Electronic Portfolios, School Reform and Standards

by Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D., University of Alaska Anchorage

One of the most exciting developments in the school reform movement is the use of alternative forms of assessment to evaluate student learning, and one of the most popular forms of authentic assessment is the use of portfolios. Rick Stiggins (1994) defines a portfolio as a collection of student work that demonstrates achievement or improvements. The point of the portfolio (electronic or paper) is to provide a "richer picture" of a student's abilities than we would see otherwise. Portfolios are being developed at all phases of the life span, beginning in early childhood, through K-12 and higher education, to professional teaching portfolios. Ideally, a portfolio should include the following elements:

There is a growing movement to use technology to support the collection and publication of student portfolio artifacts. If you are currently maintaining paper-based portfolios, why should you think about using technology? I have developed the following list of assumptions supporting the development of electronic teaching portfolios:

As more schools expand student access to technology, there are an increasing number of options available for developing electronic student portfolios, including relational databases, hypermedia programs, WWW pages, PDF files, and commercial, proprietary programs like Grady Profile, SuperSchool's Electronic Portfolio and Persona Plus. In many of the current examples of both "classroom-grown" portfolios using multimedia development software and commercial electronic portfolios, students often focus on the glitz and glamour of high tech multimedia, with little attention paid to the capability of the technology to directly link students' digital portfolio artifacts to the standards achieved. I propose that an electronic portfolio without clear links to standards is just a multimedia presentation or a fancy electronic resume or a digital scrapbook. Without standards as the organizing basis for a portfolio, the collection becomes just that...a collection, haphazard and without structure; the purpose is lost in the noise, glitz and hype. High technology disconnected from a focus on curriculum standards will only exacerbate the lack of meaningful integration of technology to improve teaching and learning. (Barrett, 1998)


Barrett, Helen (1995-1998). Using Technology to Support Alternative Assessment. http://transition.alaska.edu/www/portfolios.html

Barrett, Helen (1996-1998). Dr. Helen Barrett's favorite links on Alternative Assessment & Electronic Portfolios. http://transition.alaska.edu/www/Portfolios/bookmarks.html

Barrett, Helen (1998) "Strategic Questions: What to Consider When Planning for Electronic Portfolios" Learning and Leading with Technology, October, 1998.

Barrett, Helen (1998). Tel-Ed Conference Proceedings

Niguidula, David (1998) Research on Digital Portfolios for the Coalition of Essential Schools

Stiggins, R. J. (1994). Student-centered classroom assessment. New York: Merrill.