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Electronic Portfolios: Macro-level Reading, Responding, and Evaluating

Brian Huot's "Towards a New Theory of Assessment" (1996) provides one theoretical justification for context-based methods of assessment used in electronic portfolios. By drawing on the work of measurement experts such as Pamela A. Moss, Samuel Messick, and Lee Cronbach, Huot shows how validity has begun to move away from an empiricist notion of objectively determined accuracy toward acknowledging "the social construction of knowledge" (p. 550). Huot quotes Cronbach's claim that validity "'must link concepts, evidence, social and personal consequences and values' (4)" to demonstrate the redefinition of validity within the assessment community (p. 550). This work within the assessment community suggests links with literacy scholars' research and the localized writing testing programs used at the University of Pittsburgh and Washington State University (pp. 553-554). For Huot, assessment theory, literacy and reading theory and some composition testing programs suggest "emergent methods" of assessing writing that stretch older, accepted definitions of valid, reliable, and authentic assessment. Huot writes,

these emergent methods can be view under a new theoretical umbrella, one supported by evolving conceptions of validity that include the consequence of the tests and a linking of instruction and practical purposes with the concept of measuring students' ability to engage in a specific literacy event or events…. These methods are sensitive to the importance of interpretation inherent in reader response and psycholinguistic theories of reading. (p. 561)

Despite the five years that have passed since Huot articulated the basis for a the uses of validity and inter-rater reliability in the literature on writing assessment have remained bound by their traditional connotations. Validity tends to mean that the assessment tool matches the content to be covered; and, reliability tends to mean that different readers will produce the same score for the same essay or type of essay across contexts.