Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2015

Student Writing Portfolio

From the Carleton College Writing Program


Carleton requires all sophomores to submit a portfolio of writing by their 6th academic quarter. Specifics are available on the Carleton Writing Program Portfolio website.


Every student must submit a portfolio according to the criteria by the end of the 6th quarter of enrollment. For now, the portfolio is collected on paper with a copy saved to a CD. Students submit portfolios in person to Writing Program staff.

Portfolios are scored by faculty readers the week after Commencement, with results communicated to students in early July. The holistic scoring guide is available at the portfolio web site. Readers all read previously scored portfolios at the beginning of the annual scoring session to determine the boundaries of "pass," which is by far the largest category. As is the case with portfolio assessment nationwide, we generally see about 10% of a class that earns "exemplary" and another 10% rated "needs work." The remaining 80% are rated "pass." Once the boundaries of "pass" are established through discussion of examples read in common, readers continue at their own pace, reading each student's reflective essay carefully and skimming the rest of the portfolio, completing the scoring guide, and making a rating decision.

All portfolios rated exemplary or needs work are read at least once more to validate the scores. When necessary, readers confer to negotiate a decision. A percentage of passing portfolios is also re-read, as is a sample of portfolios from the previous year (from all scoring categories), to test reader consistency. If anything, we notice that readers are more demanding of last year's work than this year's: for example, a portfolio rated exemplary last year may earn a high pass this year. However, the percentages in each category--needs work, pass, exemplary--remain quite stable. We conclude that, despite tougher readers as time goes on, our students are keeping up with expectations, because it seems that even the weakest writers are holding their own.

Use of the Data

The College uses data to plan programs for faculty, to alert faculty and staff to particular writing problems that surface, and to reward the students who excel as writers at the midpoint of their Carleton careers. Those whose portfolios do not pass are given individual instruction to prepare for advanced work in the major.


We have been pleased with the portfolio as a means of identifying strong and weaker writers as well as establishing norms for writing at the sophomore level. Equally important are the benefits for faculty of reading work they have not assigned, often outside of their fields. We see impressive faculty development among colleagues as they compare impressions, seek guidance on disciplinary conventions, and swap ideas for assignments, feedback, and more. We look forward to adjusting the portfolio to a new curriculum, tentatively planned for the fall of 2010.


See details on the Carleton Writing Program Portfolio website.