Portfolio assessment inflates scores

Alternatives to Virginia’s state exam, such as assessing portfolios of students’ work, are proliferating, reports the Washington Post. The pass rate is soaring. Are the alternative assessments too easy?

The Virginia Grade Level Alternative, like the multiple-choice test, assesses students’ understanding of the state academic standards. Teachers document learning throughout the year in a binder of class work, including worksheets, quizzes and writing samples. Some special education students and non-native speakers in early stages of learning English are eligible for the portfolio, but final decisions are made by committees of educators and often parents.

Lynbrook Elementary was a low-performing school when all students took Virginia’s challenging Standards of Learning exam. No more.

Since 2007, Lynbrook’s reading passing rate for students learning English shot from 52 to 94 percent. Among special education students, the rate went from 34 to 100 percent. At the same time, the number of portfolios increased from a handful to more than 100, including nearly half of the English learners and 78 percent of students with disabilities. All passed. The school had more than 460 students last year.

In Fairfax County last year, “students tested with portfolios outperformed classmates who took multiple-choice tests.” In more than a dozen schools, students with disabilities outscored non-disabled students. Students with poor English fluency outscored native-language speakers in reading.

Last year, 100 percent of the portfolios at Weyanoke received passing scores. That does not mean the students who took them are the school’s top performers, (teacher Candy) Kwiecinski said; it means they all learned the curriculum.

Apparently, the weaker students learned more than the strong students. So much for accountability.

About Joanne


  1. Well, I’m puzzled. I thought that there was a 2% cap on the number of students who could be testing in an altervative way and count for accountability. Now, it’s 2% of the total population–not 2% of the total population with disabilities. But,assuming a fairly typical incidence rate of 15% for students with disabilities, if half were tested using portfolios, that would be 7.5% of the total population–which is way over the 2% cap. Now, they are free to test as many kids as they want by alternative means–but only 2% can count for accountability purposes. That leaves over 5% to report as “untested.” This would mean that they would not be able to make AYP even if every other student in the system was tested.

    While there is considerable room for subjectivity in these individually determined portfolio assessments, particularly in defining goals, they likely have a legitimate role for students with severe cognitive disabilities whose IEPs differ significantly from the state’s academic standards–students whose goals have to do with primary communication and mobility issues, for instance. When used in this manner and with this population, we need to be vigilant that rigorous and meaningful goals are set and appropriately measured.

    For many other students with disabilities, we need to change our thinking away from that which equates disability with “slow” and expects that it is reasonable to simply lower the bar and turn out a population that has been instructed several grade levels below that of their typical peers.

  2. Portfolios are terrific for highlighting strengths, and in particular strengths that could be missed on standardized tests. They can in theory be good for identifying weaknesses, but in my experience that is a rarely-used function, as teachers are not eager to use them for that purpose. But they are terrible for measuring progress in basic (or advanced) skills, unless they include before/after assessments of the skills, not just examples of student work that uses the skills.

  3. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    Portfolios are at least as much of a joke as measuring achievement by looking at final report card grades.

    Hey… maybe we can do that! Just look at people’s grades and if they’re high enough, we’ll give the school rewards.

    Yeah. Let’s see how that works out.

  4. You just don’t understand. The portfolios aren’t too easy, they’re the NEW way, and anyone who doesn’t agree obviously hates children.

    No one in real life takes a test. They all write reports and create portfolios, so that’s what our kids should be learning.

    If you insist on a **standardized**, a “Multiple Guess”, no-think test, kids will all fail – that just shows how bad those tests are. It’s all rote memorization and everyone knows how bad THOSE teachers are. Portfolios allow kids to be Critical Thinkers and show off their 21st Century Skills. Standardized tests are like the 18th century, factory model of schools.

    I can’t believe anyone is so stupid as to think that lazy teachers would choose the better system. They don’t want to do any work during their 4 hour days while they’re paid $200,000 for only working for half the year – 180 days out of 365 is even less than half!!!!!



  5. Of course portfolios inflate scores. That’s their entire purpose.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jacques Cool and kriley19, JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: Portfolio assessments boost scores, make schools look good: http://www.joannejacobs.com/2009/11/portfolio-assessment-inflates-scores/ […]

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19: Joanne Jacobs: Portfolio assessment inflates scores http://bit.ly/89gc2G Full http://bit.ly/6ZvK55