- A multiple choice test shows a student's ability in one, brief period. If his best friend is mad at him, her parent lost a job, she didn't get enough sleep last night, or he hasn't had a good meal in days, a student will not likely perform well regardless of how much they know and are able to do.
- Some people naturally do well on multiple choice tests and some struggle. I've watched brilliant students have trouble with multiple choice because they are able to justify more than one answer. They can talk themselves out of correct answers.
- It's very stressful to be tested on an entire year (or multiple years) of learning at once. Some students get sick because they are so concerned about the test.
However, the reality of these portfolios has been absurd. We use this alternative assessment for our limited English speakers in place of taking the reading test. We have to document each and every part of every reading standard. For example, standard 5.4 reads, "The student will read fiction and nonfiction with fluency and accuracy. Use context to clarify meaning of unfamiliar words. Use knowledge of root words, prefixes, and suffixes. Use dictionary, glossary, thesaurus, and other word-reference materials."
I think it's a good standard. I teach my students all of those things. To prove it for the portfolio, we must have documentation for each piece:
- "Use context to clarify meaning of unfamiliar words."
- "Use knowledge of root words,
- and suffixes."
- "Use dictionary,
- and other word-reference materials."
The sheer amount of documentation is daunting. That's my first frustration. I think it should be reasonable to think that we could prove a student's mastery of that standard with only three or four pieces of documentation (a multiple choice test would not hit every single one of those eight aspects).
My second frustration is on us. Instead of documenting students' learning in authentic ways; anecdotal records from reading groups and conferences, response letters students have written about their reading, literature discussion notes, etc., we're documenting mostly with worksheets. We rarely, rarely use worksheets at this school. I know this sort of documentation is a result of our inexperience with this. As we continue to use these portfolios we'll get better at using what we are naturally doing in the classroom for our documentation. Of course, that also assumes that the state will accept more authentic documentation.
Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I should be grateful the state allows us the option of an alternative assessment that is a portfolio. Maybe...but I think I'll still strive for an assessment that is authentic to the teaching and learning going on in our school.