The Vermont Portfolio Project

Vermont is one of only a handful of states that has never had a statewide assessment program. It attempted to implement a traditional standardized test in 1989, but received so much criticism from educators that it dropped the plan. It is also one of a very few states that allows school districts to decide whether or not they will participate in the program. Most districts do participate.

Vermont's voluntary state assessment program is made up of portfolios and uniform tests.

During the 1992-93 school year, fourth and eighth graders in participating school districts began compiling portfolios in mathematics and writing. These portfolios hold work samples that reflect the student's mastery of seven state mathematics criteria and five writing criteria. The teacher and the student select the contents of the portfolio, except for the results of the uniform assessment in mathematics and writing, which are included in all portfolios. Teachers score their own students' portfolios - an unusual practice in state assessment, since most states use trained scorers to ensure uniform scoring. A grade ten portfolio in mathematics is being planned. Discussions are also underway to establish a fine arts portfolio.

Vermont's tremendous involvement of teachers in its state sponsored assessment has won the support of many of the state's educators, according to an early RAND study (Koretz, McCaffrey, Klein, Bell, & Stecher, 1992). Two other features of the assessment program account for its popularity as well. First, Vermont's teachers and students are actively involved in selecting work to be placed in students' portfolios, and teachers grade their own students' portfolios. Second, no accountability - for either students or schools - is tied to the program. While allowing teachers to grade their own students' portfolios has resulted in assessment results that are not comparable (reliable) across the state (i.e., the same score does not mean the same thing in different parts of the state), the program retains flexibility and teacher involvement. Vermont has improved the reliability of its assessment results (at least in mathematics) through increased use of regional scoring centers (at least temporarily) and intensified professional development for teacher scorers, although they still have a long way to go to obtain comparable data at the school or individual level that might be used for school or student accountability (Koretz, Klein, McCaffrey, & Stecher, 1993; Koretz, Stecher, Klein, McCaffrey, & Deibert, 1993).


Description adapted from: Bond, L., with Friedman, L. & van der Ploeg, A. (1994). Surveying the landscape of state educational assessment programs: The responses of state student assessment programs to educational reform. Washington, DC: Council for Educational Development and Research.
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