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Not So Fast: Obama Won’t ‘Dump’ NCLB Testing

By Michele McNeil — October 21, 2008 2 min read
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Mike Petrilli at Flypaper gets overly excited about his breaking news and declares that the “Obama campaign wants to dump NCLB testing, use portfolios instead.”

Before teachers and school districts and other test-skeptics start celebrating, that’s not what I heard from the Obama campaign on today’s Diane Rehm show.

Today’s segment on the syndicated National Public Radio program based out of WAMU in Washington featured Petrilli, Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee, USA Today reporter Greg Toppo, John McCain education adviser Lisa Graham Keegan, and Barack Obama spokeswoman Melody Barnes.

The panel got talking about NCLB, and specifically testing, and Barnes reiterated Obama’s call to improve assessments.

Here’s my own transcription of what she said (and you can listen to the full show here, with the portfolio discussion around minute 22): “We have to deploy and employ the proper kinds of assessments...portfolios for example and other forms of assessments that may be a little bit more expensive but they are allowing us to make sure children are getting the proper analytic kinds of tools.” Asked to clarify what she means by portfolios, Barnes says: “we’re talking about tests that require children to assess their entire year ... to put together through writing and through speaking...we’re looking at language skills as well as writing skills to get a sense of how well they’ve learned their lessons.”

My reading of this isn’t that Obama wants to “dump” testing, but to reform it and include alternative ways of testing kids, such as portfolios.

Petrilli writes: “Portfolios? ... this was news.” (He and Toppo also made that point on the air.)

Not so much. We’ve heard Obama’s campaign talk about portfolios before, and in August, Obama himself at a campiagn event in Virginia said: “We should come up with teachers, what are the best ways to assess performance. You know, peer review, portfolios, or a mix of things that help us evaluate. And are we measuring progress during the course of a year.” In November during one of his first big education policy speeches in New Hampshire, he held up one school district’s use of “digital portfolios” as a model of how to reform assessments. And here, the American Prospect blog makes mention of Obama’s support for student portfolios.

Now, we can certainly argue about the merits of portfolios, but I don’t think there’s any claim here that Obama wants to ditch testing altogether.

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