Almost every adult in the United States has experienced at least one performance assessment: the driving test that places new drivers into an automobile with a DMV official for a spin around the block and a demonstration of a set of driving maneuvers, including, in some parts of the country, the dreaded parallel parking technique. Few of us would be comfortable handing out licenses to people who have only passed the multiple-choice written test also required by the DMV. We understand the value of this performance assessment as a real-world test of whether a person can actually handle a car on the road. Not only does the test tell us some important things about potential drivers’ skills, we also know that preparing for the test helps improve those skills as potential drivers practice to get better. The test sets a standard toward which everyone must work. Without it, we’d have little assurance about what people can actually do with what they know about cars and road rules, and little leverage to improve actual driving abilities.
This quote is from a briefing paper prepared for the Congress as it reconsiders NCLB. Please keep reading and I will explain in more detail.
The title of the briefing paper is Refocusing Accountability: Using Local Performance Assessments to Enhance Teaching and Learning for Higher Order Skills. It was prepared by four people:
George H. Wood
Director, The Forum for Education and Democracy
Principal, Federal Hocking High School, Stewart, Ohio
Charles E. Ducommun Professor, Stanford University
Co-Director, School Redesign Network
Co-Director, Fair Test (National Center for Fair & Open Testing)
Director of Statewide Assessment
Nebraska Department of Education
Here I note that until a new bill was signed by the Governor, Nebraska had only one state-wide assessment, that was in writing and it was graded within the schools. The state is now apparently adding a onetime application of high school tests in reading and math as well, although I am not yet clear on how that will affect the state's overall approach to assessment and accountability.
It won't take long to read the briefing paper, and I am not going to reproduce the entire document here. Let me offer the first paragraph:
Performance based assessments, often locally controlled and involving multiple measures of achievement, offer a way to move beyond the limits and negative effects of standardized examinations currently in use for school accountability. While federal legislation calls for "multiple up-to-date measures of student academic achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding" (NCLB, Sec. 1111, b, 2, I, vi), most assessment tools used for federal reporting focus on lower-level skill that can be measured on standardized mostly multiple-choice tests. High stakes attached to them have led schools to not engage in more challenging and engaging curriculum but to limit school experiences to those that focus on test preparation.
and the second:
Performance assessments that are locally managed and involve multiple sources of evidence assist students in learning and teachers in teaching for higher order skills. These tools engage students in the demonstration of skills and knowledge through the performance of tasks that provide teachers with an understanding of student achievement and learning needs. Large scale examples involving the use of such performance-based assessments come from states such as Nebraska, Wyoming, Connecticut and New York, as well as nations such as Australia and Singapore. The evidence from research on these and other systems indicate that through using performance assessments schools can focus instruction on higher order skills, provide a more accurate measure of what students know and can do, engage students more deeply in learning, and provide for more timely feedback to teachers, parents, and students in order to monitor and alter instruction.
The key for me as a teaching is the final sentence of the 2nd paragraoh, so let me repeat that in bold:
The evidence from research on these and other systems indicate that through using performance assessments schools can focus instruction on higher order skills, provide a more accurate measure of what students know and can do, engage students more deeply in learning, and provide for more timely feedback to teachers, parents, and students in order to monitor and alter instruction.
Many people have some experience in smaller levels of performance assessment within schools: science fair and National History Day projects are both examples of performance assessment activities. I have served as a judge for the latter at a County level as well as within our school for students I do not teach. I have clearly seen evidence that students can show how to apply knowledge using the appropriate skills relevant to the student of history and related topics, and the level of knowledge and understanding demonstrated is far superior to any I would obtain merely by reading the results of their performance on a multiple choice test.
Let me offer most of the paragraph that immediately follows the one with which I began this diary. The authors note the similarity of performance assessments in education to the ubiquitous driving test, and then comment:
They are tools that allow teachers to gather information about what students can actually do with what they are learning – science experiments that students design, carry out, analyze, and write up; computer programs that students create and test out; research inquiries that they pursue, seeking and assembling evidence about a question, and presenting in written and oral form. Whether the skill or standard being measured is writing, speaking, scientific or mathematical literacy, or knowledge of history and social science research, students actually perform tasks involving these skills and the teacher observes, gathers information about, and scores the performance based upon a set of pre-determined criteria. As in our driving test example, these assessments typically consist of three parts; a task, a scoring guide or rubric, and a set of administration guidelines. The development, administration, and scoring of these tasks requires teacher development to insure quality and consistency. The research suggests that such assessments are better tools for showing the extent to which students have developed higher order thinking skills, such as the abilities to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. They lead to more student engagement in learning and stronger performance on the kinds of authentic tasks that better resemble what they will need to do in the world outside of school. They also provide richer feedback to teachers, leading to improved learning outcomes for students.
There is no doubt that the information obtained from a proper use of such an evaluation is far more meaningful and applicable than other methods of assessment. What is also important is that it be evaluated as quickly and as locally as possible. The authors discuss that in more detail.
Here I should note that George Wood is principal of a school that is a part of the Coaltion of Essential Schools, which, building on the work of Ted Sizer, places a strong emphasis on the use of performance assessments. It is worth noting that among the common principles accepted by all CES member institutions are
* Personalized instruction to address individual needs and interests;
* Small schools and classrooms, where teachers and student know each other well and work in an atmosphere of trust and high expectations;
* Multiple assessments based on performance of authentic tasks;
I don't want to overburden you in this diary, and I am also late leaving for school. I am going to urge you to read the briefing paper. You will see how the authors relate the material to issues of reauthorization of NCLB. You will see how much of this can be done locally. You will be pointed at examples of how performance assessment is already being done, sometimes on a relatively large scale basis.
Some are likely to object to the cost of such an approach. I would counter that any resources dedicated to this kind of assessment directly tie in with instruction, and the information obtained is much more applicable to improving instruction for the individual students. Ultimately the ability to apply learning - knowledge and skills - in reall world application is the most meaningful measure of what students have really learned. In testing, as in far too many other areas of American life, we do not fully measure the costs of what we are doing, thinking only of short-term out of pocket costs, and not fully valuing other things - I did address that in this recent diary which did not get all that much traffic, but that's okay.
This diary may not get much attention either. But I feel an obligation to do more than merely complain about our current approach to testing. I have lobbied on the Hill about NCLB with one of the authors, and this was one of the materials we were offering to people. I know that there are people involved with the NCLB rewrite who are interested.
I suggest that it is worth your while to become familiar with the material. I also suggest that you pass on the link to anyone in authority with respect to schools: that includes local and state school board members, and state and federal legislators, particularly if they sit on committee addressing issues of education.
I have to travel now to school. I will have time during the day to respond to any comments you may choose to offer.