Portfolio Assessment Guidelines

College of Health and Human Development

Portfolio Assessment

PORTFOLIO ASSESSMENT is a process that enables students to demonstrate college-level learning from experiences gained outside the classroom. Students requesting portfolio assessment have to not only show that they have experiences relevant to the curriculum and courses, but also have to provide documentation that demonstrates that experience has led to learning consistent with the learning outcomes expected by the courses and curriculum. In other words, it is not sufficient to merely have had an experience. It is necessary to demonstrate what learning occurred as a result of those actions.

The process of portfolio assessment requires that students demonstrate and document learning equivalent to a particular course. It is the student’s responsibility to identify the course(s) for which they would like to document. Portfolio Assessment is not “an easy way to earn credits,” but rather a rigorous process that enables students, through careful reflection and documentation, to prove learning equivalent to a Penn State course. The information on the following pages provides helpful information about both the documentation of learning and the organization of a sound portfolio for evaluation by the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State.

Developing A Prior Learning Portfolio

The development of a portfolio is a rigorous process that requires students to document learning equivalent to a specific Penn State course. Students must have completed a minimum of three Penn State credits before they can submit a portfolio for credit in other classes.


  • Student identifies the specific Penn State course for which portfolio assessment is requested.
  • Student obtains approval to develop a portfolio using the "Initial Application for a Review of Prior Experiential Learning". Approval of the initial application indicates that the student’s documented experiences appear to justify the development of a portfolio; it does not guarantee that credit will be awarded.
  • Student submits the complete portfolio within 10 weeks of approval of “Initial Application for Review” but not later than the fifth week of the semester prior to the semester of intended graduation. PORTFOLIOS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED DURING THE SEMESTER OF INTENDED GRADUATION.
  • Portfolio and “Credit by Portfolio Assessment Application” - https://guru.psu.edu/Forms/credit-by-portfolio-assessment-application-up-SIMBA.pdf

is sent to: College of Health and Human Development, Office of Undergraduate Education, ATTN: Portfolio Review, 104 Henderson Building, University Park, PA, 16802 with check for nonrefundable portfolio fee ($390 per portfolio with up to 6 credits per application).

  • Faculty and department review the portfolio. If approved for credit, faculty reviewer and department head sign the application form and return to HHD Office of Undergraduate Education. Associate Dean signs and forwards to Undergraduate Admissions Office who will add the course credit to the student transcript.
  • If the faculty reviewer believes the portfolio does not meet learning objectives of the course requested, they should submit a summary of their assessment to the Associate Dean who will communicate the summary to the student.
  • Student will be notified of a decision within 8 weeks of faculty receipt of the portfolio. Adhering to this timeline will allow students to meet their intended timeline for graduation, particularly if a portfolio is not approved for credit.

Students are allowed a maximum of two opportunities to prove learning— (1) through the original portfolio submission and (2) one re-submission, if additional information or revisions are requested by faculty upon the first review. The re-submission must be received no more than 5 weeks following notification to the student that the original submission was not adequate for credit.

Parts of the Portfolio

Portfolios may differ, but the items listed below are usually a part of a portfolio. While the description here focuses on a written portfolio, students may submit video and/or audio or other media as part of the portfolio to be evaluated.

  • Credit by Portfolio Assessment Application
  • Table of Contents
  • Resume and/or Autobiography/Educational Goals Statement: This section provides an important overview by introducing the student to the faculty member through a chronology of life experiences relevant to the portfolio submission. The goals statement is generally 300-400 words in length.
  • Detailed Description of the Experience(s): The portfolio can include knowledge or skills gained from a wide variety of sources. Some of the more common sources for portfolio assessment are: full- or part-time jobs; hobbies and recreational activities; independent reading or study; community activities; training programs or in-service courses; military service; volunteer work; travel study experiences; cultural and artistic pursuits; professional organizational memberships and activities
  • Description of the Learning: The description of the experience and learning may be blended into one essay. This section is generally 8-20 pages in length. Students are expected to review relevant course materials and to refer to the course syllabus and other materials in demonstrating learning equivalent to the content of the course. Through observation and reflection, students are expected to demonstrate, when appropriate, conceptual, theoretical and practical knowledge and competencies derived from their experiences. See below for some additional details.
  • Documentation (Direct and Indirect; see information below)
  • Annotated Bibliography: An annotated bibliography of books and periodicals, and a listing of people and other resources may be included in each portfolio. “Annotated” means that you have explained and identified your sources in enough detail so someone who is unfamiliar with the material can find them in a library or similar repository, and that you have described what you have learned from the materials.

Description of Learning

In describing their learning and understanding that comes from their experiences, students are encouraged to make sure that their description speaks to several important sets of material. These include:

  • The syllabus of the course: Students can request a copy of the syllabus from the associate dean’s office or from the department responsible for the course. If not requested prior the initial application, it will be sent to the student by the HHD Office of Undergraduate Education on receipt of that application. A typical Penn State syllabus will include two items that are very important for a portfolio: (1) a description of course content and (2) course goals and objectives. Additional information on course content and course goals and objectives may be found in items like a course outline or schedule, the text or other readings used for the course, the assignments described for evaluation in the course and similar course materials. Students intending to submit a portfolio can also also request information on these materials from academic department, if they are not found in the syllabi. The description of learning in a portfolio should specifically address how the student’s experiences and the documentation provided demonstrate that they have achieved learning of the content covered in the class and that they have achieved the goals or objectives noted for the course.
  • Each major at Penn State has developed a set of program learning outcomes, identifying what students will know or be able to do by the time they graduate (see here for an example: https://bulletins.psu.edu/undergraduate/colleges/health-human-development/communication-sciences-disorders-bs/#learningoutcomestext). Program learning outcomes, which can be found for each major in the Penn State Bulletin, are often linked to course goals and objectives. A student’s description of learning may also want to describe how their experiences and documentation demonstrate that they have accomplished some or all of a program learning outcome.
  • Many program outcomes and course objectives at Penn State and other colleges are founded on an approach to learning that is summarized in Bloom’s taxonomy of learning. This short guide to this approach may be helpful in guiding students on how they can describe their learning.
  • Students submitting a portfolio for a General Education class taught by an HHD department should also review the learning objectives for General Education at Penn State. Every Penn State course is expected to meet at least 2 of these learning objectives, and students submitting a portfolio for a General Education class should include a section in their learning description that describes how their experiences and documentation demonstrates their understanding in the General Education learning objectives that are relevant for the course, in addition to the course specific objectives.

Past experience has shown that General Education Health and Wellness (GHW) courses can be an area of confusion for students, especially those GHW courses that include physical activity. In Penn State’s General Education, GHW courses must demonstrate accomplishment of learning objectives, not just performance of an activity. In particular, students may want to consider what Penn State’s Faculty Senate requires for a course to be designated as a GHW class:


In Health and Wellness (GHW) fields, students focus on the physical and psychosocial well-being of individuals and communities. They expand their theoretical and practical knowledge about health and wellness—concepts that are multidimensional and culturally defined. The University provides opportunities for students to study such diverse topics as nutrition, physical activity, stress, sleep, healthy leisure, alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use, sexual health, and safety—all useful in maintaining lifelong health and wellness and in creating healthy work and community environments. (Senate Agenda March 15, 2016)….

GHW Student Learning Criteria. Upon successful completion of the General Education Health and Wellness (GHW) requirement, students should have increased their abilities to:

  • Explain the methods of inquiry in Health and Wellness fields and describe how the contributions of these fields complement inquiry in other areas
  • Describe multiple perceptions and dimensions of health and wellness (emotional, spiritual, environmental, physical, social, intellectual, and occupational)
  • Identify and explain ways individuals and/or communities can achieve and maintain health and wellness
  • Describe health-related risk factors and explain changes in knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, activities or skills that have the potential of improving health and wellness
  • Disseminate knowledge about health and wellness and demonstrate behavioral practices needed to engage in healthy living across the life span.”

In submitting a portfolio to receive credit for a GHW course that includes physical activity, students must demonstrate not only that they have engaged in the physical activity, but that the experiences and documentation submitted and the learning description they provide demonstrate that they have met those expectation for improvement in their ability in those 5 areas.

Documentation: Direct and Indirect

To help you think of your documentation, a list of suggested forms is included. This list is not complete nor are you limited to these alone. Appropriate documentation may be used in more than one portfolio:

  • Letters from Employers (See Letters of Verification for Documentation.)
  • Licenses and Certificates (See Description of Licenses and Certificates.)
  • Newspaper and other media reports
  • Audiotapes and Videotapes
  • Photographs
  • Products of Your Work (e.g., proposals, projects, etc. where your work is clearly identified)
  • Job Descriptions and/or classifications
  • Official forms or records such as records of promotions or performance evaluations.

Direct evidence is documentation of your actual learning in a particular subject area. Examples are:

  • samples of your work (poems, plays, artwork, reports of projects, tapes of music you performed)
  • official verifications that show your mastery of the subject, licenses and certificates
  • descriptions of the process of your learning (course outlines and evaluations for non-credit/training courses, notes you took in a class or training program)

Indirect evidence verifies and confirms your accomplishments. Examples are:

  • letters written in your behalf,
  • newspaper articles, and
  • programs of your performance.

Letters of Verification for Documentation

Letters can be used to corroborate any type of activity and are usually one of the more common forms of documentation. Since letters occupy an important role in the documentation process, use the guidelines listed below. You may wish to copy this information and present it to the person you request to write a letter of verification for you to include in your portfolio. It is the responsibility of the student to make clear to the author that the letter is to be one of verification and not one of recommendation. Be sure the person knows or has had the opportunity to observe the works and learning for which you are seeking academic credit:

  • The author must indicate knowledge of the student and the learning for which the student wishes to receive prior learning credit.
  • The letter should be written on the official letterhead of the company or organization with which the author is or was associated, if available.
  • The content of the letter should focus on the duties, responsibilities, tasks, and/or activities which were a part of the learning experience that is under consideration. The letter should say who, what, when why, where, and for how long.
  • The author of the letter should state clearly the nature of the relationship between author and student. Family members, friends, and ministers are not good sources as they may be biased and may not have firsthand knowledge of the learning.

Portfolio Evaluation Standards

When a student submits a portfolio for evaluation, the associate dean for undergraduate education will forward all portfolio materials to the undergraduate program leader in the department. The program leader will identify a faculty subject matter expert to evaluate the portfolio. That faculty member will evaluate the portfolio with a primary focus on 2 critical questions:

  • Does the portfolio document learning, not just experience?
  • Does the learning matching the learning outcomes for the Penn State course requested and is that learning at the appropriate level?

The faculty member may approve the portfolio for credit, or they may provide feedback on how the portfolio fails to meet the requirements for the learning outcomes of the course in question. The faculty member’s feedback should be responsive to whether and how a student can revise the portfolio for resubmission.