Everything Points To Portfolio Assessment Over Standardized Tests

Everything Points To Portfolio Assessment Over Standardized Tests

...except our government.

In the assessment craze of educational reform there has been an ill-conceived love-affair with high-stakes standardized tests as the ultimate form student assessment. As a public school teacher I can attest to this fact, administering no less than six standardized, norm-referenced tests each year. If you include the several weeks prep that many of the larger state tests demand, one can quickly see the school year dwindle to a series of multiple-choice questions. Fortunately, many higher education institutions are moving from these types of tests to a portfolio format that is more indicative of students’ abilities, and more practical to preparing students for the workforce.

In my graduate program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, students were made to create an electronic portfolio of their work and progress throughout the program. The portfolio was organized by a set of learning standards, or skills that the student should master by the end of the program. As I finished each class, I pulled those examples that aligned with the standards and exhibited my best work. I wrote reflections and mission statements to evidence my own thinking and dispositions, and included various other types of media, such as videos and presentations, to evidence a proficiency in actually using the technology.

Rarely (if ever) in the formal workplace are we ever asked to sit down at our desk and asked to pass a test about our job. More likely, we’ll be asked to show someone what we have accomplished, interview style, for a promotion or to justify keeping our place. In fact, after our initial position, we rarely head into an interview even mentioning college exams. The workplace, and the world, runs on evidence of ability, not the potential to create that evidence. Colleges are recognizing that fact, and utilizing portfolios to appropriately place students in course offerings and better honing enrollment standards. The portfolio evidences best work, and it is also a good indicator of the student’s relative investment in their education. A portfolio that is well-organized, thoughtful, and consistently high-performing shows not only academic ability, but the intrinsic work ethic and seriousness of the student. A portfolio that looks like a couple word documents thrown on a website will be equally telling.

Unfortunately for public education, the premium placed on standardized testing moves children in the opposite direction, creating extrinsically motivated, scripted and linear-thinking students. Portfolios demand sustained performance, critical thinking, and put a premium on intrinsic motivation and self-knowledge. If our Department of Education was run by education professionals and not businessmen, the country would recognize that and move the education system towards it.