Many states with high stakes exit exams, such as Massachusetts with its MCAS test, offer an alternative method of testing for certain special education students. This alternative testing usually involves schools helping students to create a portfolio to be submitted to the state education department. The portfolio method is used to help students who cannot properly show what they have learned via a traditional pencil and paper test. In theory, it sounds like a fair option. The reality may be much different, though.
According to “Disability Scoop,” Virginia has decided to eliminate its alternative portfolio testing. Why? Disability Scoop states that the alternative method was “overused and produces too many positive results… ” (Shawn Heasley, “Concerns Prompt End to ‘Alternative’ Portfolio Test, April 23, 2010, http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2010/04/23/virginia-portfolio-test/7781/).
Massachusetts has just the opposite problem. In Massachusetts, children fail what is referred to as MCAS-Alt at an alarmingly high rate. The following information combines grades 10, 11 and 12. In 2009, there were 909 English Language Arts portfolios submitted, yet only 5 (0.5%) earned Needs Improvement or higher (the minimum eligible for graduation). Similarly, out of 918 Mathematics portfolios, only 6 (0.6%) earned Needs Improvement or higher. Finally, in Science and Technology, out of 951 submissions, only 14 (1.5%) earned Needs Improvement or higher. There are no numbers to indicate how many, if any, “portfolio” students graduated. These and more statistics can be found in a publication of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education called “2009 MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt): State Summary of Participation and Performance.” This report is available at the following URL: http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/alt/09statesum.pdf.
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