Electronic Portfolios and Final Exams

When I first made the big switch to standards-based grading, I had a hard time reconciling the way I graded throughout the semester and the idea of final exams.

In my district, the final exam is worth 20% of student’s semester grade. All of my grading throughout the semester was formative, and the final exam was so summative. In the past five years I have wrestled with the questions, “what is the purpose of a final exam” and “how do I incorporate a final exam into my grading system.” At this point, I have found peace in answers to both of these questions and part of that relies on my students completing an electronic portfolio.

My answer to the first question is, “a final exam is a summative assessment that students have been preparing for the entire year with a semester worth of formative assessments and feedback. The final exam is their chance to show what they know. The final exam can be an effective assessment tool if written appropriately.” I make sure my exam equally covers all of the learning targets my students were assessed on that semester, no more, no less. This ensures that my expectations for my students are clearly defined.

My answer to the second question is, “I will enter a final exam grade with no curve (aside from a poorly-designed question I may toss after item analysis) to be calculated into a student’s final grade according to district policy. In addition to the actual test, a small percentage of the final exam grade will come from an electronic portfolio completed by students throughout the semester.”

Over the years my electronic portfolio project has changed in format but the purpose remains the same; to encourage students to reflect on and record what they have learned throughout the course. 

Right now I have students completing their portfolios in Google Slides. They previously used Google Sites but it was cumbersome to work with. The nice thing about Google Slides is I can make a template and easily distribute and collect it through Google Classroom.

Here are the directions I give my students: “You should have 1 slide for every learning target we have covered this semester. Each slide should include a picture of a question you did correctly (or corrected) for this learning target as well as an explanation of your work. This will serve as your study guide for your semester exam. Your goal in the explanation is to explain to a future you how to complete the problem when you have inevitably forgotten what to do.”


Figure 1 - Directions slide for electronic portfolio

I also provide students with an exemplar slide so that my expectations are clear.

Figure 2 - Exemplar slide for electronic portfolio


I spend a day in class with students setting up their portfolios. I also give them time in class throughout the semester to work on them. Artifacts do not have to be solely from quizzes, they can be from reassessments or worksheets. Artifacts also do not need to be work that was originally correct. Students can make corrections and then explain what they changed in their portfolio. One of the reasons I love incorporating an electronic portfolio into the exam grade is it continues to encourage my students to be reflective learners, which is one of my main goals in using standards-based grading. Many opponents of standards-based grading cite that it does not prepare students for college because it is not the way college professors grade. I believe that teaching my students the skills to be reflective learners and ensuring they retain content will be more useful to them in the end than teaching them how to cram for a test. I go into more depth about my use of standards based grading in a post titled, "Standards-based Grading in the Chemistry Classroom".

Do you ever struggle with the concept of writing and grading exams? How do you “make peace” with high stakes testing? 


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Comments 4

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Thu, 06/07/2018 - 07:57

Lauren - I love your idea.  I do not do standards based grading.  I do a "bell ringer" each day that the kids are supposed to write down and I check later on.  The culmination of these acts as a study guide.  I am thinking of trying your idea.  Each day, or period of days, I could see us starting with the standard and briefly discussing what constitutes an artifact.  Here is my question(s).  How do you logistically handle grading these?  Do they submit them through google classroom?  What about students who transfer into your class later in the year?  Thanks....really cool.

Lauren Stewart's picture
Lauren Stewart | Thu, 06/07/2018 - 21:16

Great questions! Google Classroom has really helped with grading these. I used to have students submit a link through a Google Form but Classroom is definitely better. I give a “got it”, “almost” “not yet” (2,1,0) for every learning target like I do for their quizzes. For students who transfer in, I just have them pick up wherever they came in. Basically whatever targets they have been held responsible for in the gradebook is what they are responsible for in the portfolio.  

Ben Meacham's picture
Ben Meacham | Thu, 06/07/2018 - 16:19


As usual, you have sparked my interest and now I'm thinking about doing whatever I can to incorporate this idea next year.  I do have a few Qs that I hope you can help me with.

1) What if a student wants mulitple slides for 1 particular learning target?  Has that happened to you or do you put a strict cap on it for your own sanity when it comes to grading them?

2) You had mentioned that all of your grading throughout the semester is formative.  Does that mean you have done away with summative tests at the end of each unit and replaced them with frequent formative assessments throughout the unit?  

3) What percentage of the 20% final exam grade do you give to the e-portfolio?  You had mentioned it was a "small percentage."  Is that like 3%, 5%? 

4) Considering you do SBG, do you have a specific learning target (or targets) for the e-portfolio itself?  

Thanks for sharing another awesome idea!

Lauren Stewart's picture
Lauren Stewart | Thu, 06/07/2018 - 21:24

Awesome questions as always Ben!

1. This has honestly never been a problem. In my experience students will not do more work than they have to. If it became a problem, I would probably cap it to two for my own sanity.

2. Correct. I give quizzes every week and my students see every target multiple times so I do not give unit assessments. 

3. I have changed how much I weight the portfolio but I am at 10% right now. I’ve found it needs to be enough where students are encouraged to do it but it doesn’t make or break their grade. It just gives them a little boost. 

4. I do not have targets for the portfolio. I grade each learning target on a “got it”, “almost”, “not yet” (2,1,0) scale and then just weight the grade of the whole assignment into the final exam grade. 

Hope that helps! It’s not a perfect system but it has been a step in the right direction for me.