A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

[Education Consumer Guide]

Number 2

September 1993

Performance Assessment

WHAT IS IT? Performance assessment, also known as alternative or authentic assessment, is a form of testing that requires students to perform a task rather than select an answer from a ready-made list. For example, a student may be asked to explain historical events, generate scientific hypotheses, solve math problems, converse in a foreign language, or conduct research on an assigned topic. Experienced raters--either teachers or other trained staff--then judge the quality of the student's work based on an agreed-upon set of criteria. This new form of assessment is most widely used to directly assess writing ability based on text produced by students under test instructions.

HOW DOES IT WORK? Following are some methods that have been used successfully to assess performance:

These methods, like all types of performance assessments, require that students actively develop their approaches to the task under defined conditions, knowing that their work will be evaluated according to agreed-upon standards. This requirement distinguishes performance assessment from other forms of testing.

WHY TRY IT? Because they require students to actively demonstrate what they know, performance assessments may be a more valid indicator of students' knowledge and abilities. There is a big difference between answering multiple choice questions on how to make an oral presentation and actually making an oral presentation.

More important, performance assessment can provide impetus for improving instruction, and increase students' understanding of what they need to know and be able to do. In preparing their students to work on a performance task, teachers describe what the task entails and the standards that will be used to evaluate performance. This requires a careful description of the elements of good performance, and allows students to judge their own work as they proceed.

WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY? Active learning. Research suggests that learning how and where information can be applied should be a central part of all curricular areas. Also, students exhibit greater interest and levels of learning when they are required to organize facts around major concepts and actively construct their own understanding of the concepts in a rich variety of contexts. Performance assessment requires students to structure and apply information, and thereby helps to engage students in this type of learning.

Curriculum-based testing. Performance assessments should be based on the curriculum rather than constructed by someone unfamiliar with the particular state, district or school curriculum. This allows the curriculum to "drive" the test, rather than be encumbered by testing requirements that disrupt instruction, as is often the case. Research shows that most teachers shape their teaching in a variety of ways to meet the requirements of tests. Primarily because of this impact of testing on instruction, many practitioners favor test reform and the new performance assessments.

Worthwhile tasks. Performance tasks should be "worth teaching to"; that is, the tasks need to present interesting possibilities for applying an array of curriculum-related knowledge and skills. The best performance tasks are inherently instructional, actively engaging students in worthwhile learning activities. Students may be encouraged by them to search out additional information or try different approaches, and in some situations, to work in teams.

WHAT DOES IT COST? These positive features of performance assessment come at a price. Performance assessment requires a greater expense of time, planning and thought from students and teachers. One teacher reports, "We can't just march through the curriculum anymore. It's hard. I spend more time planning and more time coaching. At first, my students just wanted to be told what to do. I had to help them to start thinking."

Users also need to pay close attention to technical and equity issues to ensure that the assessments are fair to all students. This is all the more important as there has been very little research and development on performance assessment in the environment of a high stakes accountability system, where administrative and resource decisions are affected by measures of student performance.

What are examples of successful strategies and programs?

Where can I get more information?

Richard P. Mills
Vermont Department of Education
Montpelier, VT 05602

Carolyn D. Byrne
Division of Educational Testing
New York State Education Department
Room 770 EBA
Albany, NY 12234

Dale Carlson
California Department of Education
721 Capitol Mall
Sacramento, CA 95814

Don Chambers
National Center for Research in
Mathematical Sciences Education
University of Wisconsin at Madison
1025 West Johnson Street
Madison, WI 53706

Ron Dietel
National Center for Research on Evaluation,
Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST)/UCLA
145 Moore Hall
405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024-1522

Steven Ferrara
Program Assessment Branch
Maryland Department of Education
200 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

James Gilchrist
New Standards Project
Learning, Research and Development Center
3939 O'Hara Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Paul Koehler
Arizona Department of Education
1535 West Jefferson
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Kate Maloy
National Research Center on Student Learning/LRDC
3939 O'Hara Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Joe McDonald
Coalition of Essential Schools
Brown University
Box 1969
Providence, RI 02912

Jeri Nowakowski
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL)
1900 Spring Road, Suite 300
Oak Brook, IL 60521

Edward Reidy
Office of Assessment and Accountability
Kentucky Department of Education
19th Floor Capital Plaza Tower
500 Mero Street
Frankfort, KY 40601

Douglas Rindone
Division of Research, Evaluation and Assessment
Connecticut Department of Education
Box 2219
Hartford, CT 06145

Ed Roeber
Council of Chief State School Officers
1 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 700
Washington, DC 20001-1431

Larry Rudner
ERIC Clearinghouse/AIR
3333 K Street NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20007

Helen Saunders
Appalachia Educational Laboratory
1031 Quarrier Street
P.O. Box 1348
Charleston, WV 25325

An Open-Ended Exercise in Mathematics: A Twelfth Grade Student's Performance

[image omitted]

Reprinted by permission, from A Question of Thinking: A First Look at Students' Performance on Open-ended Questions in Mathematics, copyright 1989, California Department of Education, P.O. Box 271, Sacramento, CA 95812-0271.

by David Sweet

This is the second Education Research CONSUMER GUIDE--a new series published for teachers, parents, and others interested in current education themes.

OR 92-3056r
ED/OERI 92-38
Editor: Jacquelyn Zimmermann

This Consumer Guide is produced by the Office of Research, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) of the U.S. Department of Education.
Richard W. Riley, Secretary of Education
Sharon P. Robinson, Assistant Secretary, OERI
Joseph C. Conaty, Acting Director, OR


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