understand the assumptions made about the solutions to problems; helps the students interpret the results of their work.
  2. Writing is an important element in the students' future academic and professional life.

Our students are also expected to plan and deliver an oral presentation covering the content for one of the chapters. All materials prepared for presentation (topic outline, visuals, handouts, etc.) must be included in the portfolio as well.

Another component of the portfolio is the comments from peer review and students' response to those comments. The concept is to give students a chance to change things, to improve them before the final grade. Students exchange portfolios before the instructors see them. Sometimes we assign the peer reviewers and sometimes we let them choose their own. The peer reviewer comments are included in the portfolio and the reviewers is graded on their comments. We examine the student work to see if s/he has responded (changed their work) as a result of the review. We believe that both students learn from the peer review process. It has been as meaningful to the reviewer as to the one being reviewed.

Portfolios are evaluated primarily on content. All students receive an evaluation sheet with written comments. If students have any questions or concerns about the comments, they are encouraged to discuss their concerns with one of the instructors. This semester we assigned a score to each section of the portfolio completed and reviewed. We did not think that was an ideal strategy since some students felt that because they had completed the section and received a score, they did not have to deal with it anymore. We tried to change that attitude by telling students that after they received feedback from us, they could still improve their work and modify their score by changing the portfolio and adding to it.

One of our motivations for incorporating portfolios into the course was to experiment with alternative assessment. We also believe that students should be able to collect their best materials and put them in a portfolio that they could carry to an employer to show. It is part of professional growth. It has been difficult, however, to make students understand the idea and to make them see the value of collecting samples of their work to show change and growth.

We were hoping that students would on a regular basis contribute to their portfolios, get feedback about the portfolio, and make improvements based on the feedback. At one point we thought that we would do very informal evaluations several times during the semester and then the final evaluation at the end of the term. We realized early on that students were not putting anything on the portfolio; they were not keeping the portfolio up-to-date, so we changed our thought process and expectations and imposed some portfolios deadline.

Portfolio is a new concept for both students and instructors. However, we still believe in the value of portfolio as an assessment tool and as a learning tool, and would do it again with third semester calculus students.

Guidelines for Test Construction


Identify knowledge, skill, or performance that has real- world application. Define the learning objectives.


Develop test items that ask learners to invoke real-world application: create, design, produce, write, evaluate, analyze, synthesize, calculate, solve.


Develop scoring criteria:

Constructing Multiple-Choice Test Item

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