Publications & Resources

Can Portfolios Assess Student Performance and Influence Instruction? The 1991-92 Vermont Experience

Dec 1993

Daniel Koretz, Brian Stecher, Stephen Klein, Daniel McCaffrey and Edward Deibert

Vermont’s statewide assessment initiative program has garnered widespread attention nationwide because of its reliance on portfolios of student work. This 145 page report describes the results of a multifaceted evaluation of the program and provides information about the implementation of the Vermont assessment; program effects on educational practice; reliability and validity of portfolio scores; and tensions that exist between assessment and instructional reform. “Findings from the evaluation,” said the research team, “suggest that the assessment program resulted in changes in curriculum content and instructional style.” Additionally, the researchers noted that the amount of classroom time devoted to problem solving increased, as did the amount of time students worked in small groups. Finally, portfolios seem to increase teachers’ enthusiasm for their subjects and for teaching. While there was widespread support for the reform at the school level throughout the state–nearly one-half of the schools were voluntarily expanding the use of portfolios to other grade levels–substantial problems remained. The mathematics portfolio assessment created new burdens for principals, teachers and students; including demands on teachers’ time and school resources. Over 80% of fourth-grade teachers and over 60% of eighth-grade teachers reported that they often had difficulty covering the required curriculum. Researchers anticipate that some of these demands are likely to decline with experience, although others represent continuing burdens. “The Vermont experience has important implications for reforms that are underway or under consideration in other jurisdictions,” wrote the researchers, “but only time and careful scrutiny will show how fully the goals of the program–and of similar reform programs centered on performance assessment–can be met.”

Koretz, D., Stecher, B., Klein, S., McCaffrey, D., & Deibert, E. (1993). Can portfolios assess student performance and influence instruction? The 1991-92 Vermont experience (CSE Report 371). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).