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While We're Talking About Portfolio Tests...

Mike Petrilli over at Flypaper and Michele McNeil, a writer for EdWeek's Campaign K-12, who sits a row of office cubicles away from me, have been blogging about the extent to which the Barack Obama campaign favors portfolio testing. Update on Oct. 22: The topic of portfolio tests also came up at last night's debate between education advisers for the campaigns of Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain.

Let me jump in to the discussion and note that whether the presidential candidates are open to portfolio tests is of interest to educators of ELLs, many of whom would like to see more alternatives for testing these students.

I'm aware of only one state, Virginia, that is using a portfolio test for some ELLs. Two states, Arkansas and Wisconsin, were required in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Education to stop using portfolio tests for ELLs because they couldn't prove comparability to their regular state tests. At about the same time, Indiana halted the use of its alternative test for ELLs, which was based on portfolios and teacher observation, after its accountability system was reviewed by federal education officials.

Virginia used a portfolio test as an alternative for ELLs for the first time last school year. The state was required by the Education Department to stop using an English-language-proficiency test as an alternative for ELLs who were at the early stages of learning the language. I don't know the details of why Virginia's portfolio test was considered compliant with NCLB by the Education Department and the portfolio tests of the other states were not. But I do know that in July 2007, the Education Department sent a letter to Virginia approving the use of a portfolio test for ELLs.

Virginia, depending on who gets elected as president, we may be looking to you in January for more information about how the portfolio testing is going.

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