Portfolios replace tests for more kids

Despite the high cost of grading, Virginia is letting more students submit portfolios of their work rather than pass tests, reports the Washington Post. At first, only students with serious cognitive disabilities could bypass the state test, but now Virginia allows portfolios to evaluate “students with learning disabilities or beginning English skills.”

. . . Pass rates for portfolio tests are relatively high, which helps educators meet academic benchmarks but raises questions about the tests’ value in rating schools.

Teachers spend hours assembling each students’ portfolio, which shows work throughout the school year. Then other teachers must be hired to evaluate the work.

Parents of special education students often say the portfolio gives a more accurate picture of their child’s progress. However, some think grading is too easy.

Andrea Rosenthal of Oak Hill, the mother of a Fairfax special education student, said high pass rates on portfolio tests are often misleading because many children who score well on them are far below grade level on other measures. “It benefits the state, not the child, to say they are at grade level when they are not,” Rosenthal said

That is, it’s easier to meet No Child Left Behind’s requirements for educating disabled students and English Learners if they’re judged subjectively.

About Joanne


  1. I had 4 kids this year with portfolios; all were ESL, with less than 2 years in the country. It was probably reasonably fair, since it would be hard to establish content knowledge with their limited English (one student knew the metric system, but not in English, for example). Any student who could qualify with learning disabilities had better be seriously handicapped, though – or we will be awash in portfolios in the near future.

  2. Diana Senechal says:

    The portfolio evaluators don’t always scrutinize the quality of the work. They check to see if everything is in place: portfolio piece, task, rubric, grade, cover sheet, etc.

    As things stand now, at least in NYC, it is unlikely that many portfolios will be evaluated for their actual content. The evaluators may not be familiar with the content, and under Balanced Literacy, students in a given class may all be writing about different books.

    As for grammatical and spelling errors, if they don’t substantially interfere with the readability of the piece, the evaluators are likely to overlook them. On the tests themselves, students don’t lose points for spelling and grammatical errors unless they interfere with comprehension.

    Thus it is very easy to compile a passing portfolio. To make it tougher, we would have to establish an actual English curriculum–with grammar, spelling, and specific works of literature. Even there, it would be possible to beat the system, but the evaluators would be in a better position to examine the substance of the writing.

  3. I’ll point out that the AP Lit exam operates under the same rules: grammar and spelling don’t count unless they interfere with comprehension and they can write the Q3 on any literary work they choose.

    You can construct a developmentally appropriate guideline for grammar and spelling, though. End punctuation and caps, for example vs. commas. Spells common words correctly vs. spells grade level words correctly.