The LEAP Challenge Blog

The Proof Is in the Portfolio

In an Inside Higher Ed essay, colleagues who developed the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) attacked both the concept of e-portfolios as a strategy for assessing students’ learning gains and my own argument that it is high time to break the habit of treating standardized tests as a source of special and privileged insight into an individual’s potential and/or achievement across a course of study.

For the convenience of readers who are just learning about AAC&U’s approach to assessment, we’re providing links to three resources available to download.

1) The first is Our Students’ Best Work: A Framework for Accountability Worthy of Our Mission. Revised and reissued last year, this is an official Board of Directors statement. It describes ways of focusing assessments on students’ actual work, completed across the curriculum. The core idea is captured in the title. Assessments ought to motivate students to do their very best work, and higher education ought to make the production of such “best work” a focal point for the college curriculum. When students are producing “authentic work,” that work can be assessed using validated rubrics by faculty who have been trained to apply rubrics to samples of student work.

Recognizing the scalability challenge this approach to assessment presents, Our Students’ Best Work recommends that each academic program build into the regular curriculum abundant opportunities for students to practice and produce work that deploys  important college outcomes, such as analysis, communication, problem solving, engagement with difference, and integrative learning. For purposes of institutional assessment and external reporting, a random sample of portfolios can be scored and reported using rubrics and multiple blind raters.

2) The second link takes you to the VALUE rubrics that have just been released through AAC&U’s federally funded national project, Rising to the Challenge. These rubrics are keyed to the essential learning outcomes that AAC&U has developed—in concert with the higher education community—through its ongoing initiative, Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP). The LEAP VALUE rubrics feature “dimensions” of specific learning outcomes that faculty should take into account in determining a student’s growth in competence through his or her studies. The VALUE project studied hundreds of existing campus rubrics for specific learning outcomes that faculty had already developed to assess  student work and progress. The rubrics were developed by faculty-led expert teams and have been tested multiple times against actual student work at many different institutions.

3) The third link takes you to my own essay, “The Proof is in the Portfolio,” which I published last year to express my dismay that higher education, in the wake of the Spellings furor, was now piloting the use of a single test to be taken by student volunteers that would supposedly provide external evidence about what students have learned over time. While I respect my CLA colleagues for their psychometric fervor, I stand firmly by my view that no institution should use a single test, taken by a set of student volunteers, to form or report judgments about the quality of student achievement across the entire family of programs and majors.

As I said in my essay, we are educators. As educators, we have a responsibility to help our constituents distinguish between good practice and bad practice. Using a single measure to capture the academic achievement of an entire college or university curriculum is bad practice.