A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Improving America's School: A Newsletter on Issues in School Reform - Spring 1996
What Are Promising Ways to Assess Student Learning?
New forms of student assessment are designed to demonstrate what students are learning and what they can do with their knowledge. Known variously as "alternative" or "more authentic" measures, these assessments require students to "perform" in some way--by writing, demonstrating, explaining, or constructing a project or experiment--so they are also called "performance-based" tests. A recent study, Successful School Restructuring, found that focusing on high quality student learning is a "necessary guide, but not sufficient. Teaching requires students...to apply academic learning to important realistic problems (p.3)."
The idea of such tests is not new. Many classroom teachers routinely evaluate students by asking them to write extended essays or to complete projects, experiments, and portfolios. Moreover, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), international assessments, and various college entrance examinations have long incorporated performance items into their tests. Nevertheless, the advent of the alternative assessment movement came as educators searched for ways to divide assessments that reflect the complexities of rigorous teaching and a more challenging curriculum. What distinguishes some newer assessments from some traditional forms is that assessment, curriculum and instruction are entwined.
In this newsletter, we are using the concept of performance-based assessment used by the Office of Technology Assessment, which defines performance assessment as testing methods that require students to create an answer or product that demonstrates knowledge or skills. Performance assessments may include any of the following categories to items:
- Open-ended or constructed response items that ask students to respond in their own words--to "construct" their answers--to questions that may have multiple good answers. Students usually reason out their solutions as part of their answers. Usually students can answer these questions in just a few minutes, and in that way they differ from some of the performance activities described below.
- Performance-based items or events: questions, tasks, or activities that require students to perform an action. Although performances can involve demonstrations or presentations, most typically they involve students explaining how they would answer the question or solve a problem by writing a few sentences or paragraphs, drawing and explaining a diagram, or performing an experiment. Such tasks may take from 15 minutes to an hour or more and may involve some work with a group of students who think through the answers and later provide their own individually written answers.
- Projects or experiments: extended performance tasks that may take several days or even several weeks to complete. Students generate problems, consider options, propose solutions, and demonstrate their solutions. Students often work in groups, at least for some of the project, to analyze options and to consider ways to present their thinking and conclusions.
- Portfolios: collections of student work that show teachers and others who may "score" portfolios the range and quality of student work over a period of time and in various content areas. There are almost as many approaches to compiling and evaluating portfolios as there are proponents of this form of assessment. Portfolios can be used both formally and informally; ideally, portfolios capture the evolution of students' ideas and can be used instructionally and as progress markers for students, teachers, and program evaluators.
[Assessment Requirements Under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act]
[What the Research Says About Student Assessment]