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Portfolios a 'Worthwhile Burden', Vt. Educators Say in Study

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After the first year of full implementation of Vermont's pioneering portfolio assessment, state educators consider the program a "worthwhile burden,'' a preliminary study by the RAND Corporation has found.

The study, based on interviews with a representative sample of 77 principals and a questionnaire administered to a larger group of 4th- and 8th-grade teachers involved in the program, found that the assessment requires a considerable investment of time. Teachers reported spending an average of six hours a week on the portfolios.

But the study also suggests that educators perceive the portfolios as having a positive impact on mathematics instruction, making teachers more enthusiastic about teaching, and providing more information than they previously had about student abilities.

"What we came up with so far suggests that, in the views of practitioners, the program is quite successful as an educational intervention,'' said Daniel M. Koretz, a senior social scientist at RAND and the study's director. "However irritated they are at having to do this stuff, the majority of people believe the changes are for the better.''

Training Needs Stressed

Mr. Koretz cautioned, however, that the RAND researchers--who are conducting the study for the federal center for research on evaluation, standards, and student testing--must address additional questions before they can pass judgment on the overall program.

Specifically, he said, they will have to determine whether the time spent on the assessment is displacing time spent on other parts of the curriculum, and whether the data from it are sufficiently reliable to be used to compare schools and districts.

The firm's final report, expected to be released in February, is unlikely to be an unqualified blessing or condemnation of the program, Mr. Koretz added.

"The odds are we'll have mixed news,'' he said.

Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills said he considered the preliminary findings "very welcome.''

"I was especially pleased to see what is happening in the curriculum,'' he said. "It is clear that is working.''

Mr. Mills added that the report also underscores the need for more and better training of teachers. Although virtually all teachers received some form of state-sponsored training in connection with the program, most reported difficulties knowing what they were expected to do and how to do it.

"It's clear first-rate professional development is what fuels change,'' Mr. Mills said. "The old-style, half-afternoon workshop is not it.''

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