Portfolio Assessments – Letters of Verification

Your previous mentor can help you earn college credit (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region)

As a group, distance learners tend to be older and more experienced than students who attend traditional colleges full-time. Distance learners also tend to have more time and financial constraints, as they are often juggling work and family obligations along with their educational responsibilities.

Online educators are keenly aware that their students are a different breed, and are rising to the task of meeting their needs as quickly as possible. One innovation that  helps students accelerate their learning and showcases their previous achievements is the Portfolio Assessment (P.A.). A well-thought-out P.A. allows a student to translate experience into college credit, saving both time and money.

An integral part of any portfolio is the Letter of Verification of the student’s skills as they relate to the college course he wants credit for. According to the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), the Letter of Verification can be written by “immediate supervisors, past employers, work associates, community leaders, or any other individual with firsthand knowledge of a student’s abilities and his/her learning experiences”.

A useful Letter of Verification:

  • Is written on company letterhead, with the letter writer’s contact information
  • By someone familiar with the student’s achievement
  • That describes the student’s experience and responsibilities

and most important of all, it

  • Details the student’s learning as it compares to the expectations of the comparable course
  • Is signed and dated

Unlike a Letter of Recommendation, the Letter of Verification is not a glowing report of the student’s character, but is a list of facts and analysis of what was learned and how the learning was demonstrated.

When requesting a Letter of Verification, the student should follow the same rules of protocol as he would when asking for a Letter of Recommendation, and should supply a description of the course to be credited, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Although the Letter of Verification is filed with the portfolio, it should still be addressed to the institution that will be granting the college credit.

The student may make his request by telephone or face-to-face contact, but he should confirm the nature of the detailed information that he needs by follow-up email or letter. He may also wish to include background information of the work that he performed, along with the relevant dates, to eliminate confusion and to aid the letter writer’s memory.

Shaw University, in North Carolina, reminds students who are requesting a Letter of Verification to be sure that the letter writer:

• Knows that the purpose of the letter is for verification of your learning rather than recommendation.
• Explains the nature of his or her working relationship with you and the length of time it continued.
• Specifies what was expected of you and how well you accomplished those tasks or projects.
• States his or her qualification for commenting on your activities and expertise.
• Relates this information to your career plan.
• Comments directly and separately on each learning experience he or she has been asked to verify.

Don’t forget to thank the letter writer, and let him know how the Assessment turned out.

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