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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

The True Potential of Portfolio-Based Assessments in Education

Let’s challenge standardized testing for a more holistic evaluation of student abilities!
Studies have shown that higher standardized test scores have no link with memory retention, attention span, or cognitive processing speed. A high score may simply represent a student’s ability to memorize through repetition and excel at multiple-choice exams. (Photo Credit: Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu / Unsplash)

Is all the stress really worth it to get information out of students that is not accurate? 

After conducting a survey, I discovered that most if not all students, ranging from high school to college, believe that standardized testing does not accurately depict their potential. But if standardized testing can’t do this, what can?

Many students believe portfolio-based assessments can. 

Currently, assessment methods are usually traditional and practical measures, including exams, assignments, and hands-on projects. 

A portfolio, whether in traditional hard copy or digital form, is an organized set of materials with a cohesive structure, often accompanied by a guide such as a contents page. In addition to displaying these items, a portfolio in an educational background includes a learning journey. Students in this way engage in several critical activities, including reflecting on their learning experiences, synthesizing essential components of their learning journey based on both successes and failures demonstrated, and proposing future learning plans.

Viewed both as a product and a process, a portfolio holds the records and documents of a student’s work produced during a course, program, or period of time. It displays an edited compilation of their learning achievements. A portfolio, as a process-oriented tool, enables not just students but many others like educators, mentors, employers, and our peers to monitor their learning, reflect on their performances, offer a cohesive account of their accomplishments, and seek feedback on their learning.

The primary objective of assessments has always been to measure students’ comprehension of essential ideas, such as math and writing skills. Despite this goal, there is evident discontent among students about the efficacy of standardized testing in accomplishing these objectives. Students from high school to college express dissatisfaction with these assessments’ limits in accurately judging their talents. This widespread unhappiness has led to critical re-evaluations of assessment approaches in educational institutions.

To address the shortcomings of standardized testing, the concept of portfolio-based assessment emerges as a flexible and authentic alternative as a portfolio involves compiling a comprehensive collection of a student’s work over time. This approach mirrors the real-world demand, where professionals curate and present their best work to potential employers or clients. Portfolios offer a multifaceted representation of a student’s skills.

Unlike standardized tests that focus on a narrow set of skills, portfolios celebrate diversity in storytelling, acknowledging that life encompasses a wide range of approaches and styles.

Standardized testing, which was once considered an accurate predictor of student potential, has been under investigation recently. They believe that those types of tests do not capture the full range of students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities. 

Recently, the College Board has switched the paper Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) to digital. This will be different from the original standardized test as it will get harder as the student progresses through it, so the level of difficulty will depend on how they performed on earlier questions. This means that if a student did poorly on the previous part, the test will gradually become easier. As the tests are adaptive, students believe it has unfair disadvantages. Students believe it is easier for other students who had the easier test to get higher scores. Furthermore, the stress and anxiety caused by standardized testing worsens the issue, as it results in diminished motivation and poor academic achievement.

A junior who has taken numerous standardized tests, Areli Hernandez Pompa ’25 stated, “We don’t have enough time to sufficiently study for a standardized test, which leads scores to be inaccurate and just increase stress levels while decreasing motivation.”

When asked about how students feel about adopting portfolio-based assessments on the survey that I conducted, they portrayed extreme satisfaction.

For example, Sanjida Choudhury ’25 said, “Portfolio-based assessments are more authentic because they truly show a student’s capabilities and who they really are as a person. I believe when it comes to standardized testing, it’s more of an exam that a lot of others also partake in, and it’s not something that defines your ‘true-self.’”

Pompa also added that, “Portfolio-based assessment allows students to be content with what they’re turning in and gives them the chance to express themselves more thoroughly.”

Standardized testing is more based on memorization rather than actually understanding the material and using it for future references. Therefore, like what Choudhury said, it does not show your “true self.”

The transition from standardized testing to portfolio-based assessments is crucial, as it not only reduces the stress associated with traditional assessments but also provides a more accurate depiction of students’ potential, fostering a learning environment that values creativity, critical thinking, and the dynamic nature of the field.

Therefore, we should advocate for the adoption of portfolio-based assessments, challenging the conventional reliance on standardized testing, as portfolio assessments offer a holistic representation of a student’s capabilities by compiling a curated collection of their work over time. 

To effectively use portfolio-based assessments, instructors have to understand the concepts and principles that enable them, ensuring compatibility with curriculum standards and learning objectives. They should let students choose materials that reflect their learning progression while also providing clear assessment criteria and rubrics. 

Throughout the process, teachers will provide assistance, stimulate reflection, and encourage students to take responsibility for their learning. Portfolios should be examined and rated according to specified standards, with feedback provided to help students progress. Finally, teachers should employ portfolio-based assessments as a means of continuous reflection and improvement, altering their practices as needed to improve student learning results.

However, while portfolio-based assessments do offer a promising alternative to standardized testing, it’s crucial to recognize the inherent challenges associated with this approach. 

One significant drawback is the time and effort required for both students and instructors to assemble and review portfolios. Unlike standardized tests, which provide a relatively quick and standardized means of assessment, portfolios demand substantial time investment for the selection, organization, and evaluation of materials. Moreover, ensuring consistency and fairness in evaluation can be particularly challenging with portfolios. 

The subjective nature of portfolio assessment introduces the risk of bias and variability in grading, potentially undermining the reliability and comparability of results across students and contexts. Additionally, the lack of standardized measures in portfolio assessments raises concerns about their validity and the ability to make meaningful comparisons among students. 

Critics argue that without uniform benchmarks, portfolio-based assessments may not effectively measure students’ proficiency against established standards. Therefore, while portfolios offer a holistic view of students’ skills and achievements, addressing these logistical and validity concerns is essential to fully realize their potential as an assessment tool.

Questions of grading creativity in portfolio-based assessments highlight the complexities in evaluating subjective factors within educational systems. While artworks or fictional narratives may not have obvious right and wrong answers, educators must create rubrics to guide assessment, emphasizing creativity, technical proficiency, and effective communication. It is important to note that the main objective of portfolio assessments is to track students’ growth over time and evaluate their overall effort and participation, rather than just issue grades. Graders must use their judgment to reconcile subjective evaluation with defined standards, aiming to provide constructive criticism that encourages improvement while recognizing and rewarding actual effort and progress. 

While concerns may arise regarding the subjectivity of portfolio assessments, evidence suggests that implementing clear rubrics and guidelines can standardize the evaluation process. Since rubrics help both the teacher and student reliably assess performance.

The flexibility inherent in portfolios accommodates diverse styles and approaches, ensuring a fair and thorough assessment of each student’s unique strengths. By addressing concerns about reliability and consistency, portfolio-based assessments can be seen as a reliable and robust alternative to standardized testing.

To reinforce the argument for portfolio-based assessments, case studies and success stories from educational institutions that have successfully implemented this approach are essential. Examining instances where portfolios have been embraced, for example in journalism education, provides tangible evidence of their effectiveness. Anecdotes and testimonials from students who found value in the portfolio assessment approach further emphasize the positive impact on their learning experiences.

The limitations of standardized testing in education necessitate a shift towards more effective assessment methods. Portfolio-based assessments offer a solution by providing a flexible, authentic, and comprehensive evaluation of students’ abilities. The individualized feedback and success stories underscore the value of this approach, urging educational institutions to embrace change for a more effective and authentic evaluation of skills. The adoption of portfolio-based assessments aligns with the evolving needs of fields, preparing students for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The shift from standardized testing to portfolio-based assessments is not just about reducing stress — it’s about embracing a more effective and authentic approach to education. By adopting portfolios, educational institutions can prepare students for success in a dynamic world, valuing creativity, critical thinking, and adaptability. It’s time to make the change. Portfolio assessments are the future of education.

“Opportunities don’t happen, you create them,” said Benny Wu ’27.

About the Contributor
Mandy Wu, Staff Reporter
Mandy Wu is an Editorial Editor and Social Media Editor for ‘The Science Survey.’ She loves expressing her thoughts through words and believes it's a fun way to inform people about important issues. Mandy has an interest in reading journalistic articles, as they provide various perspectives on topics, which broadens and expands her knowledge. As someone who is very fond about taking photos, she likes to take pictures to capture stories. Some of Mandy’s favorite hobbies outside of school include games and drawing. In the future, she plans on continuing these activities and expressing her thoughts through journalism. As for Mandy’s future career, she plans on becoming a pediatrician or a veterinarian.