The following two examples describe states and a district where professional development is linked directly to instructional improvement. In the case of Community District 2, the district monitors the professional development efforts closely.
Portfolio systems in place in Kentucky and Vermont have proven to be powerful tools in improving instruction—particularly in writing—in both states. In Kentucky, the state assessment (until 1998) required each student in each grade tested to compile a portfolio of work completed during the course of the school year in writing and mathematics. The mathematics portfolio was required to include five to seven best pieces that show an understanding of core concepts, using a variety of mathematical tools. The writing portfolio, depending on the grade level, was required to include pieces from several content areas. Students were required to include a table of contents and a letter commenting on the work.
Teachers scored the portfolios. They received scoring guides, benchmarks, and training portfolios, and the state and districts provided training in standards and scoring procedures. According to one survey, two-thirds of 5th-and 8th-grade teachers said they had received training in preparing students for the mathematics portfolios, and 85 percent of 4th-and 7th-grade teachers said they had received training related to the writing portfolios (Stecher et al., 1998).
By several accounts, the portfolios and the related professional development have had an impact on instruction. A number of studies found that the amount of writing students do has increased substantially, and that the practices teachers employ in teaching and evaluating student writing have changed significantly. Writing performance rose substantially in 4th grade (although it leveled off), somewhat in 8th grade, and remained flat in 12th grade.
In Vermont, the first state to include portfolios as part of a statewide assessment system, the story is similar. There, students are required to compile a portfolio that includes five to seven pieces completed during the course of a year, a “best piece,” and a letter commenting on the choices. Samples of the portfolios are scored centrally by trained teachers, and the results are reported for the state.
The state provides professional development for teachers around the portfolios, and between two-thirds and four-fifths of teachers participated in at least one professional development activity (Picus and Tralli, 1998).
As in Kentucky, teachers in Vermont say the portfolio has had a positive influence on their instruction. Teachers in particular noted an increased attention to teaching writing and mathematical communication (Koretz et al., 1996; Picus and Tralli, 1998).