Michigan Portfolios

Portfolio Writing Assessment: Why It’s Important, How To Begin

Richard Koch, Adrian Collegerkoch@adrian.edu

There are three main functions powerful and healthy writing assessment must offer:

Effective writing assessment provides to students and teachers clear information and perspective about what has been achieved by student writers and helps diagnose what next steps should be taken in the teaching and learning environment to take the writer to a next step.

Effective writing assessment provides to all stakeholders (students, teachers, administrators, school board, parents) clear, valid, and reliable information about what students are achieving as writers in school.

Effective writing assessment provides students a “fair” and “authentic” opportunity to show what they are able to do as writers.

None of the currently existing national or state tests can meet even any one of the three guidelines listed above.  However, if we as educators are to put ourselves in a position to do something besides whine frustratedly about this, we must take steps to make ourselves powerful in writing assessment.  The three steps I believe we must take to make ourselves powerful involve answering three “What if . . .” questions positively by the way we do our work.

FIRST, what if we gathered student writing in folders over time, dated it, and began to reflect on that work, individually and collaboratively, to see what that writing itself reveals about the writer?

SECOND, what if we taught ourselves how to look systematically at that writing so that we could study it almost like scientists, with an eye toward more fully observing what students are achieving and with an eye toward improving classroom learning by diagnosing what seem to be the strengths and weaknesses of our teaching practice?

THIRD, what if we didn’t keep these “results” to ourselves?  What if we reported out what we had learned in a careful and clear way to all relevant stakeholders?

I believe we can and must move forward with all three “What ifs . . .” if we wish to teach as effectively as possible and if we wish to move toward a time when widespread assessment may be more valid and helpful to us and to our students.

“Love reveals what only love can see.”  R. D. Laing