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5:1 Planning for the Purpose

The first step in planning portfolio assessment for your classroom is determining the purpose of the assessment. This means deciding what you want to measure and why you want to make that measurement. The purpose of the portfolio is the foundation on which the entire project rests. The purpose should be specific, but not too narrow.

Some purposes are assessing progress: in using learning strategies, toward the Standards, in oral communication, in listening skills, or in learner responsibility. Some reasons for making an assessment are: for a class grade, to meet school, district, or department requirements, for college admission, or to increase metacognition. You will set your portfolio assessment purpose to help your students reach a learning goal(s) related to the curriculum and your instruction.

As you decide your portfolio purpose, you will need to look at your needs and resources. (See Resources and Needs: Setting Your Purpose) Both are important and can help you decide what is possible in terms of purpose. Our pilot testing, the portfolio literature, and our own portfolio experiences suggest that you look at experience, related student skills such as organization, time, and schedules as you decide your portfolio purpose. (See What Would You Recommend)As you continue to plan and implement portfolios, referring back to your purpose can keep you on track.

The portfolio purpose and objectives should be explicitly stated and shared with students when assessment portfolios are first introduced. One teacher suggested that these be listed on a piece of paper and included as part of the portfolio itself to provide students with a constant reminder of their goals in learning. Although the purpose of the portfolio is generally set by the teacher, students can be involved in setting objectives for the portfolio. This can be done by explaining the concept of objectives, modeling how to set them, and giving students time to practice this skill. As Barbara discussed in the opening story, this can be difficult at first. However, teachers report that, given appropriate guidance, support, and opportunity for practice, students are able to set objectives successfully. Students can take part in setting objectives for the class and for themselves individually.


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