Capturing and Advancing Student Learning: Three Types of Student Portfolios

In Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write (Allyn & Bacon, 2007), Richard Allington and Patricia Cunningham recommend educators use different types of portfolios for different assessment purposes. Combining this information with Evangelina Harris Stefanakis’s resource Multiple Intellgences and Portfolios: A Window into the Learner’s Mind (Heinneman, 2002), I drew this chart that visual summarizes their thinking, plus a little bit of my own:


I have a similar chart in my book Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment (Powerful Learning Press, 2014). Actually, I shortened it down to just progress and performance portfolios, for sake of brevity.

Now that I have had a few months to reflect on what I wrote, I am not confident that this is how assessment really looks like in the classroom. Teachers don’t naturally parse out these different methods. The classroom is too kinetic and dynamic to allow the teacher to separate the three. 

A more realistic approach to using digital portfolios in the classroom may look more like this:

Evernote Snapshot 20140909 102532


It’s the process that helps students make progress toward optimal performance.

Putting the different portfolios within the context of a learning progression makes more sense. This does require that teachers spend more time on preparing for responsive instruction, and subsequently giving up some of the planning for activities that have little to do with essential understandings. 


Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

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