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Classroom Assessment Techniques

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Showcase Portfolios
A showcase portfolio is a limited portfolio where a student is only allowed to present a few pieces of evidence to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives. Especially useful in a laboratory course, a showcase portfolio might ask a student to include items that represent: (i) their best work; (ii) their most interesting work; (iii) their most improved work; (iv) their most disappointing work; (v) and their favorite work. Items could be homework assignments, examinations, laboratory reports, news clippings, or other creative works. An introductory letter that describes why each particular item was included and what it demonstrates makes this type of portfolio especially insightful to the instructor.

Checklist Portfolios
A checklist portfolio is composed of a predetermined number of items. Often, a course syllabus will have a predetermined number of assignments for students to complete. A checklist portfolio takes advantage of such a format and gives the students the choice of a number of different assignment selections to complete in the course of learning science. For example, instead of assigning exactly 12 sets of problems from the end of each text chapter, students could have the option of replacing several assignments with relevant magazine article reviews or laboratory reports that clearly demonstrate mastery of a given learning objective. Additionally, class quizzes and tests can become part of the portfolio if that is what is on the checklist of items to be included. A sample checklist might require a portfolio to have 10 correctly worked problem sets, two magazine article summaries, two laboratory reports, and two examinations in addition to self-reflection paragraphs where the student decides which objectives most closely fit which assignments.

Open-Format Portfolios
An open-format for a portfolio generally provides the most insightful view of a student's level of achievement. In an open-format portfolio, students are allowed to submit anything they wish to be considered as evidence for mastery of a given list of learning objectives. In addition to the traditional items like exams and assignments, students can include reports on museum visits, analysis of amusement park rides, imaginative homework problems, and other sources from the "real world". Although these portfolios are more difficult for the student to create and for the instructor to score, many students report that they are very proud of the time spent on such a portfolio.

Use in Large Enrollment Courses
Portfolios can be used successfully in large courses provided there is an infrastructure for students and instructors to utilize. Most importantly, the format of each item in the portfolio needs to be in a similar format; the use of cover sheets, forms, and prescribed notebooks often helps. Second, students creativity must be sacrificed to some degree for the sake of uniformity. This can be accomplished by assigning student tasks that have fewer multiple-correct solutions. Finally, if graduate teaching assistants are involved, each assistant should take responsibility for a particular series of learning goals, thus becoming an expert and seeing all student submissions. If announced to the students, this helps curtail academic dishonesty and variation in scoring.

Because each portfolio is individualized, student assessment must be compiled by looking at the portfolio's contents relative to the course learning objectives. Each piece of evidence should be graded according to a predetermined scheme. The items can be scored discretely as a 0, 1, 2, or 3 based on the grader's judgment about the student's presentation as related to the stated learning goals. (A larger scale can be used, but the reliability of different faculty giving the student the same score decreases.)

Figure 2 - Illustrative Grading Criteria for Portfolios

  Grading Criteria
Each individual piece of evidence will be graded according to the following scale:

  Grading Rubric
The overall portfolio is scored as follows as an indication of the extent to which the portfolio indicates that the student has mastered the 15 course objectives listed elsewhere in the syllabus:
Grade: Rubric:
A Strong evidence in at least 12 objectives; adequate in other three;
B+ Strong evidence in at least 12 objectives; adequate in at least one other;
B Strong evidence in 10 objectives; adequate in all others;
C+ Strong evidence in 9 objectives; adequate in others;
C Strong evidence in 9 objectives; adequate in at least one other;
D+ Adequate evidence in 12 objectives;
D Adequate evidence in 10 objectives;
F Adequate evidence in less than 10 objectives;

  Submission and Possession of Evidence:
Submission of evidence for mastery of each objective is to be done during laboratory class meetings and the portfolios will be securely maintained in the laboratory. It is your responsibility to see that your portfolio is current and accurate. No late submissions will be accepted. Any submissions remotely suspected of plagiarism will receive a score of 0.

Evidence scored as a 0 or a 1 is rather straightforward based on the criteria listed in figure 2. The most difficult judgment usually lies between awarding a score of 2 and a score of 3. In particular, a score of 2 is awarded if the student has addressed the learning objective correctly and clearly, but only at the literal-descriptive level; there is little explicit integration across concepts or indication of relevance to the student. A common characteristic of such evidence is that facts are not used to support an opinion or position. Furthermore, evidence that does not clearly identify relevance to the student's life or career path is also given a score of 2. To be awarded a score of 3, the evidence must clearly indicate that the student understands the objective in an integrated fashion. Such evidence provides the reader deep insight into the complexity of the student's comprehension.

Viewing student portfolios from this perspective drastically changes the emphasis from collections of facts to encompassing concepts. Such a grading procedure also shifts responsibility for demonstrating competence from the instructor to the student. Effectively shifting this responsibility affects comments placed in the portfolio by the grader; comments are directed toward improving the next submission as well as indicating the inadequacies of the current evidence.

Pros and Cons

  • Portfolios put the responsibility of demonstrating knowledge and integration across concepts on the students
  • Portfolios provide a structure for long-duration assignments
  • Portfolios encourage student creativity and allow for students to emphasize the aspects of a concept most relevant to them in meaningful ways
  • Portfolios engender self-reflection and self-assessment
  • Portfolios take longer to score than machine graded multiple-choice exams
  • Portfolios involve student work outside of class
  • Portfolios do not easily demonstrate students' knowledge-recall abilities
  • Students who have been successful at memorizing their way to an "A" initially find portfolios intimidating

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