Portfolio evaluation, the authors argue in this short essay, is superior to single sample-based proficiency examinations, because portfolios honor pedagogy and allow the process model to work. Elbow and Belanoff argue that a good measure of student success in a writing course(s) is one that allows multiple, self-selected samples, along with formative feedback by the teacher. Additionally, they propose a model where portfolios are locally evaluated, using the student’s teacher along with another teacher who does not know the student, with the two educators deciding whether the portfolio achieves the “C” (pass) rating or not. If a portfolio fails because of one paper, the student is given the chance to revise it; if it fails as a whole, the student has to retake the writing course.
I do see a strength in this method, along with the ones the authors identify: it gives the student work an outside audience. Often, as Elbow and Belanoff note, teachers become kind of implicated in student writing, especially if a process model is followed. We’ve helped shape these papers, so we are, to some degree, implicated in the result. However, if another rater is introduced, it gives us a way to look at the product as well as the process.