Teaching To The Test
Nine-year-old Brianna Stump of Nicholasville, Ky., spent more than a month putting together a portfolio of the best language-arts work she produced in 4th grade. These are a few of the items she included: an imaginary magazine interview with Harriet Tubman, a reading log, an audiotape of a speech she prepared for her 4-H group, an essay discussing examples of friendship in the novel Charlotte's Web, and colorfully crayoned book jackets.
Now, in a hotel ballroom hundreds of miles away in Albuquerque, N.M., teachers who have never met Brianna are looking at her work and assessing it.
"I think this demonstrates a thorough understanding,'' says one Oregon educator.
"She has focus, she's expressive, and she has a voice,'' adds a teacher from New York State. "She has details that are rich and complex, and she's sensitive to her audience.''
"She's a '4,''' the second teacher concludes and the first teacher nods in agreement.
If Brianna were there to hear it, she would be flattered. On this grading scale, "4'' means Brianna has demonstrated "accomplished'' work that meets the standard these teachers expect for her grade level.
More remarkable than the score itself, however, is that so many of the teachers gathered together from so many different school districts could agree on it. Yes, they collectively decided, this is what we mean by meeting the standard for 4th-grade student work in language arts.
Scenes like this are what the New Standards Project, which convened the teachers in May, is all about--coming to agreement on what kind of work is "good enough.''
Begun in 1991, the project is a joint effort of the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Rochester, N.Y.-based policy-development organization that seeks to upgrade the U.S. education and training system, and the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center. Its ambition is to take a common set of rigorous academic standards for what students should know and be able to do and develop a national system of student assessments based on those standards.
Accomplishing that means that educators from all over the country, teachers like the ones poring over Brianna Stump's portfolio, must agree on what is worth teaching and how to tell when students have mastered it.
To aid in that undertaking, New Standards has recruited 18 states and six school districts as partners. They include some of the largest states, such as California, Texas, and New York, as well as some of the smallest, such as Delaware. The school districts span the nation, from New York City to San Diego.
Altogether, those states and districts enroll more than half the nation's schoolchildren. The entire effort to date has cost $16.4 million in private foundation funds and in contributions from the partner states.
All of which makes the New Standards Project arguably the most complex and ambitious school-reform effort in this century.
Three years into its work, the project is still years away from achieving its goal. But if those efforts pay off and a national system of examinations emerges, the project could go a long way toward transforming the teaching and learning that goes on in classrooms nationwide.
"If we can agree on national standards for student achievement and create conditions all over the country in which those standards are internalized and made the centerpiece of educators' and students' efforts,'' writes Lauren B. Resnick, the project's co-founder, "there is a good probability that curriculum, professional development, textbooks, and eventually, teacher preparation can be changed so the entire system is working toward the standards.''
Marc, Ana, Julia, and Daniel decide to have a checkers tournament at school. They want to be sure that each of them gets a chance to play each of the others one time. They ask you to make a schedule for the tournament. Here is the information you need to make a plan that works:
- They want to finish the tournament in one week. They can play from Monday to Friday.
- They will play only at lunchtime. There is enough time during lunch period to play one game of checkers.
- The students have two checkers sets, so two games can be going on at once.
- Marc can't play checkers on the days he is a lunch helper (Mondays and Wednesdays).
- Each player must play every other player once.
- Make a schedule for the tournament.
This problem, included in a pilot-test the project gave last spring to 1,000 4th graders in 18 states, is the kind of task that New Standards proponents have in mind when they talk about transforming schooling in America. While it draws on some basic mathematical skills, it also requires much more of students. It asks them to think deeply, to solve problems, and to reason and communicate their reasoning to others.
Such problems--termed "performance tasks''--make up one-third of what the New Standards Project calls the "3 P's'' of its brand of assessment: performance tasks, projects, and portfolios.
These are all assessment formats that, like science fairs and Boy Scout badges, allow students to demonstrate what they can do with what they know.
And portfolios like Brianna Stump's, which might include performance tasks and projects as well, are expected to be the heart of New Standards. Students could one day be asked to put together these portfolios in every subject area in which the project is working: mathematics, language arts, science, and applied learning, a category that includes more generic, workplace-oriented skills.
One point, however, is clear: The assessment systems the New Standards Project designs will not be based on standardized, fill-in-the-bubble multiple-choice tests.
Such tests are reliable and were well suited to the mass-manufacturing economy that grew up in this country in the early 1900's, Resnick says, but they don't work anymore.
Part of the problem with those tests was that they tended to dictate the curriculum taught in schools.
"You get what you test,'' Resnick says, and traditionally what has been tested in schools has been low-level skills and facts-based knowledge.
That kind of learning prepared workers well enough for factory work that called for breaking complex jobs into simple rote tasks.
But to be competitive in the next century, the United States will demand more of its workers. In new, high-performance workplaces, Resnick writes, "individuals will have to think their way through their workdays--analyzing problems, proposing solutions, trouble-shooting and repairing equipment, communicating with others, and managing resources of time and materials.''
Moreover, educators believe that traditional paper-and-pencil tasks do not reflect the full range of what can be taught.
And, to students, they convey a dangerous message.
"Kids who start out scoring high don't feel they need to work that hard,'' Resnick says. "But the worst effect is on kids who start out low. They feel there is a very low likelihood they will ever make it to the top, and that sense of hopelessness is built right into the tests.''
"The pious wish that teachers wouldn't teach to tests is nonsensical,'' she adds. "People want to do what counts.''
Therefore, the aim of New Standards is to make thinking, problem-solving, and communicating skills "count'' by creating and fostering assessments designed to elicit them. The idea, in other words, is to put in place tests worth teaching to.
And, like growing numbers of policymakers in states nationwide, New Standards leaders have concluded that performance-based assessment measures are key to achieving that end.
However, developing a performance-based examination system on a large scale is an extraordinarily complicated endeavor and one that is fraught with potential minefields.
"Because performance assessments are very time-intensive, you're investing more risk,'' notes Eva L. Baker, the co-director of the Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Testing at the University of California at Los Angeles. The longer the tasks take, the fewer the tasks that can be administered in a single exam. And the fewer the tasks, the smaller the base on which to judge whether the scores are valid and reliable.
Also, says Daniel M. Koretz, a resident scholar at the RAND Corporation's Institute on Education and Training in Washington, D.C., "when you give kids a really complex task, performance on one task doesn't necessarily generalize to the next.''
Moreover, judgments on student responses to these kinds of test items can be highly subjective. Two scorers scoring the same piece of student work may not always match up the way they can with short-answer and multiple-choice test items.
These technical questions are underscored by the fact that the states taking part in the New Standards Project have very different goals for their own student-testing systems. For example, Kentucky is planning to use results from its student-assessment system as a basis for financially rewarding or punishing schools. Other states use their scores to provide instructional feedback for districts and schools.
Another partner state, Oregon, has laid plans to someday use portfolios of student work as a basis for awarding high school diplomas.
That kind of variation troubles some critics. They fear that states will embrace New Standards assessments before they have been completely proven and use them to make decisions that could determine the course of a school's or an individual's future--purposes for which they might never have been intended.
"There's a whole slew of studies on how the attachment of stakes leads to greater placement rates of children in special-education classrooms and leads schools of choice to refuse educationally needy students,'' says Linda Darling-Hammond, the co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a critic of the New Standards effort.
For now, though, that question is somewhat moot. The 18 partner states have agreed not to use the new assessments as a basis for awarding diplomas unless they can prove that all students have had a "fair shot'' at learning the material that's tested.
What will happen in the future--and how states can demonstrate their students have had that fair shot--is less clear. For now, New Standards is still primarily a research-and-development effort.
"It's allowing us safe tryouts of the issues and problems that we're unable to accomplish in a real political state,'' Baker says.
But the questions raised are big ones. And the extent to which New Standards can satisfactorily answer its critics will have much to do with its ultimate success or failure.
Such issues did not loom quite so large four years ago when Resnick and Marc S. Tucker, the executive director of the National Center on Education and the Economy, sat down at Resnick's kitchen table in her Pennsylvania home to put their vision of New Standards on paper.
The two had been key players in producing "America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages,'' a landmark report issued that year by the center's Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. The high-powered commission included Ira Magaziner, now a senior policy adviser to President Clinton, and Laura D'Andrea Tyson, now the chairwoman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. (Hillary Rodham Clinton was a member of the national center's board of trustees.)
The commission contended that if the United States continues to rely on a low-skills, manufacturing-based economy, the gap between the economic haves and have-nots will gradually widen and the nation as a whole will slide into relative poverty. (See Education Week, June 20, 1990.)
Its top recommendation for changing that course was to set a new "educational-performance standard'' for all students, to be met by age 16.
"This standard should be established nationally and benchmarked to the highest in the world,'' the report said.
Moreover, it added, states should take responsibility for insuring that all students meet that standard.
In the last few weeks of the summer of 1990, Resnick and Tucker were figuring out how to put such a system in place.
The two brought very different strengths and perspectives to this effort. Tucker, who has never been a teacher, had made a career as an education reformer. He came to the field during the 1960's after a brief stint in public television. He began his working life behind a camera at WGBH-TV in Boston and had gone on to become second in command of the public-television station's education division.
Apparently, however, he was a quick study. He founded and directed regional educational laboratories in New England, became an associate director of the National Institute of Education, and served for three years as the executive director of the Carnegie Task Force on Education and the Economy, which produced a major 1986 report calling for an overhaul of the teaching profession.
Resnick, on the other hand, had built her career as a dispassionate education researcher. She had conducted ground-breaking research on how children learn. Later, with her husband, Daniel Resnick, she had written a number of papers that were critical of traditional assessment methods.
"Lauren's work was required reading in graduate school,'' recalls Sue Rigney, who now directs student-assessment programs in Vermont, a state that has belonged to New Standards from the outset.
That work had earned Resnick, who is a co-director of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center, numerous awards and other distinctions and had taken her around the world, from South America to southern China.
She says she decided to cross the line from objective observer to advocate when it became apparent that, this time, someone was listening.
"Dan and I had been asked to do white papers for a number of commissions in the 1980's, and everybody applauded and nothing else happened,'' she says. "Suddenly all kinds of people started to listen and say, 'What would you do?'''
"When there's something you've been saying over a decade and people say, 'Design it,' you tend to want to do that,'' she says.
"It's been a wonderful kind of marriage,'' says Robert B. Schwarz, the director of education programs for the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia. "Each brought a distinctive set of skills but, over time, they've come closer together.''
Pew and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago together have provided more than half of New Standards' funding.
What Tucker and Resnick shared from the beginning, however, was a commitment to educational equity. In fact, New Standards differs from some other proposals for national assessment systems in its belief that all children can--and should--meet high educational standards.
Tucker says his own commitment to that concept has deeply personal roots. He grew up in foster homes in Newton, Mass., and attended Brown and Yale universities on full academic scholarships.
The scholarship to Yale, however, required him to work 16 to 20 hours a week for no pay. That left him little time to get a job to pay for room and board. He subsisted on leftover breakfast rolls from a local coffee shop until he collapsed in the spring of his first year at Yale. He was hospitalized for two months while he recovered from the effects of malnutrition. He never finished his graduate studies at Yale.
"When I hear people tell me they are upset about what I have to say about schools and the economy, I think that's a wonderful attitude for people who never have to worry where their next meal is coming from,'' he says now.
"And, on the matter of standards,'' he goes on to say, "the idea that schools are going to set their own standards is wonderful for schools that are full of teachers for whom the light has not gone out and who care about kids.''
"But that's not all schools,'' he says.
Tucker and Resnick's proposal also came at an opportune time. Already, some states had begun to move toward creating their own performance-based assessment systems.
Months earlier, President George Bush and the nation's governors had called for setting "world class'' standards for student achievement. And the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics had concluded a seven-year effort to set curriculum standards for that subject.
"I think people recognized that the goals-and-standards movement had legs politically, and it wasn't going to go very far if it didn't have an assessment side to it,'' says Richard F. Elmore, a Harvard University education professor who is evaluating the New Standards Project for Pew and MacArthur. "Lauren and Marc happened to be the people who put forward the most compelling design for that.''
Through the National Center on Education and the Economy, Tucker was already working with states and school districts that were pioneering their own school reforms. Most of them also agreed to sign on to New Standards.
"We had already become involved in portfolio assessment, and I was confronting every day the obvious fact that a small state couldn't accomplish this alone,'' says Richard P. Mills, Vermont's commissioner of education. "This was extending an opportunity to share resources.''
From New Standards, states could one day expect to get technical support, advice and materials, a steady stream of performance tasks that had already been field-tested and were drawn from national, agreed-upon standards, and a way to see how their students measured up against those from other states and other countries. They could adopt the New Standards reference examinations whole, use a small number of items developed by the project, or just allow themselves to be "linked'' to the project--to be similar enough, in other words, so that they could still compare their students with those in other states.
Moreover, says Mills, "having so many people working so hard makes it safer to innovate.''
Pew and MacArthur agreed almost immediately to provide more than $1 million in start-up funds.
And, beginning last year, the states were being asked to contribute to the pot as well. They now pay between $100,000 and $500,000 annually to belong to New Standards.
"To get that kind of money means that the chief state school officer has to go through the legislature,'' Tucker says. "And he or she has to be pretty sure that major expenditure is going to pay off.''
The project lost a few states, such as Arizona, when it began requiring dues, but the number of partners over its four-year life span has consistently hovered between 16 and 20. Currently, the partner states are: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Washington. In addition to San Diego and New York City, the school district members are Fort Worth Pittsburgh, and Rochester and White Plains, N.Y.
So far, the project has:
- Adopted mathematics standards closely modeled on the N.C.T.M.'s;
- Developed and field-tested pilot examinations in math and language arts;
- Begun developing guidelines and handbooks for the collection and
scoring of portfolios of student work in both those
- Made plans to administer its first official reference examination this fall, the results of which will serve as a national benchmark standard in mathematics; and
- Launched similar efforts in science and applied learning.
The National Center on Education and the Economy also upped the ante for the New Standards Project this year by introducing a plan for a "certificate of initial mastery'' that could one day supersede the high school diploma as the basic educational credential sought by employers and colleges. To earn it, students at about the age of 16 would have to demonstrate they had met the academic standards set by members of the New Standards Project. (See Education Week, April 20, 1994.)
The partner states would not be required to use the certificate, but five of them already have in place policies that could eventually require students to earn it.
"As we begin to provide visible standards and we provide visible tools, it will not be ignorable,'' Resnick predicts. "It will be the case that every state that doesn't want to be part of this will have to explain to their citizens why.''
Phil Daro is the director of assessment development for the New Standards Project. He tells a story about his own two daughters' experiences with schooling that reveals much about the philosophical underpinnings of this effort.
It goes like this: One daughter is sociable but is doing C work in a high school language-arts course. The other takes the same course and does A work. But she challenges the teacher in class and her personality grates on him.
Both daughters receive the same grade in the course: a B.
"There is fundamentally a conflict of interest to have the person who teaches you grade you,'' Daro says. With portfolio-based assessments, teachers and students are suddenly on the same side.
"I have to face my colleagues through your work,'' he says, putting himself in a teacher's place. "Teachers do not go back and treat students the same as before.''
The anecdote is revealing for several reasons. First, it says something about how the New Standards Project is evolving. It is moving from talk of a national system of assessments to talk of standardizing the grading practices of teachers.
"All kinds of decisions are made now on the basis of unaudited evaluations of student work,'' Resnick says. "We are trying to improve on that.''
It is also instructive because it says something about the role that teachers play in New Standards. The project, in a sense, begins and ends with them.
Ideas for performance-task items come from teachers. Teachers decide on scoring guidelines for those items and for portfolios. And teachers eventually score them.
In the case of portfolios, the scoring will one day be carried out by groups of trained teachers working within their own states.
And, in the final analysis, it is teachers who will have to teach to the new standards.
A total of 150 teachers attended the Albuquerque conference at which Brianna Stump's portfolio was reviewed. Brianna's portfolio was one of more than 1,600 they examined during the four-day meeting.
Their tasks were to look over real portfolios of student work, develop guidelines for scoring them, and choose those that best represent what they mean by a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 4+ for student work in the subject areas they teach. The products of their efforts will be used during a second conference this summer to train a wider group of teachers in preparation for a full-scale pilot-test of portfolio assessments during the coming school year.
Teachers at these sessions work from early in the morning until late at night with breaks for box lunches and snacks. And the work they are doing can be contentious, messy, and frustrating at times.
"It was easy to unanimously decide what is a good portfolio,'' says Andrea Jankovich, a San Diego teacher. "What was hard was deciding exactly what was it we were describing: What makes it good? What do we want students to do?''
"Everybody was trying to incorporate their states' philosophy,'' she adds. "We locked horns but we came to a nice consensus and finally everybody seemed to be pleased when all was said and done.''
Moreover, the guidelines and standards continue to evolve as teachers pored over the portfolios.
"You open up a portfolio that's really rich and suddenly there's a standard you didn't have a word for before,'' says Miles Myers, the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, which is developing standards in that subject for the project along with the International Reading Association and the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
These educators say they have not come here for the pay. There is none. Nor have they come for the travel opportunities. They spend most of their time holed up in hotel ballrooms.
"The reason I use portfolios is because I think this directly impacts on my teaching in a dramatic way,'' says Penny Bishop, a middle school language-arts teacher from Vermont. "Because I've been using portfolios and using rubrics that explain or communicate what good writing is, I've been forced to make those things clearer for my students.''
Moreover, these teachers say, portfolios and performance assessments tell them more about what their students know than traditional tests ever could. What's more, they allow students who didn't do well on those tests to shine in new ways.
Yet even these teachers don't all use portfolios in the classroom or plan to abandon more traditional testing and teaching methods. That mix of tradition-minded versus reform-minded teaching styles is typical right now of what New Standards looks like at the grassroots level.
"There's a lot of variation in what's happening in the classroom with New Standards,'' says Donald Schön, a professor emeritus in the department of urban studies and planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been evaluating the New Standards Project along with Harvard's Elmore.
Whether teachers in the project are using portfolios and open-ended tasks as part of their regular instructional programs has a lot to do with the degree of support they get back home. Some teachers are the only educators in their schools participating in the project; others are part of schoolwide or districtwide efforts.
"It isn't obvious to me that if they learn to administer exams well they are going to learn to teach well,'' Schön says.
Moreover, even though these kinds of assessments are designed to seamlessly blend in with the instruction already offered in classrooms, teachers themselves say using portfolios in the classroom can be time-consuming and difficult.
"Are your kids starting out at an 8th-grade or a 2nd-grade level?'' says Bobbie Sipes, a 6th-grade math teacher from San Francisco. "How many many drafts do they have to do before their work is acceptable enough to get out of the classroom?''
"What about absences on days when projects are done?'' she continues. "That's stuff nobody talks about.''
But Daro says it would be unrealistic to expect that New Standards will enable every teacher in every classroom to become a model teacher.
"If my kids had a good teacher every other year, I would be thrilled,'' he says. "Don't imagine the worst teacher you ever saw and think, 'How are they going to change?' Imagine the average teacher you had and assume good will and hard work.''
Switch scenes for a moment to a videotape in which a serious and well-spoken woman is addressing a group of parents and reporters last November in Stratford, Conn. The woman is Kay Wall, a parent from the affluent suburb of Greenwich, and she is speaking against a proposal for reforming Connecticut's schools.
The plan, which was the product of 18 months of work by a 43-member commission, calls on the state to set high standards for student achievement and to develop a performance-based testing system aligned with those standards, among other measures. Wall, dressed in a high-necked blouse and dark suit, is calling the proposal "outcomes-based education'' in disguise--a reference to a parallel reform movement that has engendered opposition from some parents and conservative Christian groups in other states.
Wall charges that school-reform plans like Connecticut's are part of a "national front'' for outcomes-based education that has the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center, the New Standards Project, and other national education organizations at its forefront.
This is, of course, not entirely true. The aim of New Standards is to set academic standards and not to dictate values for students, which is what outcomes-based education has been accused of doing.
But, in the current political climate, critics like Wall pose an obvious threat to the project. Opposition from Wall's parents' group and from others caused Connecticut legislators to scuttle that state's school-reform plan. But the state, at least for now, remains a partner in New Standards.
However, opposition to similar kinds of reform efforts in Virginia led in part to that state's withdrawal from the New Standards Project this year.
"This is partly coming from a relatively small group of people who may or may not have education as their primary agenda,'' Resnick says. "But they are getting resonance from a broad band of the American public who feel the rug is being pulled out from under them.''
The efforts to link New Standards to outcomes-based education, which have been gathering only in recent months, have not caught the project unawares. More than a year ago, the group, with the help of the Public Agenda Foundation in New York City, convened 24 focus groups comprising a diverse range of students, teachers, parents, and members of the general public.
The survey found that although people generally liked the idea of high standards, portfolios, and open-ended test questions, they had concerns as well. They worried that some children would be left behind by the standards movement, and they resisted the notion that all children could meet rigorous standards. They also recoiled at the idea of comparing American students with those of other industrialized nations, suggesting such comparisons would be useless.
Since then, the project has been working with its partners to refine its message.
"I think it's incumbent upon us to reach the middle-of-the-road and convince them of the need for change,'' says Andrew Plattner, the communications director for New Standards. "Educators shouldn't, couldn't, and will never have the resources to engage the public at all these sites.''
Despite the project's proactive efforts, however, the amount of time Plattner devotes to questions of public engagement has increased "by a factor of two,'' he says.
Schön of M.I.T. points out that critics like Wall--who also calls for privatizing schools and enacting school-choice plans--and more conservative Christian groups are "the easy ones'' for New Standards.
"They are easy in the sense that it is easy to be against them,'' he says. He worries more about critics such as Linda Darling-Hammond, Theodore R. Sizer, and Elliot Eisner--educators whose thoughtful research and observations have earned them a longstanding reputation in the field.
Some of these critics oppose the concept of national standards and a national testing system on principle.
"The idea that a country that has 44 million students, 2.5 million teachers, and 16,000 school districts ought to have a common set of standards for subject matter is mistaken,'' says Eisner, a professor of art and education at Stanford University. "There is no single acceptable version of teaching any subject matter.''
Sizer, the founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a nationwide reform network, says standards are useful but must be set by local communities.
And Darling-Hammond of the National Center for Restructuring Schools, Education, and Teaching says the success of New Standards points out that students need to have some choice in the way they are assessed.
"We need some measures that would allow students to pursue their own strengths, interests, and ways of demonstrating knowledge,'' she says.
Field-tests show that students are already having a tough time with the specific performance tasks designed by New Standards. Only small percentages of them are meeting passing standards for the specific test items that have been piloted so far. In the 1993 pilot, about 36 percent of the 4th graders who were given the checkers problem, for example, scored a 4--the passing standard.
But the project has for now decided to stick by its standards.
Darling-Hammond has other criticisms as well. She notes that the project has been conducted in isolation from many of the school-reform efforts that were under way when it began.
"It's like a whole, big train going down the track and New Standards is like a bluebird flying around,'' she says. "It's lovely but it doesn't have much to do with what's going on.''
Some technical questions remain unresolved as well. There is, for example, the matter of "rater reliability.'' In other words, how much of the time are individual scorers coming to agreement on specific test items? In field-tests so far, scorers agreed with one another roughly three-quarters of the time--a rate slightly higher than that found in trials in states moving to newer forms of assessment.
But it is not yet high enough, testing experts say, for states to use the scores as a basis for making decisions about individual students.
It may be, however, that, depending on how the scores will be used, rater reliability will not need to be as high for these kinds of assessments.
"We're getting huge benefits from these forms of assessments,'' says Ramsay Selden, the director of the Council of Chief State School Officers' state education-assessment center. "They're much more valid and sensitive to the kinds of classroom priorities we're emphasizing, and we may need to re-examine our criteria for judging these things.''
Despite the criticisms and challenges, New Standards partners and proponents are undaunted.
"It's not like the present system is neutral,'' Marc Tucker says. "My sense is that states felt the risks of staying with the system they had were greater than the risks of going with this one.''
One person whom New Standards proponents will not have to convince of the value of these newer assessment alternatives is Brianna Stump. The 9-year-old has experience with both standardized multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank tests and portfolios and open-ended test questions in her Kentucky elementary schools. She prefers the latter.
"You got to think of things to write, and it's not like people are asking you questions on a test,'' she says. "You got to think harder.''
"It shows what you can do,'' she says.
Brianna also says she takes more pride in this kind of work, rewriting some of the pieces in her portfolio "over and over and over again.'' It was even more gratifying to her that her teacher took her portfolio to the Albuquerque meeting.
"She'll come in and talk about something she did and tell me it's going in her portfolio,'' adds Brianna's mother, Vicky Stump. And sometimes, she says, the quality of her daughter's work moves her to the point of tears. In particular, she recalls an essay Brianna wrote about a quiet place she goes to think.
"It just blew me away,'' Vicky Stump says. "It was just so eloquent.''
A lot of the teachers participating in New Standards and using portfolios and projects in their own classrooms say they hear those kinds of comments from parents all the time.
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Vol. 13, Issue 39E, Pages 21-25Published in Print: July 13, 1994, as Teaching To The Test