KY’s demanding portfolio writing assessment doubles as professional development for teachers

iStock_000010045687XSmallAs more is spent on testing, fewer resources are available for meaningful professional development, says an article in Educational Forum. One benefit of the state of Kentucky’s demanding portfolio assessment for writing is that it doubled as a cost-effective professional development program, the authors write. Kentucky was among the innovators in taking portfolios out of the classroom into the arena of large-scale testing and assessment. This sophisticated and demanding approach to evaluating writing provided teachers with a rich professional development experience.

Study: “Can High-Stakes Writing Assessment Support High-Quality Professional Development?” by Susan Callahan and Elizabeth Spalding, Educational Forum, Summer 2006, Volume 70, pp. 337-350.

Conclusion: Kentucky’s statewide use of portfolio assessment for writing is labor-intensive and poses significant accountability and reliability issues. However, a major benefit is that it has stimulated better professional development in teaching writing. The portfolio review process stimulates reflection and exchange of ideas among the team of teachers who perform the writing assessments for their schools. Student portfolios are scored by a cross-curriculum team of teachers within the school. To support the state’s teachers, the state department of education also has created sophisticated professional development courses and materials for teaching writing.

Method:Since 1992, the authors, a writing specialist and English educator and a literacy assessment developer for a national reform coalition, have analyzed and criticized Kentucky’s portfolio systems and studied its impact on schools, English departments, teachers and students.

Main research question: Is high-stakes writing assessment compatible with high-quality writing and high-quality professional development?

LESSONS LEARNED:

  • Portfolio assessment is a more sensitive measure of quality writing that
    demands thoughtful and sophisticated reading and scoring.
  • Portfolio assessment can stimulate expanded and cost-effective professional
    development for teachers and can focus resources on the complex process of
    nurturing good student writing.
  • High-quality professional development encourages learning through joint
    productive and professional relevant activities among teachers. It
    contextualizes teaching and challenges participants to find more complex
    solutions in addressing problems.

Findings: Teachers outside of the English department were expected to create writing assessments, teach students how to complete them and evaluate the results, presenting additional challenges for this already ambitious assessment system.

One teacher and researcher described the first cross-curricular scoring session in her high school as “certainly the single, most important professional development activity the faculty had that year, or perhaps any year. The faculty moved toward the goal of all teachers using writing as a learning tool in their classrooms.” Teachers have spent many hours discussing the characteristics of good writing, the types of assessments that generate it, and about potential changes in the curriculum.

The state department of education has developed workshops and materials, which now include videos on such topics as teaching poetry and using writing to learn. The materials have become more sophisticated and increasingly directed toward improving classroom instruction, the researchers note. The “Marker Papers”, for example, are collections of student writing from every grade level that illustrate how writing develops over time.

As more is spent on testing, fewer resources are available for meaningful professional development, says an article in Educational Forum. One benefit of the state of Kentucky’s demanding portfolio assessment for writing is that it doubled as a cost-effective professional development program, the authors write. Kentucky was among the innovators in taking portfolios out of the classroom into the arena of large-scale testing and assessment. This sophisticated and demanding approach to evaluating writing provided teachers with a rich professional development experience.

From Assessment for Learning: 12 recent studies on formative assessment and aligning assessments with learning goals, published by Educational Research Newsletter August 2007

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