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Inclusion of English Language Learners in Portfolio Assessment

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Inclusion of English Language Learners in Portfolio Assessment

Yu-Lin Feng

EDBL 6313 Evaluation

Dr. Maria Gonzalez Baker

Nov.19, 2008

In the real world, most of us have more than one opportunity to demonstrate what we have learned; however, we do not provide similar opportunity to English language learners (ELLs) when we tend to measure their progress, skills, and ability at a particular point in the year. This kind of situation raises a pedagogical issue: How can states, districts, schools and teachers appropriately assess individual academic achievement, especially for English Language learners? The use of traditional assessments such as objective tests or standardized achievement tests is widespread to measure students' progress. However, traditional assessment is a paper-and-pencil test which "does not accurately measure thinking and problem-solving skills, in-depth subject knowledge, or how well students can direct their own learning" (Assessment and Evaluation). Students complete the assessment by selecting an answer or recalling information (Mueller, n.d.). Not every student will use the same way to demonstrate his or her learning. Most importantly, traditional assessment practices in many states and school districts tend to exclude ELLs, resulting in being denied access to important educational opportunities due to assessment results (Gomez, 2000). The only way to make the above problems disappear is to implement alternative assessments in evaluation. "Alternative assessment is an ongoing process involving the student and teacher in making judgments about the student's progress in language using non-conventional strategies" (Hancock, 1994). Also, according to Grant Wiggins, "No single assessment form is sufficient. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has its place" (Assessment and Evaluation). Therefore, assessments should be varied. The purpose of this paper is to introduce one type of alternative assessment, portfolio assessment, and assist teachers in understanding the purpose of portfolio as a practical and meaningful tool of learning and assessing the progress of language learning.

Before moving on, it is important to address the definition of portfolio. "A portfolio is a collection of student work that displays what the child has learned" (Wortham, Barbour, and Desjean-Perrotta, 1998). A student portfolio is a product which collects multiple aspects of student work that should be purposely selected by students and teachers. Doing so, students and teachers can periodically update their portfolios for the sake of evaluating students' current progress and reflecting about what they have learned. Also, by selecting their own collections, students can take ownership and responsibility of the process that led to the growth and achievement. In other words, the general goal of student portfolios is to show and reflect their learning skills, accomplishments, and experiences and provide excellent examples of classroom materials in a meaningful package.

Prior to introducing the process of developing a portfolio, some people may question the benefits of using portfolio assessments for ELLs. In this section, I will address some advantages as follows:

1. Inclusion of ELLs: Traditional assessments may not accurately measure ELLs' abilities in content areas being tested, rather than measuring their language abilities. On the other hands, portfolios can include all students. Also, at the state level, inclusion of ELLs can provide accurate data about the achievement of all students. This, of course, would make school accountability for all students increased;

2. Tracking the development of products and processes: Portfolios provide an excellent vehicle for consideration of the process which ELLs undertake and products which they create. In this case, ELLs' performance will be assessed throughout the school year, rather than at a particular point in the year;

3. Bridging the communication gap between schools and ESLs' parents: In general, some ELLs' parents may be interested in becoming involved in school activities, however, they may have no ideas about how to do it. As a matter of fact, portfolios can function as a bridge between schools and parents. By the time of a parent-school conference, a portfolio can provide an excellent tool for communicating student learning between school-parents and parents-children. For example, teachers can use portfolios informally as a means of conveying their pride in students. Also, in preparation for the conference, teachers can ask students to select the one piece of work that they feel best about and can have the students write a one-page note to their parents explaining why they are proud of that piece of work and what they have learned from doing it (Herrell, 2000, p.160);

4. Providing a photo album: A photo album contains a number of pictures taken over time in different contexts (Tomlinson and McTighe, 2006). By developing portfolio assessments, teachers and schools make inferences about what students learn and collect evidence of students' growth through assessment. That is to say, assessment becomes an ongoing process rather than a one-shot event. Especially, a single test may overestimate ELLs' performance.

To receive those benefits above, ELLs may follow the process of developing a useful portfolio, including five basic steps. (Please see figure 1)

Figure 1 The Portfolio Process

1. Identify performance criteria

Criteria should be clear and explicit; otherwise, portfolios will be a miscellaneous collection of student work that will not be able to show their growth. In addition, students should know in advance what they are expected to accomplish and the specific skills that are going to be assessed; therefore, they can make an effort to develop their evidence. Finally, students who "internalized these criteria could use them to revise their work, reflect on it, and set goals" (Arter, 1995).

2. Gather artifacts

Portfolios provide students opportunity to chronicle the growth of learning practices, verify short-and long-term goals, and elicit knowledge through constructing artifacts. The important thing is that what artifacts should be included in a portfolio depends on the types of portfolios. The commonly used types are working portfolio, showcase portfolio, evaluation portfolio, and so forth. Depending on the purpose, artifacts of portfolios can include "samples of creative work; tests; quizzes; homework; projects and assignments; audiotapes of oral work; student diary entries; log of work on a particular assignment; self-assessments; comments from peers, and comments from teachers"(Hancock, 1994). The collection must include not only polished pieces but also the earlier, less-skilled work; and not only flat pieces of writing or artwork, but also audiotape or videotaped performances (Assessment and Evaluation).Also, data sources can include teachers, school staff, parents, community members, and students themselves.

3. Organize artifacts

It is time to decide how to group the evidence of students' learning effectiveness together and summarize the contents. Before laying out portfolios, please pay attention to the following questions: Why did you include the resources in your portfolios? Is your portfolio organized and creative? Are the contents representatives for the purpose of your portfolio? Bearing in mind these cautions, there are some suggestions for systematically organizing evidence of learning as follows:

? Students should try not to document everything, concentrate on the purpose of the portfolio and make sure that the portfolio is concise in order to appropriately document students' work;

? Students can prioritize data according to the goal of a portfolio which helps refine a portfolio;

? Students can periodically sort, organize, and update data;

? Teachers should emphasize "representing the variances in learning among children as evidenced by their individual choices of artifacts and other documentation, rather than on ensuring that every child's portfolio contains the same teacher-selected items" (Wortham, Barbour, Desjean-Perrotta, 1998).

4. Self-evaluate or peer-evaluate individuals' portfolio

Students should group the evaluations in sections that highlight the aspects they want to emphasize and summarize the organization. Also, it is important for them to cross-reference to the performance statement with evidence. When finishing the drafts of student portfolios, ELLs can ask peers to review their drafts and offer professional feedback regarding improvements at times.

5. Make improvements

Based on the feedback from peers, students can make changes for the sake of improving


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