Monday, July 19, 2004

Portfolio as Alternate Assessment

Report: Alternative to MCAS aids few students
There is some good news hiding behind the negativity in this title. When the state brought in the high-stakes Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (exit exam) as a requirement for graduation, they also set up a program that allowed special-needs students to apply for graduation on the basis of a portfolio showing what they've learned. Since many of the students have significant disabilities, the ratio of applicants who successfully used their portfolios to graduate is not great, but the director of the program points out that none of them would have graduated otherwise.

The Boston Globe's follow-up (especially the second page) digs a little deeper. What worries me about this approach isn't that it will be viewed as too difficult...I'm worried that portfolios will be stigmatized as assessment that only gets used for special-needs kids. Just as all students should get IEPs (individualized education plans), all students should get the benefits of real learning with portfolios:
"For students whose minds will never be able to appreciate literature or solve an equation, the portfolios are more about progress and potential than passing. Students may not learn enough to earn a diploma, but they are learning more than ever before, they say.

'We've traded in the likelihood of a diploma for the strong probability of a far better education,' said Dan Wiener, who coordinates the portfolio program for the state Education Department."

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