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Using Portfolios To Assess Student Writing

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.481.1 - 2.481.7



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Barbara Olds

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2647

Using Portfolios to Assess Student Writing

Barbara M. Olds Colorado School of Mines


Portfolios as a qualitative assessment tool are nothing new—art, architecture, and writing students, for example, have long used portfolios to showcase and evaluate their work. However, portfolios have become increasingly popular over the past few years; they are now used to assess everything from student outcomes to faculty accomplishments. In this paper I focus on the use of portfolios for feedback to individual students in writing or writing-intensive classes such as engineering design. I briefly outline the most common ways in which portfolios are used in such classes, discuss some of their advantages and disadvantages, and conclude with some suggestions for those considering using portfolios to assess writing. When appropriate, I include some of my own experiences using portfolios in classes ranging from introductory writing-intensive courses in the humanities and social sciences to senior-level engineering design. Currently I am working with faculty from across campus at the Colorado School of Mines to design a four-year longitudinal portfolio assessment for students in our McBride Honors Program.

What Is a Writing Portfolio?

A portfolio is usually defined as a collection of writing by an individual student. The writing included in a portfolio may be selected by the student or assigned by the teacher; it may cover an entire college career or a single semester; it may include samples from only one class or from an entire curriculum; it may include peer or student commentary or evaluation, or it may simply include the student’s work. Any of these approaches may be successful if the instructor has a clear purpose for asking students to maintain portfolios and if this purpose is clearly articulated to students. In the best cases, portfolios help students reflect on their growth as writers, help students to interact with peers in the discussion of writing, and help faculty and students to discuss ways in which students may become better writers. In addition, a portfolio may serve as a “performance,” a way of selling potential employers on a student’s versatility, language abilities, and critical thinking skills. On the other hand, a “portfolio” which is only a collection of writing assignments in a folder is likely to be of little worth to either faculty or students, so it is important for faculty to think carefully about the reasons for asking students to keep portfolios before making them a course requirement.

In general, the longer the period of time over which written work is collected, the more growth and change will be obvious. Ideally, students would keep portfolios throughout their undergraduate careers (and perhaps beyond), but they can also be a useful tool in a single course. Considerable help is available to those interested in incorporating portfolios into their classes.

Olds, B. (1997, June), Using Portfolios To Assess Student Writing Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6884

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