With Congress set to take up the thorny issue of reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), lobbyists for the National Education Association and several other education interests are advocating a major change in accountability for the billions spent on NCLB. Instead of states being required to administer annually a standardized test of students’ ability to read and to compute, they want states to apply “multiple measures,” including, most notably, portfolio assessment.
Portfolios are collections of student work, such as essays, artwork, and research papers. Progressive educators long have advocated that portfolios be substituted for paper-andpencil tests because they are more “natural” and “authentic.”
In the 1990s, Vermont and Kentucky implemented portfolio assessment as an integral part of education reform plans. Separate studies by nationally respected researchers showed that as a school accountability tool, portfolio assessment was a huge flop in both states, yielding results that were wildly unreliable and very expensive to obtain.
Among the problems found:
- A failure to yield reliable comparative data.
- Large differences in the way teachers implemented portfolios.
- Major differences in the degree of difficulty of assignments, rendering comparisons among students or groups of students highly misleading.
The question is why anyone sincerely interested in holding schools accountable for results would want to revive such a failed method of assessment.
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