A controversial testing method often used with special education students will be discontinued in Virginia, state officials say, amid concerns that it’s overused and produces too many positive results.

The alternative test known as the portfolio method was designed for students who are learning grade level material but have difficulty demonstrating their knowledge in an annual test. Instead of taking one standardized test to assess progress, students collect a portfolio of materials over the course of the school year to show what they learned, which is then evaluated.

Proponents of the portfolio method say it presents a more accurate picture of student progress than a single one-day test could. But students in Virginia who were assessed using the method have significantly higher passage rates than those who take the state’s traditional standardized test, leading critics to say that the portfolios are merely a way for schools to artificially bolster scores.

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Now state officials say they will phase out the portfolio method starting in 2011 and replace the test with a computer-based assessment. The new test will be more like the traditional standardized test that most of the state’s students take, but will include additional supports and simplified items, according to Patricia Wright, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction.

In announcing the change, Wright said the new test will be a more “objective and reliable measure” since it will be scored by computer.

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