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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:

[Assessment Requirements Under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act] [Table of Contents] [What the Research Says About Student Assessment]