Posted on December 1, 2009 by Big Universe in Technology.
There was an article in the Washington recently, which discussed portfolio assessments. A portfolio assessment is an alternative assessment, which the state of Virginia and some other states are choosing to allow instead of the annual standards of learning exam for some students with English language deficiencies and students with learning disabilities. Are they fair? Do they give a real picture of what’s occurring in our schools? No, but not for the reason that non-educators think.
Within the walls of the school buildings teachers are working harder than ever to teach each and every child. The “standards” that each state has decided all children must be held to, though in theory is a good idea, and are in reality having a negative impact on our children’s education.
Teachers have less time to prepare students now for the material they should know than ever before. So much time is spent on teaching test taking strategies and practicing taking standardized tests that there is little time left for teaching the depth of a topic that makes up the real education our kids need.
Right or wrong, the way teachers are teaching today is to pass the standardized tests. WRONG, yes. Is it going to change just because it’s wrong, NO.? Is it the teacher’s fault? ABSOLUTELY NO!
I’m a special education teacher, so if I don’t feel like some of my students can demonstrate their knowledge on these multiple choice standardized tests adequately or fairly but can demonstrate them better via a portfolio assessment, in the state of Virginia, I can choose to do a Virginia Grade Level Alternative Assessment. It’s not just my decision; it’s a decision between me, the parent and the classroom teacher, and an administrator. But, ultimately, in my opinion, it comes back to whether I feel or see that the child is successful in taking a standardized test.
The alternative portfolio is a collection over the whole year (though it has to be done about 3 – 4 weeks before the actual standardized tests are given!) of a student’s work showing that the child was able to complete the work required in those standards. The teacher is able to give the child multiple opportunities and the testing can be done soon after teaching a concept. The method of testing is very open including oral question and answer, anecdotal notes by the teacher, and teacher created worksheets just to name a few.
The Washington Post article says that the scores on the alternative portfolio are falsely inflating the test scores for the schools. If you were a teacher turning in a portfolio for a child, given the time and knowing that this book was being graded, would you turn in a portfolio that wasn’t going to pass? Really?
The amount of work that goes into a portfolio assessment is tremendous! No teacher takes these on lightly and if we decide that they are right for a student then we are going to make every effort to teach the concept to the child so that they can pass that standard at the moment in time that we test them.
This is where the flaw comes in! Students with special needs have a variety of disabilities that keep them from retaining much information long term. Though we say they can’t take a multiple choice test, I believe the real reason they are not suited for an annual standards of learning exam is they cannot retain the information necessary to be tested at the end of the year for an entire year’s instruction. This is why we choose to use the portfolio assessment for some students!
Luckily, there are some websites that are making my job a bit easier. Big Universe is adding assessments to their books. I can now have my children read one of their books and take the assessment online. This is a tremendous help in preparing them for the knowledge they need for the standards. Many students with learning needs are visual learners. Computers become the answer for these children so finding quality websites is my number one job as a teacher when it comes to instructional planning.
Standardized testing has changed the way we teach in our schools. It takes up too much instructional time and takes away the depth of the education that was once taught. It isn’t going to go away because politicians are running the testing, not the teachers. In order to test everyone the portfolio assessment is the only option available at this point for special needs students in many states. It’s a rigorous collection of evidence that proves the student has mastered the concepts of every standard being tested. Is it fair to put the two test scores together to indicate whether a school is meeting its annual yearly progress? That’s the real question we should be asking.