No Final Exams? Use Portfolios To Capture the Year of Learning

Posted on March 20, 2020 by David Niguidula

It’s becoming increasingly likely that some schools may not re-open before the end of the school year. So what can schools do instead of having a traditional final exam?

Digital Portfolios can achieve the same goal as your exam: to demonstrate what your students have learned in your course. The portfolio can honor and reward the hard work your students have done this year – and incorporate the home-learning activities that are happening now.

Let’s take this in 3 steps.

Step 1 — Make a list: What goes into your portfolio?

A final exam is supposed to assess the key skills and knowledge that students have learned throughout the entire course. So, as a starting point, make a list – what are those key skills and knowledge? At the top of the list, write “My final exam assesses” and just write what comes to mind.

It can help to prioritize the skills more than the knowledge.

For example, an English teacher might list the following skills:

My final exam assesses:

  1. Ability to read and understand a text
  2. Understanding key ideas in literature, such as theme, plot, characters
  3. Ability to write in different genres

Simply put, a digital portfolio is a collection of student work. To design the portfolio, look at the list you just created.What assignments could go along with those skills?

Next to each skill, you can make the list of assignments. NOTE: the assignments can include BOTH the assignments you gave in class AND home-learning assignments that the students can do now.

Skills Assignments
1. Ability to read and understand a text • Responding to MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail In Class
• Commenting on the News Home Learning
2. Understanding key ideas in literature, such as theme, plot, characters • Shakespeare unit In Class
• Dissecting “The Lottery” In Class
• Response to a Library Book Home Learning
3. Ability to write in different genres • Short Story In Class
• Research Paper In Class
• Narrative on “How Things are Different Now” Home Learning

You’ve now designed the structure for your portfolio! Essentially, what you’re asking the students to do is to collect items from the right column.

You can give students choice in what they submit – in the example above, the student could submit any one of the responses to literature to meet Skill #2. Alternatively, for some skills, you may want to see a breadth of skills; for Skill #3 above, the student might need one submission for each of the genres of writing you’ve addressed (such as narrative, fiction, persuasive).

The key here is the portfolio can come from assignments that are already part of your class. You can refer both to assignments that are in your gradebook from the first part of this year, or any of the home learning assignments that are coming up.

Now, because the portfolio is digital, you potentially could add requirements that you wouldn’t normally have on a traditional exam. For example, you could add an “oral presentation” requirement, and ask the students to refer to a presentation done earlier in the year or to record on an online chat now.

Step 2 — Collect the Evidence

Now that you’ve thought about what you want in the portfolio, it’s easy to set this up. In Richer Picture, you can set up a digital portfolio as a “tour,” as shown below.

Sample Portfolio in Richer Picture
Sample Portfolio in Richer Picture

The Tabs along the top correspond to the different sections: Understanding Text, Key Ideas in Literature, the different genres of writing –  Narrative, Report ,Fiction – and an Oral Presentation.

Students can upload their work into the portfolio, and give you a record of what they have achieved.

Step 3 — Review the Portfolio

To assess the portfolio, you can set up a rubric.

EntryPercentage of Final Portfolio Grade
Understanding Text15%
Key Ideas in Literature15%
Writing: Narrative20%
Writing: Report20%
Writing: Fiction20%
Oral Presentation10%

You do NOT have to re-grade the student submissions; you could use the grades that you issued earlier. (So, if a student received an 80 on the Understanding Text entry earlier in the year the student’s score would be 80 x 15%).

There are, of course, lots of variations on this theme. You can add more of the home learning assignments, and have the students truly personalize their portfolios to show more about themselves.

Please feel free to add your own thoughts! If you’d like to get started, check out our free trial version or drop us a line at !

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Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges & Portfolio

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