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    The Use of Portfolios in Preservice Teacher Education

    A Critical Appraisal

    Ginette Delandshere, Anthony R. Petrosky

    Indiana University; University of Pittsburgh

    Portfolios are now extensively used throughout the education system fromelementary schools to institutions of higher education. They are used todocument and assess students’ learning, teachers’ teaching, and the work- ing of schools and programs. They are part of the process of making deci- sions on licensure, certification, hiring, promotion and tenure, and program accreditation. Other than the dossiers compiled by higher education faculty members for promotion and tenure or by the few teachers nominated for an award, the use of portfolios in education is a fairly recent phenomenon. In this chapter, we focus exclusively on portfolios in preservice teacher educa- tion programs. To understand how and why they are used in this context, however, as well as their meanings and purposes, we first retrace the history of portfolio in education and analyze the first teaching portfolios developed for the purpose of assessing practicing teachers. Following a review of the portfolio literature to clarify differences in portfolio practices and the claims that have been made regarding their use, we raise a number of issues related to whether practicing teacher assessment portfolios constitute a useful model for preservice teacher education programs. We then present and contrast two cases purposefully selected to highlight differences in teacher education use of portfolios. Finally, we comment on how portfolios might be ideally envisioned in preservice teacher education.


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    Although almost every decade in the history of public education in the United States can be characterized as such, the 1980s represented yet another moment of intense questioning and great concern about the nation’s schools, colleges, and universities, including the quality of teaching, learning, and the curriculum at the different education levels. A Nation at Risk, a report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education submitted to the U.S. secretary of edu- cation in 1983, called for educational reforms of school curriculum, teacher education curriculum, and university curriculum in general. Higher and more rigorous standards of performance for both students and prospective teachers were emphasized, among other things, along with accountability recommen- dations, including nationwide standardized testing of students’ achievement at key transition points of the educational system. At the same time, edu- cators were generally leery of additional testing requirements and became preoccupied with finding alternative forms of assessment.

    To tackle the report’s issues related to teacher education and the profes- sionalization of teaching, the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy commissioned Lee Shulman and Gary Sykes to write a paper for consideration by the Carnegie Foundation’s Task Force in Teaching as a Profession. In this paper, Shulman and Sykes (l986) outlined what they perceived to be the knowledge base of teaching, devised prototype assessments of this knowledge, and made recommendations for the creation and implementation of a national board for teaching standards. After receiving this position paper, the Task Force on Teaching as a Profession issued a report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (Carnegie, Foundation Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, 1986) and funded the Teacher Assessment Project (TAP) at Stanford University under Shulman’s direction. The TAP’s work from 1986 to 1990 consisted of imagining and developing new forms of teacher assessment in order to assist the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), created soon after in 1987, with the development of professional standards for teachers and the implementation of an assessment system for the purpose of awarding national certification to accomplished elementary and secondary school teachers. The traditional mode of teacher assessment (the National Teachers Examination and later the PRAXIS examinations) had been generally recognized as inadequate, or at least insufficient, to capture the complexity and contextualization of teaching and teacher knowledge—hence the impetus for developing new forms of teacher assessment.

    For the first two years, TAP researchers developed and tried out assessment center simulation exercises of teaching, such as developing and teaching a les- son and evaluating student work, for elementary mathematics and high school history. In the next two years, recognizing the importance of documenting


    teaching over time and in the context of the teachers’ own classrooms, the TAP team turned its attention to the development of portfolios for documenting and evaluating teaching in elementary literacy and high school biology (Wolf, 1991). The focus on portfolios to document and represent teaching can partly be explained by how they have been used in other occupations (for example, architects, artists, professional writers), although early on, Bird (1990) warned the field about adopting them wholesale without carefully considering their purposes in the context of teaching.

    The attention to the portfolio as a method of documentation and assessment of teaching by the Stanford researchers nevertheless played a pivotal role in their proliferation at all educational levels. Although some university faculty members had experimented with student portfolios in the teaching of freshman reading and writing in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Elbow & Belanoff, 1991), their use was minimal compared to what we would witness in the 1990s and thereafter.

    Other initiatives also converged with the TAP work to create the momentum for the portfolio proliferation that would ensue. In 1987, funded by a grant from the National Governors’ Association, the state of Connecticut formed a consortium with the state of California in collaboration with Stanford University to overhaul their standards and procedures for teacher licensure. As a part of this effort, they began to study the new assessments developed by the Stanford team and, in some modified forms, their viability for evaluating beginning teachers. This consortium quickly led to the creation of the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), an organization that now includes more than thirty states and was highly influential in the development of standards and assessments for beginning teachers across states. Meanwhile based on the initial efforts of the TAP, the NBPTS had begun its work and in 1990 released the first request for proposal for development of the first assessment for experienced English language arts teachers to be used for the purpose of awarding national certification. The University of Pittsburgh, in collaboration with the Connecticut State Department of Education, received the award for the Early Adolescent/English Language Arts Assessment Development Laboratory (ADL) and began its work in 1991, drawing in important ways on the TAP’s work on assessment center exercises and portfolios. The assessment developed for the first ADL included a portfolio and became a model followed by recipients of subsequent ADL awards in other certification areas. To date, more than sixty-four thousand teachers nationwide have been awarded national certification.

    Given the advocacy for the use of portfolios for assessment in the process of licensing beginning teachers and their use for awarding national certifi- cation to accomplished experienced teachers, as well as a strong call for performance-based assessment and alignment of standards and assessment at


    all levels, teacher education programs felt pressure to prepare their students for the initial licensing process and its assessment. By the late 1990s, many teacher education programs had adopted or were in the process of adopting a system of portfolio assessment aligned with state, professional, and INTASC teaching standards. In addition, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) also contributed to the development of teaching portfolios through its program review requirements for accreditation. These program reviews are now typically conducted by professional organizations in the content area under review. And since some of these organizations also use the language of the teaching portfolio in the criteria that they consider impor- tant for an effective assessment and evaluation system for student-teachers (see, for example, National Council of Teachers of English, 2006), they exercise pressure on teacher education programs to include portfolios as a requirement for course or program completion or both.

    To understand how portfolios are currently used in teacher education programs, it is important to analyze the context in which these portfolios were first developed, how they were defined, their form and content, and the purpose of their use. The first teaching portfolios (TAP, NBPTS) were devel- oped exclusively for summative assessment purposes. They were designed to document various aspects of a teacher’s best work on which a certification decision could be made. Portfolios were defined ‘‘as a container for storing and displaying evidence of a teacher’s knowledge and skills . . . [that] embodies an attitude that assessment is dynamic and that the richest portrayals of teacher (and student) performance are based on multiple


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