Portfolios and Program Assessment

Why Portfolios?

One of the chief goals of first-year composition at Emory is to help students practice writing for various purposes and audiences. A closely related goal is to prepare students to confront new rhetorical situations. Yancey, Robtertson, and Taczack (2014) argue that reflection as a reiterative practice in which students conceive of their activity using rhetorical terms helps them formulate a “theory of writing” that they can apply in other contexts.

While collecting and selecting artifacts for inclusion in a portfolio provides many opportunities for students to reflect on the writing they’re doing, the portfolio and reflection letter, as Reynolds and Davis (2014) note, “are the closest that most assessment practices come to a meaningful, authentic picture of what students have learned and how they have engaged in that learning” (p. 5).

What is Phase 2 Portfolio Assessment?

Phase 2 portfolio assessment is a process by which a program determines how well students enrolled in its courses are achieving learning goals. The Phase 2 approach requires that

  1. The program has a set of learning outcomes shared by faculty.
  2. Each student in the program composes a letter to portfolio readers arguing that she or he has achieved those outcomes.

Why Phase 2?

Phase 2 assessment lessens the burden of reviewing a large number of portfolios by allowing the raters to assess reflective portfolio letters, rather than every artifact in the portfolio. The assessment effort “focuses on references in [the reflective] letter to work in the portfolio as evidence for the argument in the letter” (White, 2007, p. 181-182). Raters, then, use a rubric to evaluate the students’ arguments about their learning, including how well they marshal evidence from their own work.


  • Cambridge, D. (2010). Eportfolios for Lifelong Learning and Assessment (1 edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Reynolds, N., & Davis, E. (2014). Portfolio Teaching: A Guide for Instructors (Third Edition). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
  • White, E. M. (2006). Assigning, Responding, Evaluating: A Writing Teacher’s Guide (Fourth Edition edition). New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
  • Yancey, K., Robertson, L., & Taczak, K. (2014). Writing across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing (1 edition). Logan: Utah State University Press.