All About Portfolios

Portfolios as a tool for teacher evaluation in Tennessee have received increased scrutiny in recent years. Kindergarten teachers told a legislative committee that implementation had been nothing short of a fiasco while the number of districts utilizing related-arts portfolios is dwindling.

Now, the Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office of Research and Education Accountability is out with a comprehensive study of the use of portfolios for teacher evaluation in Tennessee. Key findings include problems with validity and reliability as a measure of student growth as well as an increased time commitment for teachers and administrators. One policy suggestion is to move from attaching high-stakes (use in evaluation) to the portfolios and instead using some version of a portfolio as a tool for professional development. Below, I’ll post highlights from key areas of the report.

Platform Problems

Educopia 2017-18

After the General Assembly began requiring all districts accepting VPK funds to adopt the pre-k/kindergarten portfolio model, the department sought a new platform vendor that could serve a significant increase in portfolio submissions and ensure consistency statewide in the submission process as well as the scoring process. For the 2017-18 school year, the department contracted with Educopia, a vendor that the state had already worked with to test a new scoring process.

Multiple issues with the Educopia platform and scoring process resulted in the department allowing teachers affected by uploading and scoring problems to have their portfolio scores removed from their overall evaluation (LOE) scores. These issues with Educopia contributed to the state choosing a different portfolio platform vendor, though TDOE had already planned to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the following year’s (2018-19) portfolio platform in order to seek a platform that could align with a related TDOE system.

Portfolium 2018-current

In 2018-19, the state entered into a five-year contract with Portfolium. Like previous platforms, Portfolium also experienced capacity-related problems. On the last day to submit portfolios for the 2018-19 school year, Portfolium experienced a blackout and teachers were unable to access the platform. Additionally, at a meeting for peer reviewers to work on the first round of scoring, the heavy site activity overwhelmed the platform.

Program Costs

In the early years of the portfolio process, the Department of Education used the GLADiS Project platform and paid for the service through subscription fees. During the four-year period of 2013-14 through 2016-17, the department paid a total of $153,000 for the total 7,424 portfolios submitted during that period.B The department did not pay reviewers prior to 2017-2018; instead, districts recruited teachers to be reviewers and any compensation received by reviewers was determined at the local level.

For the 2017-18 school year, the state approved a sole source contract with Educopia, a vendor that the state had already worked with to test a new scoring process. The initial contract with Educopia was amended twice to increase the state’s financial liability, plus a subsequent short-term contract was approved. Increases to the state’s contract costs resulted from higher district and teacher participation than expected, as well as from additional vendor support required to address several problems with the platform’s implementation.

State payments to Educopia ultimately totaled $706,051 for work on the portfolio process for the 2017-18 school year, the same year that saw the number of teachers submitting portfolios rise from 2,170 to over 5,750.11 Adopting a new platform administered by a new vendor the same year as this large-scale increase in portfolio submissions likely increased the amount and complexity of the problems encountered and, by extension, the amount paid by the state. When the $677,000 in stipends paid to portfolio reviewers is added to the platform contract costs, the resulting total of $1.38 million makes 2017-18 the most expensive year for portfolio implementation to date.

The department released a request for proposal (RFP) for the 2018-19 school year, as it had planned, and awarded a contract to Portfolium, the only vendor other than Educopia that submitted a bid. The state signed a five-year, $2.1 million contract with Portfolium. In 2018-19, $216,496 was charged to the contract for the online platform, and $607, 282 was spent on portfolio review costs, primarily reviewer stipends. One additional cost of $26,100 was paid in 2018-19 for stipends for portfolio consultants, teachers, and other educators contracted to provide feedback on revisions made to scoring rubrics for clarity.

With 6,059 teachers submitting portfolios, the 2018-19 average state cost per portfolio was $140, not including compensation paid to three full-time department staff. This figure also does not capture local district costs. Some districts, for example, pay for classroom substitutes so that teachers have time to complete their portfolios during the school day.

Time Issues

Teachers report that the portfolio model takes time away from classroom practice and requires time spent after hours. State-required teacher assessments, whether based on standardized tests or on student growth portfolios, require time spent on preparation and administration.

A department survey of teachers using portfolios in 2017-18 found that 81 percent of all responding teachers (3,404) spent more than eight hours on portfolio preparation (e.g., uploading student work, adding explanatory comments, and completing self-scoring). Teachers using the world languages portfolio (24) reported spending the least amount of time on portfolio preparation, with 46 percent reporting they spent more than eight hours.

The portfolio process places demands on district administrators’ time as well, and these demands appear to be increasing based on changes in districts’ portfolio responsibilities outlined in state policy. As the statewide use of portfolio models expanded and the department understood the level of administrative support needed for successful portfolio implementation, the state’s requirements of districts grew.

Another concern of early grades teachers, in particular, relates more to the logistics of managing a classroom while also documenting the task performance of a selected student for a portfolio collection, such as recording audio of video of a student. For example, one pre-k supervisor indicated that portfolio collections were easier for pre-k teachers to put together than kindergarten teachers because pre-k teachers have a full-time teacher’s aide in their classrooms.


The above items reflect a portion of the OREA report on the use of student growth portfolios for teacher evaluations. The evidence indicates that these portfolios are expensive, incredibly time-consuming, and problematic to implement. The portfolios are also of questionable value when it comes to actually evaluating teachers. They MAY be of some use in professional development, if scaled-down and properly supported.

Image of Portfolio

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Story Time

Our story begins in the early weeks of Kindergarten with a student we’ll call Eric.

Eric is excited about starting school. He loves the new friends he’s making and he really likes his teacher.

Very early in the academic year, all the students are handed a small packet of worksheets as the teacher and a teaching assistant set up an iPad at a table in the room. The students are told to work quietly and that each of them will be called to the teacher to answer a few questions.

Eric’s name is called. His teacher explains what’s happening, that he’ll be asked a few questions and he’ll be recorded by the assistant. After the teacher establishes that Eric is comfortable with what’s about to happen, she poses a question. Eric’s mind searches, and he offers an answer. Now, he has to demonstrate his understanding. The assistant is aiming the iPad at him while attempting to watch the other 19 students in the classroom.

The interaction takes a little more than 5 minutes. The teacher and assistant make sure the event is recorded and labeled and set up for the next student. Eric returns to his desk and begins the worksheets.

Eric and his classmates (and all Kindergarten students in Tennessee) are participating in an evidence collection that is required as part of the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM) Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio. This portfolio of student work will be used to determine the effectiveness of Eric’s teacher.

At the end of the school year, another Kindergarten teacher who has been trained in the evaluation process will review the portfolio submitted by Eric’s teacher and assign a score. This score will be combined with classroom observations and an achievement measure to determine whether or not Eric’s teacher was “effective.”

The portfolio was required for all Kindergarten teachers for the first time this school year. The idea is that since Kindergarten teachers have students who don’t take TNReady, there has to be some way to evaluate their effectiveness besides classroom observation. Previously, these teachers received a “growth score” based on the school’s overall growth as determined by testing results.

Teachers submit evidence of students performing at high, middle, and low levels on standards at the beginning of the year and then at the end of the year. This requires evidence collection at various points, the most cumbersome being at the beginning of the year, when the students are largely unknown to the teachers.

Kindergarten teachers I talked to estimate the evidence collection process takes up a minimum of five instructional days. This means students aren’t actively engaged in the learning process during the evidence collection days. As in the scenario with Eric, it requires the full attention of the teacher (and if possible, an assistant) in order to collect the evidence. This doesn’t include the tagging of evidence or the uploading to an often unreliable online platform known as Educopia. Some districts report hiring subs on evidence collection days so teachers can document the evidence from their students.

One might suspect the same Department of Education that can’t coordinate a statewide test administration would also have difficulty coordinating the evaluation of Kindergarten teachers via an online portfolio system. Such a suspicion is proving to be correct as we come to the end of the first year of this mandated system.

Here’s one example. At the beginning of this school year, teachers were provided with a rubric to indicate the demonstrated skills for various performance levels. Here’s what that rubric indicated was a level 4:

Now, the submitted evidence is graded by a Kindergarten teacher who has been “trained” and who receives a very small stipend to complete the evaluation. Here’s what the evaluation rubric indicates is a Level 4:

So, is it WITH or WITHOUT prompts? Maybe we should ask U2’s Bono?

Imagine teaching all year and basing your evidence collection and tagging on one rubric only to discover that you are being evaluated on a different, more difficult standard? Oh, and this is only one of the many standards included in the portfolio evaluation.

Moving on to the scoring process, each teacher self-scores the submitted portfolio. Then, another teacher evaluates. If the scores are more than two levels apart, an “expert” receives the portfolio to make a determination.

What do those experts have that the initial teacher evaluating did not? First, a willingness to assess even more portfolios. Second, “guidance” from the Tennessee Department of Education.

The initial portfolios were to be evaluated by May 15th. Then, the portfolios with score disputes go on to the “experts.”

Here’s the text of an email about that sent on May 15th:

Dear Educator,

Thank you for all your hard work! The portfolio scoring in the general pool concludes at 11:59pm tonight. The consensus review scoring begins tomorrow, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

In the event that you were unable to meet your 10 portfolio review requirement (the same as 40 collections) AND you have demonstrated competence during the certification process and/or general pool scoring, you may receive additional portfolios to score. Reviewers who will receive additional portfolio submissions in this next phase and Expert Reviewers will be provided additional guidance to support the scoring process.

Thanks for all that you do! Please look for our next communication in 24 hours.

Here’s a follow-up email sent on May 16th:

Thanks again for your patience and support. We are still developing the guidance documents for the next phase of peer review. Our goal is to make sure you have the most comprehensive and best information to be successful. We appreciate your understanding and will communicate in the next 24-48 hours with updates.

So, no guidance YET for those scoring the second round. This despite the fact the portfolios were required for all teachers THIS year after being piloted by a few districts last year.

The Department of Education has had two full years to develop guidance for “consensus review scoring” and it is still not available. In fact, according to these two emails, the guidance is being developed right now. Was the Department of Education surprised that May 15th actually arrived this year?

How many parents are aware that their child is spending time in Kindergarten working as evidence collection specimens for a system used to assign a 1-5 number for their child’s teacher? How many know just how much instructional time is lost to this process?

Eric has now just about completed Kindergarten. He knows no other “normal” environment for school. Complete the task, be recorded, do it again at the end of the year.

The story doesn’t note the hours his teacher spent tagging evidence and uploading it instead of (or in addition to) preparing for learning activities for her class. The story also isn’t over. The results of the first year of statewide, mandatory Kindergarten portfolios have not been recorded.

Due to complaints at the start of this school year, legislators passed “hold harmless” legislation that will not allow this year’s portfolio results to negatively impact a teacher’s overall evaluation score. This may sound familiar, as “no adverse action” legislation was passed for those teachers impacted by TNReady scores.

Eric’s story is just one more example of a Department of Education that claims victory when the evidence suggests much improvement is needed. It’s a Department hellbent on pursuing supposedly lofty goals no matter the consequences to students or their teachers.

Lost instructional time due to portfolio evidence collection? No problem!

Days of stress and chaos because TNReady doesn’t work? Outstanding!

Teachers faced with confusing, invalid evaluations? Excellent!

Eric and his teachers and Tennessee’s schools and communities deserve better.

Do you have a portfolio story to share? Email me at

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Keep the education news coming!