Thursday, May 27, 2004

Student portfolios under fire

Panel suggests dropping them from tests

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Student-writing portfolios have been the subject of debate since they became part of Kentucky's student testing in 1992, but now a state advisory group has recommended dropping them from the testing system.

Supporters and opponents of the writing portfolios agree that the system is flawed. The question, they say, is how to fix it - if it can be fixed.

The recommendation to drop the writing compilations from the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System came last month from a state Board of Education advisory group comprising parents, teachers and educators.

That proposal, along with a study ordered by the General Assembly and a separate state review of the portfolios, has writing advocates saying the portfolios' future has reached "a crisis point."

"The end result could be the portfolio gone all together," said Starr Lewis, an associate commissioner of the Department of Education's Office of Academic and Professional Development who was instrumental in developing the portfolio guidelines.

But others worry that such a move would lead schools to abandon portfolios, especially at a time of tight budgets.

"I believe we must measure writing. That which you don't measure is not emphasized," said state Education Secretary Virginia Fox, who said she hopes the state Department of Education can find a way to solve the problems. "We must continue the emphasis on writing."

The portfolios were introduced to improve lackluster writing skills in Kentucky's public schools.

But Education Department officials say many schools aren't following the state's rules, forcing students to rewrite portfolio pieces over and over to improve their scores or ignoring subjects such as grammar so students are able to polish their portfolios.

Portfolios' proponents, including national writing experts, contend that they have boosted student-writing scores as much as 16 points since 1999. And they say the portfolios ensure that Kentucky's students know how to write effectively when they enter college and the job market.

Trying to address portfolio problems, the Department of Education is forming a task force that this summer will begin looking at ways to improve the system, making suggestions to the state Board of Education.

One of the ideas to be discussed is whether portfolios should count less toward schools' scores. They currently make up 11.4 percent.

Another idea lawmakers are discussing is eliminating the portfolio for elementary schools.

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