Rhode Island now requires a “performance-based assessment,” such as a senior project, to qualify for graduation. Bill Tucker visited Portsmouth High:
Beginning this year, to graduate, all 200 seniors at Portsmouth are required to complete a year-long senior project, consisting of the “4Ps” — a research paper, a tangible product, a process portfolio, and today’s oral presentation. Students select their projects, submit a letter of intent, and work closely with a school or community mentor. And, the projects really are diverse. The first student I saw today presented the stage set she’d designed for the school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Another student’s project consisted of running a marathon and fundraising to support leukemia research.
Education Gadfly warns of subjectivity: Vermont tried portfolios years ago, but gave up the experiment because RAND found the results were unreliable: Different raters would give different grades to the same portfolio. Gadfly asks:
. . . how can assessors be qualified to judge such varied types of presentations, from light saber exhibitions, to egg-poaching demonstrations, to harmonica jamborees? Furthermore, states are famously reticent to bar students from graduating even when objective measures of those pupils’ skills show them unambiguously unprepared for the real world and undeserving of a diploma. Will Rhode Island really hold back a student who flubs a flute recital?
With other “members of the community,” I once served as a judge for students’ demonstrations at a K-8 school. I found it very hard to evaluate the quality of their work. I didn’t know what was reasonable to expect. I discovered belatedly that I was praising younger students for the teacher’s creativity. The older kids were writing sonnets. They weren’t very good. But were they not very good for eighth graders? I couldn’t tell. Fortunately, the stakes were nonexistent.