English 101 Portfolio

Portfolio page

At Prairie State College, faculty want to ensure that each student receives a high quality education. PSC’s English faculty developed a special project to evaluate students’ writing and make sure that each writer who successfully passes English 101 has met the same standards. That special project is the English 101 Portfolio.

The 101 Portfolio is a collection of a writer’s work over the course of the semester. It includes both on-the-spot and revised work, so that a 101 Portfolio reader gets a strong, broad sense of each writer’s strengths and weaknesses. For the two revised pieces, the writer can do as many drafts—and make as many improvements—as she pleases. One of the two on-the-spot pieces, an in-class essay, is one of several written during the semester. This means that the bulk of the 101 Portfolio should represent a writer’s best work.

When a student writes a passing 101 Portfolio, he should feel proud and confident, knowing that he has writing skills that will benefit him in his life as a student, professional, and citizen.

How the 101 Portfolio is evaluated

Each 101 Portfolio is read by at least three members of the English Department: the writer’s own professor and two "external" readers, who have gone through training in portfolio evaluation and who also teach English 101 at PSC. These external readers examine the 101 Portfolio independently; if they disagree, the portfolio goes to a third reader who breaks the tie. All evaluation is done according to the English 101 Portfolio Rubric (PDF), which explains the values that PSC places on students’ writing.

Each 101 Portfolio is graded Pass/Fail on a four point scale by the external readers. A "Pass," a 2, 3, or 4, is not a guarantee of a passing letter grade in the class, but a "Fail," or a 1, means that the student will be withdrawn from the course ("W") and have to re-take English 101 in a future semester. A "0" indicates an incomplete portfolio, which will lead to an "F" in the course.

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Sample Portfolios

These sample portfolios roughly correspond with the numbers on the English 101 Portfolio Rubric (PDF). Many thanks to the students who granted their permission for their work to be posted here.

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Frequently asked questions

Q. I haven’t heard of this portfolio before. Is it new at Prairie State College?
A. Yes. In order to fulfill the College’s commitment to the North Central Association, PSC’s accrediting body, it is important to have a standardized assessment that all students take.  The English Composition Portfolio replaces the English Composition Exit Test that was previously used.
Q. Why do I have to create a portfolio of my writing?
A. Instead of a single essay exam or other form of assessment, the portfolio is designed to assess your ability to write and revise in real-life situations, both when you have a significant period of time to perfect a piece of writing and when you’re writing in a timed situation.  Because of the variety of types of writing included in portfolio, faculty can see and assess your overall ability to produce college-level compositions.
Q. I know I am weak when it comes to essay writing. What kind of steps should I take to make sure I pass this portfolio?
A. Careful preparation of assignments in English 101 is a key factor in developing habits that will enable you to pass the Composition Portfolio. Therefore:
  • You should attend all of your English 101 sessions, participating in class discussions, and ask questions of the instructor when you are unclear about an assignment. 
  • Plan all of your essay assignments for English 101 in advance of writing them.  Spend time developing individual paragraphs with clear topic sentences.  Experiment with different organization patterns to discover the most effective one for your assignments.
  • Whether writing a timed essay or working on a longer piece, make sure you take adequate time for revision, which includes deleting extraneous material and substituting more effective sentences, proofreading, and final polishing.
  • Confer with your instructor about difficulties you experience when writing.
  • Go to the Student Success Center for tutoring on individual assignments.
Q. What kind of help can I get outside of class time?
A. The College offers tutoring through the Student Success Center.  You can schedule an appointment at the SSC by calling 708-709-3663 or dropping by room 2643.
Q. What if I don’t pass the Composition Portfolio? Will I still be able to withdraw from English 101?
A. With your instructor’s approval, you may be withdrawn from English 101 at the end of the semester if you receive a 1 on your portfolio. You will not be withdrawn if you submit a 0-level portfolio, and you will receive a failing grade ("F") for the course.

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History of Assessment in English 101 at Prairie State College

In 1999, the PSC English faculty began using an "Exit Exam" in English 101. This was a timed essay in which students responded to a question based on a text. Until 2006, students were given 50 minutes to complete the essay; from 2006-2009, 75 minutes. Each Exit Exam was graded Pass/Fail by two external readers. If students failed the first attempt, they were allowed one re-take opportunity. A student who failed both times would receive a "W" and have to repeat English 101 in a future term.

While this type of exam is widespread in community colleges—many of the City Colleges of Chicago, for instance, still use a similar exam—and while faculty and administrators saw gains in students’ writing abilities after the exam began, it seemed as if this was not a fair way to evaluate students’ progress over an entire semester. A portfolio method would seem to be a fairer way to evaluate students’ writing. PSC English faculty identified a few ways that portfolios would be better than exit exams:

  • Students who struggle with timed tests have the opportunity to show ability in revised pieces.
  • The revision required for two of the essays produces better writing.
  • The portfolio provides a broader, richer image of a student’s writing ability.
  • Seeing the complete picture of students’ writing allows faculty to see strengths and weaknesses more clearly and accurately.
  • Being able to see these strengths and weaknesses helps faculty to respond to their students’ needs by adjusting curriculum.

Besides these benefits for students, portfolios also seemed promising to the faculty members themselves:

  • More mid-semester meetings—to make sure everyone sees the standards similarly—promote sharing of teaching techniques and assignments.
  • New faculty have more opportunity for mentoring

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