In the eye of the beholder

Performance-based assessment (PBA) was terminated in Vermont in the 1990s after a RAND study found that "inter-rater reliability" (i.e., the extent of agreement among portfolio graders) was largely AWOL. Now Rhode Island has revived PBA, even making it a graduation requirement. While most, including us, agree that PBA has its place in k-12 education (think music, arts, debate), we doubt that Rhode Island has solved the "subjectivity" problem that has historically plagued portfolio assessments. While it's true that some measurement rubrics, especially those designed to assess reading instruction in classrooms, boast impressive records of reliability, these are typically the exception, not the rule. Plus, how can assessors be qualified to judge such varied types of presentations, from lightsaber exhibitions, to egg-poaching demonstrations, to harmonica jamborees? Furthermore, states are famously reticent to bar students from graduating even when objective measures of those pupils' skills show them unambiguously unprepared for the real world and undeserving of a diploma. Will Rhode Island really hold back a student who flubs a flute recital?

"Showing What They Know," by Scott Cech, Education Week, June 16, 2008

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