The Portfolio and Student Evaluation

August 31, 2001

In recent years, the portfolio in college and university music program has been promoted as a tool to assess student development. As universities and colleges are increasingly being asked to develop appropriate methods to evaluate all aspects of a student's growth, it would be appropriate for music programs to consider (or reconsider the portfolio. Literature describing the use of the portfolio in music programs deals with applications in music education, but it is also a useful tool for other majors.

A portfolio is a compilation of materials that chronicle a student's development. Though a transcript can give an overview of academic progress, it leaves many questions unanswered. A good portfolio includes not only information about progress in classes, but of expertise and experience in other aspects of the discipline. It continuously tracks the progress (or lack of progress) that a student is making. It can be readily adapted to a variety of institutional needs and is useful in job applications as documentation of the skills a student has acquired in his/her college career. Over a period of year portfolio reviews can also be used to assist faculty in the restructuring of curricula for more effective development of competencies in music.

Before implementing the portfolio as an assessment tool, two decisions must be made. Faculty should first decide what kinds of materials might be included. A schedule for review of the portfolio should also be established.

NASM identifies competencies that serve as guidelines for the kinds of materials that might be included. Degrees in music have differing emphases, and portfolios will vary to some extent according to the student's major. A typical portfolio consists of:

  • A resumé
  • A current unofficial academic transcript
  • A listing of repertory studied in private lessons. For each piece, the student could be asked to provide brief program notes from standard reference sources and/or a brief analysis of the work
  • Copies of jury forms from each term of study
  • Copies of concert programs in which the student has performed
  • Syllabi from courses taken, with sample assignments
  • Sample theory or composition project(s)
  • Sample music history paper(s)
  • Recordings of MIDI projects (or notation projects), demonstrating ability to use appropriate technology
  • For music education majors, sample papers and observations from education courses and clinical experiences
  • For majors in theory, composition, and music history, additional samples of representative papers, compositions, and projects (recordings of compositions could be included)
  • For programs requiring an internship, a brief description of the internship project and an evaluation from their on-site supervisor
  • For music education majors, a video tape of the student conducting and/or as a classroom teacher
  • For majors requiring a recital, an audio or video recording of the senior recital and other solo performances
  • Letters of reference or recommendation that comment specifically on the studentÕs abilities
  • Other items, as appropriate to the student's activities and interests

Faculty should decide when the student's portfolio should be evaluated, and by whom. To be effective, the portfolio should be examined regularly. There are various options: 1) the student's applied teacher could require submission of the portfolio each term as a part of the student's applied music grade; 2) presentation of the portfolio could be a part of every student's academic advising; 3) students could be asked to submit their portfolios at end-of-term juries, as a part of a sophomore year review before admission to upper-level studies, or as a part of their application for graduation and/or exit interview. Ideally, several individuals should evaluate each portfolio.

One potential concern in the use of portfolios is that reviewers may examine the evaluations of their colleagues, and question their validity. If portfolios are adopted, it must be made clear that the portfolio is used to help the student identify and address weaknesses; they should never be used as part of a faculty review.

There are several benefits for students:

  • By keeping records in this way, they are better prepared for performance reviews and evaluations that are standard in many positions.
  • The portfolio can be used to determine whether a student is making progressregardless of the level at which the student is workingand can be extremely helpful in advising students concerning their future goals.
  • Course syllabi are helpful for students who may transfer, and who are then asked to present those syllabi as evidence of the content of courses they wish to transfer.
  • The inclusion of academic course work in the portfolio helps the student to realize that all aspects of their education are significant, and assists in promoting the synthesis that is expected of all students pursuing a professional degree in music.
2425 Last modified on May 1, 2013
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