Hamp-Lyons and Condon wrote this article to support the use of portfolio assessments, which they believe is better than holistic assessment. They are interested in exploring what readers/assessors do when they assess portfolios. At the beginning of the article, they claim that “a portfolio-based system of writing assessment must continually be questioned, and must continually grow in response to new discoveries” (p. 316). Hamp-Lyons and Condon found that several assumptions about portfolio assessment need to be questioned.
First of all, it is not the case that having multiple pieces to assess makes educational decisions easier. Readers consider one text in the portfolio in relation to other texts in the portfolio. Readers, therefore must take into consideration “all of the evidence the portfolio provides” (319). This is a complex task indeed. The task gets even more complicated when texts are in different genres.
Hamp-Lyons and Condon also found that readers had difficultly parsing out what students learned when portfolio contained both revised and timed-written pieces. What is due to the student’s ability, and what is due to the time the student spent conferencing with the instructor and revising? They also found that coming to consensus about instruction and assessment is difficult, even when faculty read, discuss, and assess portfolios.
The article has several suggestions. It might be beneficial for portfolios to include multiple drafts of a paper so that the reader can see the revision process and how the piece grew over time. Since faculty may have different ideas about good writing and writing instruction, Hamp-Lyons and Condon argue that “We must search for an approach that permits criteria that are constantly open to negotiation, open to the changes that a recursive process of teaching and reading portfolios must involve. At the same time, perhaps there is strength in formalizing a method that would reflect the best of what readers already do, seeking to guide all toward those ‘good reader’ processes” (p. 327). It’s all about how teachers use portfolios.