Technology-Supported Portfolio Assessment

by Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.
published in The Computing Teacher, March, 1994

Reprinted in Student Portfolios: A Collection of Articles edited by Robin Fogarty (1996). Palatine, Illinois: IRI/Skylight Training & Publishing, Inc., pp. 127-137. Below is the introduction to Section 2 (The Mission: Using Portfolios, pp.57-59) discussing the article:

Helen C. Barrett, in a complementary article, presents a particularly useful discussion on technology-supported assessment portfolios from the students' view. In this highly practical piece, the author specifically mentions new software that allows students to document their education in text, images, and sound. The author further suggests that teachers start simply, by storing student files on floppy disks or hard disks and keeping student performances on videotape. From these easy-to-use beginnings, teachers and students advance as the software and hardware become accessible in their schools. (p.59)



The technology to support alternative assessment is beginning to appear on the market. As we review some of the commercial software available to support alternative assessment, a few questions should be kept in mind:

A Vision

A good assessment system allows students and teachers to have a shared understanding of what constitutes good work. Assessment as a lever for school reform and is grounded in shared values. According to Karen Sheingold of ETS, assessment is a social process that is grounded in:

Conversations about student work as evidence of accomplishment
Development of common language for discussing accomplishments
Development of shared values and transparent criteria for evaluating student work

According to Sheingold, technology support in assessment allows students and teachers:

  1. To make work in many media accessible, portable, examinable, widely distributable
  2. To make performance replayable and reviewable; it is important to see more than once (a video portfolio has been proposed for National Board of Teaching Standards)
  3. To address ownership issues

Sam Meisels of the University of Michigan has developed the Work Sampling System&129; (Pre-K through 3rd grade) which contains the following three components: Performance-Based Checklists, a Portfolio and a Summary Report. Checklists indicate children1s strengths and weaknesses while helping teachers create goals for portfolios. Portfolios inform teachers about the quality of students work as documented in the checklists. Summary reports, completed three times a year, summarize the checklist and portfolios by translating them into easily understood terms. While Meisels has not incorporated technology into his system, he provides a framework for evaluating potential systems.

Software Reviews

In 1991, I conducted a research project for the Alaska Department of Education Office of Data Management, exploring a variety of software and hardware options for supporting alternative assessment. Below is a summary of some of the software that I explored and have shared with teachers in subsequent staff development courses and workshops in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. It should be noted that virtually all of the software reviewed here is for the Macintosh. Most of the software that has been developed and demonstrated at the NECC 93 conference in Orlando was for the Macintosh. Other companies are developing portfolio systems for the MS-DOS/Windows platform: at AERA, NCS conducted a focus group on their prototype system. Several integrated learning systems also include a portfolio component. The purpose of this article is not meant to be comprehensive but to provide educators with information about available software, hardware, and potential scenarios.

Grady Profile

The Grady Profile is the first "multimedia" software package that I reviewed, primarily because the authors thoughtfully provided a "demo" version that I could explore and give away to teachers. The only difference between the demo version and the real program is the ability to add new students. The Grady Profile maintains portfolio information on a Macintosh computer through a set of HyperCard stacks. There is an "early language" version that Apple adapted and has bundled with their Early Language package. This updated version of the Profile includes additional assessment in speaking and listening, plus space for both parent and student feedback on the work. Many of these changes were incorporated into the later versions of the commercially-available program.

The program is password protected on initial access, but once into the program, any student's file can be read. The current version offers 15 different screens already designed, plus five cards that the user can define. One of these screens allows students to record reading samples using the Macintosh microphone or the MacRecorder (for older Macs). Another screen allows scanning a student's hand written work. The latest version allows viewing a QuickTime video sample (which must be created by another program).

Almost every screen has a checklist which can be customized by the user, and which can record teacher, parent and student's assessment of each item. There are also cards for teachers or other professionals to add anecdotal comments to the student record. A variety of reports can also be created from the data, and printed from your favorite word processor.

The Grady Profile is the most developed program available on the market today, although it lacks some "user friendliness". It is also missing some features that fit with new thinking on assessment (for example, their math assessment is a skills checklist, which could be improved by scanned examples of problem solving).

Aurbach and Associates are very receptive to suggestions for program revision and are training a group of teacher-trainers. The manual is complete and easy to read and Aurbach produces a semi-annual newsletter to registered users. For the teacher wanting to begin, this program provides a comprehensive first step that can be implemented on any Macintosh with HyperCard. A major enhancement to this program should be available by the time you read this article.

Learner Profile

One element of assessment is recording anecdotal observations of student learning. Many teachers learned to use "sticky notes" or 3x5 cards that can be stored in student file folders. In Canada, the Victoria Learning Society, created a management system for maintaining teachers' anecdotal observations of student work, using bar code technology. The program's designer had a brainstorm while waiting in a grocery story checkout line. What would happen if teachers could use this technology as a form of "short hand" to record, store, and print out their observations?

The program operates in three stages: planning, observing, and reporting. At the beginning of the observation period, the teacher prints out a page of bar codes, containing a seating chart (with a separate bar code for each student), a set of bar codes for the behaviors that the students were expected to exhibit on that day, qualifiers for those observations, and attendance codes. The teacher observes students working, strokes across a bar code for the student, and strokes across the behavior observed. The current program uses a Videx credit-card-sized optical reader which can later be dropped into an interface box which is connected to a Macintosh. The data is organized by a relational database for later editing and summarizing by student or class or behaviors observed.

The Greater Victoria School District has published several papers about the research used to design their system . I have also seen a videotape that demonstrates the system in use in several classrooms.

Wings for Learning has purchased the Learner Profile product from Victoria, and has a beta version of the software available. A single user version is available for under $1000, too high for the average classroom, but multiple bar code readers can be purchased ($350) and two will fit in each docking station.


The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Curriculum Technology Resource Center has published Chalkboard 1.0, a program for Macintosh or Windows that allows teachers and students to create multimedia presentations. While not specifically a portfolio program, it does allow the user to assemble a variety of documents into a presentation. Electronic Chalkboard creates "hooks" or pointers to various types of files which, with the exception of text, cannot be created within the program. There are two different modes: create and present. The various tools allow access to six different types of media: (1) create or import plain ASCII text files (which can be formatted within the program); (2) play (but not record) sound files; (3) display (but not scan) graphic files; (4) play QuickTime movies; (5) create a bar code which can be printed and used to control an optical disc; (6) create a link to another Chalkboard file.

While the program is relatively easy to use, aside from text editing and creating a bar code, there is no way to create the other resources from within the Macintosh version (1.01) I reviewed. Users must know how to create a sound file with their Macintosh system, to scan graphics files, and to create their own QuickTime movies. The Windows version will allow capturing sound and creating graphics within the program. The documentation is minimal and does not explain how to create these last three types of files. As a presentation tool for someone who already knows how to use the multimedia features of a personal computer, it could be useful. However, the features are not automated enough for the novice educator. This software has promise, especially if newer versions would include the ability to record sound from within the program, which is on their upgrade list.

Scholastic's portfolio product

At NECC 93 in Orlando, Scholastic held several focus group sessions on a prototype electronic portfolio kit that they are looking into developing. Based on their Point of View software engine, the program has both a teacher planning component and a student component, and is organized as a timeline. The software appears to be relatively easy to use.

According to Scholastic, the goal of this product would be to provide schools with an easy to use organizational system to facilitate the creation, management, and presentation of performance-based electronic multimedia student portfolios. The application will be a flexible structure containing guides, models, and templates for constructing and accessing activities and portfolios that may be used as is or in a modified, customized form.

The program is being redesigned from the original prototype developed by two creative educators in Vermont, who took the Point of View program and have used it with K-12 students as well as student teachers.


A few educators are using the KidPix program from Broderbund to develop and maintain young student portfolios. The ability to record and play sound, plus the slide show feature of the KidPix Companion program give younger students a powerful, easy to use software environment.

Data Base programs

More school districts are using data base programs to create their own files, especially checklists of student outcomes. Claris provided a template for a student portfolio record system for its ClarisWorks program in its publication, ClarisWorks for Teachers. One school district in Alaska has developed a complex database template for Claris' FileMaker Pro to maintain Chapter I and Special Education student records. These programs take time to develop, but can be easily customized and aggregated to meet a district's assessment and reporting needs.

Hypermedia programs

Many schools are using various hypermedia programs to maintain student portfolios: HyperCard, HyperStudio, Asymetrix Toolbook and Linkway. With appropriate versions, all of these programs allow incorporation of recorded sound, imported or created text, scanned or created graphics, and will play movie files for teachers who know how to use these programs. However, the level of skill required to take advantage of these capabilities make this option out of reach for the average teacher in today's classrooms. Another school district in Alaska developed a customized HyperCard stack for primary teachers to maintain anecdotal records.

Video Portfolios

Much work of students, especially in whole language classrooms, is not strictly in written form. With the current emphasis on speaking and listening, as well as writing and reading, any discussion of technology support for student portfolios should include video tape recordings. A lot of schools maintain video tape portfolios of student work.
If a technology-supported portfolio is to be useful to parents and students, it needs to be in a form that can be easily accessed. The real advantage of this type of record is the widespread prevalence of video cassette recorders both at home and in schools. According to the Electronic Industries Association, in the early 1990s, only 29% of all homes have a computer, whereas 97% of homes have a color television, 74% have a VCR, and 59% have cable TV. These figures were not available for video cameras in the home, but most classrooms in our state have access to a VCR and a video camera. Therefore, a video record of student presentations would be very feasible with existing technology currently available.

Technology Storage Considerations

There are a variety of considerations that need to be addressed when deciding to implement technology support for alternative assessment. Of primary concern is the form that the student data will take as it is stored in digital form. There are different types of files that can be stored, with wide variation in space requirements.

Future scenarios

Let's envision what the final product might be like and how it might be used. Here are several possible scenarios for electronically creating and storing student portfolios.

Keep a working portfolio:

Maintain samples of student work on floppy disk, hard disk drive, removable media drive, or a network. These records could take on the following formats:

Maintain a videotape record of student presentations or performances. A low-cost alternative could be an audio cassette recorder. In this format, the classroom teacher works with normal classroom equipment (a desktop computer, a video camera, or a tape recorder) and accumulates a variety of materials on each student.

Teachers could record anecdotal observational information, possibly using the Learner Profile system, using bar code technology. A lower cost solution (with a higher time commitment) might be setting up a data base for teachers to keep track of student outcomes.

Develop a formal portfolio:

The growing need for mass quantities of recordable storage brings about another question:
What if . . . Teachers, students and parents had access to modern optical storage to keep copies of student work? At end of each year, students and teachers could select sample files and sample video to place on a writable CD.

Using video compression technology, the best clips from the video tape could be placed in a permanent collection and recorded on a compact disk. Transfer other files to the CD (samples from word processing, hypermedia files, other applications).

The only limitation on this type of storage is the current limitation on accessing the information on a single hardware platform.

Future Hardware Options

CD-R: The education world needs a low-cost compact disc recorder that creates a standard CD that can be read with any multi-session CD-ROM drive. There are CD recorders on the market in the $4,000 price range which may be too expensive for a single school, but would be reasonable at the district level.

Kodak PhotoCD: Kodak has developed CD technology that allows photographic quality images to be digitized and saved on a specially-formatted compact disc. Up to 50 high quality photographs can be recorded on a single CD. As Kodak develops educational applications for its PhotoCD, student work can be transferred from slides to CD for viewing through video (television screen) or computer compact disc players.

Current Hardware Recommended

Apple's AV computers are ideal for portfolios since they include both video input from any video source and will allow video output of computer screens to tape for students to take home.
Hand-held scanner or flat bed scanner is needed to integrate paper-and-pencil work into the computer
A microphone or MacRecorder is needed to input student speaking or reading
Other useful hardware devices include:


Using technology to support alternative assessment is a real possibility, with existing technology, and the potential exists to adapt as more sophisticated technology becomes developed.

Teachers could start simply, by keeping student files on floppy or hard disks, and keeping student performances on video tape.

Once the technology is available at a reasonable cost, the data can be digitized and placed on the more dense storage medium of the writable optical compact disc.
Some day, students will graduate from each level (elementary, middle and high school) with a compact disc that contains an entire portfolio.

This article raises more questions than answers since the technology is just beginning to appear in classrooms. For the next few years, a variety of new programs will appear, giving classroom teachers the opportunity to test out various programs with students. We need a forum to share our mutual experiences so that educators can help shape the technology of assessment for the future. Formative evaluation in this field is very much needed.

I can be contacted through the Internet at AFHCB@ALASKA.EDU. I'd love to hear from other educators who are using any of these or other strategies. This is the time to share our experiences with each other and with the developers who are beginning to shape the technological assessment tools of the next decade. A session has been proposed for the next NECC Conference in Boston to continue the discussion.


Software References(education prices are only estimates)** Site licensing available

Hardware Peripherals

[Helen C. Barrett,, Coordinator, Alternative Education, University of Alaska Anchorage School of Education, Anchorage, AK 99508.]

Summary of product features mentioned (to be read as a table by Netscape 1.1 or later)


from a grant proposal called "Celebrations of Learning" submitted to Apple Computer, February, 1994

A vision for one student using Technology Support for Authentic Assessment

Susie Smith is a student in a 2nd grade class that is organized around principles of student-centered Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Most of the learning activities have an active, hands-on, interdisciplinary focus, with mostly observational and portfolio assessment rather than paper and pencil tests.

Susie will be assisted by a parent volunteer (or a student from a 6th grade class) to record a reading and a speaking sample into the Quadra 660AV that is assigned to the 2nd grade. Selected samples of the Susie's written work will be scanned into the computer with the assistance of older students or parent volunteers. Work that Susie has created on a laptop word processor will also be transferred onto the Macintosh.

Students in a nearby junior high video club will visit the elementary school and help the students in Susie's room to set up and use the camcorder that is available at each grade level. Susie will keep a videotape to record her classroom presentations, with videotapes donated by the nearby discount warehouse (the school's business partner) for those students who cannot afford the cost of a blank tape.

Her teacher will record anecdotal observations of Susie's work on his desktop computer, using the template custom designed for his state/district/school, perhaps using the bar coding technology as a shortcut to input and store data. At the end of each quarter, with appropriate student or volunteer assistance, Susie will create a videotape to take home showing work she has stored on the 660AV, along with excerpts from the classroom video.

As part of the material to go home could be a video interview that Susie might record about what she learned over the quarter, what she really likes about school, and what she wants to learn next. Her teacher could also be in the video, sharing Susie's strengths and needs, with suggestions for how her parents could help her at home. For older students, the video could record student-led conferences. Susie's parents would come to the school to view the video before meeting with her teacher (or a copy could be sent home), and a cumulative video would be sent home at the end of the year, to share with her parents, grandparents, and anyone else her parents can convince to watch! This video archive of Susie's development will be a treasure for her parents to keep over the years!

At the end of the school year, volunteers and practicum students from the university will come to the school and help the teachers and students decide what pictures, graphics, audio/video clips and records are to be archived on a Compact Disc-recordable (CD-R) disc as part of Susie's permanent record. These clips and documents will be selected, digitized, and recorded on a CD-R disc for each child.

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