Don't just listen to me ...

A pedagogical Point of View:

As a third year special education high school teacher I have had the opportunity to create three "alternative" state mandated N.C.L.B. portfolios for students of varying ability. I believe that a high stake assessment such as these does not allow for an exam or process that is reasonable or fair for students who have severe to profound disabilities. I understand that the alternative portfolio gives students who may not otherwise be able to pass the exam with accommodations an alternate way to prove their knowledge and successes. In the rare occasion a student who takes the alternative portfolio will in fact receive scores that they are learning at grade level. This means they can pass the exam and receive a high school diploma.

Nevertheless, a majority of students who participate in the alternative portfolio are not learning at grade level and will not receive high school diplomas. If this is the case, I strongly believe the parents and educational team should be able to make the decision for the student to opt out of the exam process.

From a teacher's perspective, the alternative portfolio is extremely daunting. In my experience, each portfolio can take between 12 and 20 hours to create. This time includes researching the educational strands, brainstorming appropriate goals that meet the needs of the strands, creating lessons, video taping or putting together all of the materials, taking and recording data, and reviewing the portfolio with the parents and administration. In my case, during the upcoming year I will have to create four portfolios for students who are all learning at very different educational levels. This means that I will have to go through the entire process individually for each student. I will put between 48 and 80 hours of time into the portfolios. This is a tremendous amount of time taken away from teaching and lesson planning.

I have also been a scorer at for the alternative portfolio summer institute. While going through this process I am able to see hundreds of portfolios. I have come to realize that the creation of the portfolio is truly a test of the teacher's organization and creativity. This has nothing to do with the student. In many cases, it is really obvious that the teacher put more effort and time into the portfolio than the student was possibly able to do. Who are we really testing?

There are some students who go to school for stimulation and socialization. The goal for some students is to achieve a greater level of independence and the ability to communicate. In many cases, math, science, and English are not the subject matters of importance for these students. What is important is physical stimulation through occupational and physical therapy, communication intervention, access to stimulating materials in art and music, and to be quite honest - being amongst peers and people for six hours. Whether or not this student knows the concept of "more" or "less" or knows his or her colors, or is able to match a sound to a letter is not important.

As educators we need to honor what students can do and what goals they are striving towards rather than trying to assess them at skills that are not of importance to their lives. We need to continue to pour our energy into creating meaningful activities and lessons for the individual student rather than creating something that will turn into data to be analyzed by the state.