What is a portfolio valuation

Portfolio and performance evaluation

Portfolio and performance evaluation

by Felix Winter

Excursion to another world The two students tell vividly. You tell me about work that has found its way into your portfolio and about the portfolio exams that you have already passed. Among other things, it is about a small correlation study. Since I am well versed in this area, I ask questions and find that they actually understood the matter well and kept it. They also tell me about a fantasy animal that they constructed from an interdisciplinary perspective and whose way of life they had to describe in detail. To do this, they also made considerations and calculations about the ecosystem in which the animal should move. I also get to see an artistically designed model of the animal: it is plasticized from paper mache and lovingly painted. Both of them like these changed learning methods, in which they work on complex tasks for longer periods of time and have more independence. They would have learned differently in their previous schools. The main thing would have been to learn knowledge for the next test, but that was gone shortly afterwards.

I'm at Beacon High School in west Manhattan. It is a public school that has switched its performance assessment to portfolios since 1997. (1) The teaching work results in extensive performance records. This can be, for example, written elaborations on small empirical or artistic projects, experimental reports, essays, literature analyzes or products of creative writing. After an initial completion, they are improved and finally go into a specialist portfolio. The motto is: collect, select, review, reflect. Six such portfolios are being created in the following areas: natural sciences, history, mathematics, English, foreign language and "senior seminars". When a student's mentor thinks they have advanced enough, they register for an exam. This then takes place on the basis of the portfolio: The student explains his work and answers the teachers' questions. External assessors are often present at these exams, e.g. lecturers from neighboring colleges. You can pass the portfolio exams at three different levels: "Honors Standard", "Beacon Standard" and "Competency Standard".

There are defined goals and standards for the work that is documented in the portfolios. The latter have been negotiated between schools that work in a similar way. Above all, they contain linguistically formulated levels for individual subject-specific requirements. For the literature review there is e.g. a category "critical focus". It is considered good if you have built your analysis on the basis of central ideas and supported it with evidence.

What we're talking about One difficulty in understanding portfolios and their uses is that there are many different types of portfolios and they can be worked with in different ways. (2) The portfolios that have just been reported are service portfolios or also assessment portfolios, in which selected and already revised documents are included. They are suitable for showing the course of education and the level of achievement achieved by a student. In contrast, portfolios in the German-speaking area have so far mainly been used as course portfolios. They combine performance documents for individual specialist courses in a portfolio. As a rule, these folders are an instrument for changing didactics and, in addition to billing and evaluating performance, also serve to control learning processes in the courses (cf. Brunner and Schmidinger 1997, 2000). They are used, for example, in connection with writing pedagogical concepts (see Bräuer 1998 and in this booklet). Of course, performance folders (or assessment portfolios) can emerge from the documents in the course folders. The term portfolio has also become known in Germany in connection with the European language portfolio, in which certificates, individual performance documents and self-assessments on language development are documented (see Gerling and Thürmann 1998, Koch 1998)

The aim of the following is to show which options are available for changing the performance evaluation with the portfolio instrument. The range is wide. It includes the final exam already mentioned in the initial example, as well as content-related discussions about individual contributions between teachers and students or the analysis of developments based on a chronological series of documents.

The traditional model and two directions of change In order to make the change potential of the portfolio for the performance evaluation visible, a spotlight should first be thrown on the traditional performance evaluation in schools. So far, the school has primarily considered work to be performed as part of a retreat-like arrangement. The typical characteristics of this situation are the following:

  • short written statements on given questions
  • the time available for this is limited, it includes one or more lessons
  • As a rule, knowledge that has been presented and practiced in the previous weeks is checked
  • Do the same (restricted) framework conditions apply to all students? Apart from their heads, they may not use any or only very limited aids
  • the teacher, who is otherwise helpful, is now allowed to give little or no help

The idea prevails that one can determine the ability to learn unadulterated in this way. It is easy to overlook the fact that more complex tasks that require initiative and more self-control can hardly be used.

The performance evaluation takes the form of digits. These are above all suitable for grading the estimated level of performance and in this way to communicate the rank of the individual in the class. Critics accuse the grades, among other things, of not giving any feedback on the content, of hindering the communication of the content about the performance and of discouraging the weaker students again and again, because in comparison with the others they regularly do poorly, even if they have made personal progress. (3)

The portfolio opens up new perspectives. The way in which services are provided, determined, assessed and documented can be fundamentally changed? yes, the entire objective of dealing with student performance can be affected. Vierlinger (1999, p. 79) speaks in this context of a "Copernican turning point" in performance appraisal. During the previous performance test? as outlined - occurs selectively and under limited conditions, with the help of the portfolio it can, as it were, "emigrate" in two directions from this exam situation.

  • On the one hand, the process of drawing up a performance record is becoming more important. In some cases, performance evaluation already takes place within the work and learning processes. It has many forms. Performance evaluation is to a certain extent preferred and its character accompanies and guides learning instead of concluding and determining.
  • The other deviation from the exam paradigm offered by the portfolio points in the opposite direction. Performance evaluation can also be postponed. Be with the portfolio? especially if it is an assessment portfolio type? Evidence of a student's performance is directly documented and kept visible (direct performance template). When, by whom and how they will be judged is thus kept open. Repeated, diverse and multi-perspective assessments are possible at any time.

The last-mentioned point opens up far-reaching new possibilities compared to the conventional work with numerical certificates. With these, only estimates of performance, namely the grades, are documented and made the central record of the level of training achieved. In the case of a portfolio, the service portfolio becomes a crucial document.

The character and the explosiveness of the selective performance evaluation at the time of the first submission of a work can be changed with the portfolio. The first assessment of a delivered product by the teacher does not have to aim to be comprehensive, exact or even quantifiable. The grade on a portfolio deposit would be rather harmful, because the point is to formulate a substantive statement from which possible consequences for further work should be drawn.

All in all, it can be said: The portfolio opens up opportunities to partially replace the traditional point-to-point knowledge test with other earlier and subsequent measures. Of course, such a path will only be chosen if it is advantageous. In the following I would like to outline some measures and the associated educational advantages:

New ways to evaluate performance The portfolio itself is not yet a method of performance evaluation, but rather an instrument for collecting and documenting performance records. However, it opens up opportunities to initiate didactic reforms and to evaluate performance differently.

Other services are made possible and billable The portfolio creates the conditions for students to approach complete learning files or larger learning projects as part of their classroom work and beyond, and to account for them as services. As already described at the beginning, these can be, for example, results of independent or jointly carried out research, experiments and projects. Such tasks require and promote independence in learning, methodological competence and social skills, all of which can be considered key qualifications for future work. In contrast to the prevailing performance review, working with portfolios offers better opportunities to create complex, individual, self-directed and reflective learning processes. School work can be more focused on the individual learner and his / her development. In contrast, learning for a selective examination of knowledge promotes tendencies towards a superficial appropriation of the objects and an overall orientation towards social dependency, in which the pupils concentrate on the teachers' expectations and suggestions (cf. Lehtinen 1994, p. 156).

Joint quality work Products that are included in an assessment portfolio have generally been developed and processed over a longer period of time. In this way, demands, goals and performance criteria and the strengths and weaknesses of a particular job were discussed. The achievement was created in dialogical processes. Suitable forms for this are learning partnerships between pupils, class conferences in which work is presented and assessed (cf. Beck 1989), conversations between teachers and pupils, learning diaries and self-assessments (cf. Winter 1999, 2000a). I have had particularly good experiences with procedures in which assessors are commissioned. For example, they should provide feedback on the presentation of a presentation. Do they get? also and especially from the judged? assigned the task of making assessments and applying criteria. These can be given by the teacher and / or specified by the learners. The mutual control leads to an increased awareness of one's own work and to an effective acquisition of performance criteria.

When working with the portfolios, the students are repeatedly asked to select their own work for their portfolio. They are therefore compelled to take a critical look at their own work. Since the deposits in the portfolio are usually provided with a corresponding cover sheet (cf. Winter 2000c, p. 45), the self-assessment is also made explicit and can easily become an object of communication.

Performance presentation and accountability Since the work of a portfolio is usually of a presentable level and is designed in such a way that it looks appealing and can be made accessible to others, portfolios are generally suitable for the presentation of services to third parties. This can be done, for example, in such a way that students show their portfolio to their parents on the parenting day (cf. Vierlinger 1999, p. 31ff), so that their school work becomes visible. On this occasion, specific performance developments can be discussed. The presentation of achievements can be linked more or less explicitly with the accountability of the students about their work processes and learning efforts.

Portfolios are also suitable to be designed for parents' evenings. With informative as well as entertaining (e.g. literary) portfolio inserts, special presentation events can be made at which what is worked out is read out and demonstrated. Such presentations are of course also conceivable without a portfolio. However, this provides a good basis for presentable work to be created and then also stored and documented.

The aforementioned forms of performance presentation represent a democratization of performance evaluation. This is taken out of the narrow framework of the one-sided determined relationship between teacher and student. In this way, achievements and sometimes the processes that led to them can become visible and assessable for classmates, for parents, for other teachers and an interested public. They can help to give a beautiful and democratically controlled form to the school's accountability for its efforts and successes. Public responsibility no longer has to be understood only as state supervision (cf. Sachwertigenrat 2001).

Teacher collaboration on performance As part of evaluation conferences, teachers can look together at the work of their students documented in the portfolios and agree on goals and performance standards. Various arrangements can be chosen for this (cf. Jervis and McDonald 1996). The focus of consideration can be: the individual student, certain performance records of an age group or entire portfolios. As a rule, these conferences are designed in such a way that initially only impressions are exchanged and only then evaluated. Of course, a climate of trust between teachers is necessary so that they can view the portfolios of their students without fear. However, such a climate of trust is necessary for any school development, and portfolio conferences are in turn suitable for establishing relationships of trust among teachers on the sensitive issue of performance.

Changed exams As already made clear in the initial example, one can use portfolios to practice forms of examination that are still unknown in Germany. On the basis of submitted work, students can give an account of their education, present their learning success and subject their acquired knowledge and skills to an oral test. Such exams contain less random elements than traditional oral exams. The students can actively prepare and help shape them. The availability of assessment portfolios makes it easier to invite external perspectives on student performance.

The measures briefly outlined here for performance evaluation based on portfolios should open the view to the possibilities that exist in this regard. They include expanded performance evaluation goals and a changed understanding of performance. The bureaucratic-administrative classification of performance and students is no longer the primary goal of performance evaluation. This is regained for the educational tasks of the school (cf. Flitner 1999, p. 244). With the help of the portfolio, dialogical processes of reflection and evaluation can take place, which carry and support the learning process. They become an inner moment of learning and also a learning goal themselves, because ultimately it is about developing the students' ability to assess their work and to control their learning. The selective review of knowledge or individual products is not superfluous, but it can be withdrawn. In addition, the portfolio can be used to introduce new and additional forms of presentation and controls for the performance of the pupils and the performance of the school, which are significantly more democratic than the previous procedures (cf. Winter 2000b).

The example of the American high school outlined at the beginning suggests that it is a long way to go to arrive at an elaborate and comprehensive system of performance evaluation based on portfolios (cf. Darling-Hammond and Falk 1997). Colleges who want to embark on this path will certainly first gain experience with writing portfolios or other course portfolios. In the sense of promoting an expanded learning culture and strengthening democratic school development, however, such attempts appear to be extremely desirable.The school supervisory authorities should therefore allow and encourage further attempts with portfolio work and performance assessment based on portfolios so that schools in German-speaking countries can dismiss their graduates with full portfolios, which they can proudly present to their future employers or a subsequent training institution.


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Remarks: (1) There are a number of schools in New York that operate and test in a similar manner. Descriptions of this can be found in Darling-Hammond et al. (1995).
(2) For the various types of portfolios, see also Winter 2000c; Lissmann 2000 p. 292ff; Winter in preparation
(3) Which further pedagogical and theoretical problems are connected with the grades cannot be explained here; see Sacher 2001, chap. 3 and 4; Vierlinger 1999, chap. 1.6, winter 2000d; Greve 1992

Note: This article first appeared in the special issue "Portfolio" of the magazine: Informations zur Deutschdidaktik (ide) 26 (2002) H. 1, S. 91-98