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Vt. To Combine Standardized Tests With Portfolios

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The state that pioneered the use of portfolios to assess student performance has decided to return standardized tests to the mix.

The Vermont state school board last month unanimously approved combining its voluntary portfolio-assessment program with new mandatory standardized tests to determine how well students stack up against the state's new academic standards.

State education officials will create or purchase tests to implement the plan over the next five years. In large part, however, the plan depends on whether the legislature authorizes the money to pay for the $1.8 million program.

Officials contend that the new system will strengthen the portfolio program, which evaluates a collection of student work from 4th and 8th graders in writing and mathematics. Some 90 percent of the 371 schools in the state currently use them.

"We are still committed to the portfolio," Sally Sugarman, the chairwoman of the state board, said last week. "We [know] how effective portfolios have been in instruction, and teachers will want to continue to use them," she said.

"We are trying to move away from using portfolio scores for comparing schools," said Doug Walker, the manager of the state education department's school and instructional support team. "Portfolios provide rich information about some very specific student skills and knowledge, but we were concerned about their use for accountability," because of possible variations in how they are graded.

Vermont was the first state to adopt portfolio assessment as a statewide indicator of student performance. It created the program in 1988. Only Kentucky and a few other states have since followed its lead, but most of those are local or experimental initiatives.

Random Sample

To carry out Vermont's new plan, education officials have hired Margorie M. Petit, an assessment specialist with the Vermont Institute for Mathematics & Technology, as a deputy state commissioner.

In the past, portfolios were collected annually from the participating schools, and a team of teachers and administrators from around the state assessed each one. Under the new system, the state will collect a random sample of work in mathematics and writing from 20 percent of the state's 105,000 students and identify a benchmark for schools to compare themselves against.

The new plan, to begin as early as next year, also calls for a reading test in 2nd grade; English-language-arts and math tests in the 4th, 8th, and 10th grades; science tests in the 6th and 11th grades; and social studies tests in the 6th, 9th and 11th grades.

The initiative recommends that schools continue using locally scored student portfolios, norm-referenced tests recommended by a state panel, and other selected measurements. The combined state and local components should address all of the state standards adopted last January, the state board said.

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