Thursday, April 13, 2006

eMails about ePortfolios

I continue to receive e-mails about electronic portfolios from around the world. From England, an educator inquired about the differences in terminology between the UK and US. He commented: "All sides seem to want something different...with your experience of international standards and ePortfolios do you think the definition of an "ePortfolio" is the same across the world?" I responded with the following comments:
I find that a lot of people use the term "eportfolio" and they mean many different things. I have blogged about this issue on many occasions. Many institutions see portfolios as "bean counting" for accountability purposes, especially here in the U.S. Why can't educated professionals keep the assessment management system (bean-counting) functions separate from the reflective storytelling (deep learning) functions of portfolios? Perhaps because the latter is less understood or experienced in our education system... hopefully not less valued. I often assert that the assessment/content management systems have lost the heart and soul of portfolios.
Another K-12 educator was involved in a process of developing a school reform model focusing on the portfolio process at the elementary level. She noted that the majority of the research for the K-12 setting was conducted in the 90's with the focus today on the college level. She asked my opinion on why there hasn't been much research conducted at the K-12 level since the 90's. Do I think portfolios have fallen out of favor in K-12 education, or is it because the large organizations such as NWEA were wanting to use them for large-scale assessment and we haven't yet made the shift back to the classroom and student growth? My response:
You are correct that most of the effort today is in higher education, for a variety of reasons, but for a lot of teacher education programs electronic portfolios are related to gathering information for accreditation...

In my opinion, the No Child Left Behind legislation took the wind out of the sails of portfolios in K-12 schools. So much effort has been put into helping schools meet the testing mandates and "adequate yearly progress" as defined by testing, that there isn't a lot of attention being paid to portfolios, nor enough time left in the curriculum.

Another issue we have is the type of assessment. If you are familiar with the work of Rick Stiggins and the ATI, you know that he focuses on Assessment FOR Learning, rather than Assessment OF Learning, which is most of the focus of large scale assessment. I recently wrote a couple of papers on my website about the differences between portfolios used for these two different types of assessment. My REFLECT White Paper addresses those issues.

So those are the issues in K-12 schools. I'm not sure electronic portfolios will work well in elementary schools until we get systems that are BOTH easy to use and allow student creativity in presentation, something that doesn't exist today. I've often said that e-portfolios will only happen if elementary teachers have partners in the process, either parent involvement or older students to assist the younger students to digitize their work, and to upload it to a program.

I guess my question to you really focuses on WHY you want to implement portfolios in elementary schools. If it is to support student learning more about themselves through a reflective process, I am 110% behind you. But if it is for large scale assessment, for purposes of reporting to external audiences (primarily administrators, politicians and the general public), or quantified just like traditional testing, then I am not as supportive. I think high stakes accountability is killing portfolios for learning. I also think teacher education programs who are only creating accountability portfolios are "poisoning the well" by turning off a whole generation of teacher candidates to using portfolios with their own students. I have anecdotal evidence that students who create these Teacher Ed portfolios don't know how to create learning portfolios with their own students. That tells me that there is no authenticity in the accreditation/accountability portfolio process.


Tahmi said...

Ms. Barrett,
I am extremely interested in your e-portfolio studies and your book. I recently facilitated an Assessment For Learning course thru our Blackboard. Many of our staff members want to learn more about Assessment For Learning, and I see the e-portfolio as a perfect match. Our district technology committee identified portfolios as a goal for all of your students. You seem the perfect source. Ever been to Okinawa? We are a Department of Defense school system. (budget cuts are hitting big time..but maybe we can swing something) I will be in Anchorage this summer and would love to learn from you to help my students.
Tahmi Keir 7th Grade World Geography Okinawa, Japan

Helen Barrett said...

Send me a message through my regular e-mail ( Check out my web bio... I live in the Seattle area now.