Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 10: Teacher-made Assessment Strategies/Performance Assessments
In performance assessments, students complete a specific task while teachers observe the process or procedure (e.g., data collection in an experiment) as well as the product (e.g., completed report) (Popham, 2005; Stiggens, 2005). The tasks that students complete in performance assessments are not simple (in contrast to selected response items) and might include the following:
- Playing a musical instrument
- Athletic skills
- Artistic creation
- Conversing in a foreign language
- Engaging in a debate about political issues
- Conducting an experiment in science
- Repairing a machine
- Writing a term paper
- Using interaction skills to play together
These examples all involve complex skills, but show that the term performance assessment is used in a variety of ways. For example, the teacher may not observe all of the process (e.g., she sees a draft paper but the final product is written during out-of-school hours); essay tests are therefore often considered examples of performance assessments (Airasian, 2000). In addition, in some performance assessments there may be no clear product (e.g., the performance may be group interaction skills).
Two related terms, alternative assessment and authentic assessment, are sometimes used instead of performance assessment, but they have different meanings. Alternative assessment refers to tasks that are not pencil-and-paper and while many performance assessments are not pencil-and paper tasks some are (e.g., writing a term paper, essay tests). Authentic assessment is used to describe tasks that students do that are similar to those in the “real word.” Classroom tasks vary in level of authenticity. For example, for a Japanese language class taught in a high school in Chicago conversing in Japanese in Tokyo is highly authentic – but only possible in a study abroad program or trip to Japan. Conversing in Japanese with native Japanese speakers in Chicago is also highly authentic, and conversing with the teacher in Japanese during class is moderately authentic. Much less authentic is a matching test on English and Japanese words. In a language arts class, writing a letter (to an editor) or a memo to the principal is highly authentic as letters and memos are common work products. However, writing a five-paragraph paper is not as authentic as such papers are not used in the world of work. However, a five paragraph paper is a complex task and would typically be classified as a performance assessment.
Advantages and Disadvantages
There are several advantages of performance assessments.
- The focus is on complex learning outcomes that often cannot be measured by other methods.
- Performance assessments typically assess process or procedure as well as the product. For example, the teacher can observe if the students are repairing the machine using the appropriate tools and procedures as well as whether the machine functions properly after the repairs.
- Well-designed performance assessments communicate the instructional goals and meaningful learning clearly to students. For example, if the topic in a 5th grade art class is one-point perspective the performance assessment could be drawing a city scene that illustrates one point perspective. This assessment is meaningful and clearly communicates the learning goal. This performance assessment is a good instructional activity and has good content validity - common with well designed performance assessments.
One major disadvantage with performance assessments is that are typically very time consuming for students and teachers. This means that fewer assessments can be gathered so if they are not carefully devised fewer learning goals will be assessed – which can reduce content validity. State curriculum guidelines can be helpful in determining what should be included in a performance assessment. For example, Eric, a dance teacher in a high school in Tennessee learns that the state standards indicate that dance students at the highest level should be able to do demonstrate consistency and clarity in performing technical skills by:
- performing complex movement combinations to music in a variety of meters and styles.
- performing combinations and variations in a broad dynamic range.
- demonstrating improvement in performing movement combinations through self-evaluation
- critiquing a live or taped dance production based on given criteria.
Eric devises the following performance task for his 11th grade modern dance class. In groups of 4-6, students will perform a dance at least 5 minutes in length. The dance selected should be multifaceted so that all the dancers can demonstrate technical skills, complex movements, and a dynamic range (Items 1-2). Students will videotape their rehearsals and document how they improved through self evaluation (Item3). Each group will view and critique the final performance of one other group in class (Item 4). Eric would need to scaffold most steps in this performance assessment. The groups probably would need guidance in selecting a dance that allowed all the dancers to demonstrate the appropriate skills; critiquing their own performances constructively; working effectively as a team, and applying criteria to evaluate a dance.
Another disadvantage of performance assessments is they are hard to assess reliably, which can lead to inaccuracy and unfair evaluation. As with any constructed response assessment, scoring rubrics are very important. An example of holistic and analytic scoring rubrics designed to assess a completed product are in Tables 10-5 and Table 10-6. A rubric designed to assess the process of group interactions is in Table 10-7. This rubric was devised for middle grade science but could be used in other subject areas when assessing group process. In some performance assessments several scoring rubrics should be used. In the dance performance example above Eric should have scoring rubrics for the performance skills, the improvement based on self evaluation, the team work, and the critique of the other group. Since devising a good performance assessment is obviously complex, it may help if you:
- Create performance assessments that require students to use complex cognitive skills. Sometimes teachers devise assessments that are interesting and that the students enjoy but do not require students to use higher level cognitive skills that lead to significant learning. Focusing on high level skills and learning outcomes is particularly important because performance assessments are typically so time consuming.
- Ensure that the task is clear to the students. Performance assessments typically require multiple steps so students need to have the necessary prerequisite skills and knowledge as well as clear directions. Careful scaffolding is important for successful performance assessments.
- Specify expectations of the performance clearly by providing students scoring rubrics during the instruction. This not only helps students understand what it expected but it also guarantees that teachers are clear about what they expect. Thinking this through while planning the performance assessment can be difficult for teachers but is crucial as it typically leads to revisions of the actual assessment and directions provided to students.
- Reduce the importance of unessential skills in completing the task. What skills are essential depends on the purpose of the task. For example, for a science report, is the use of publishing software essential? If the purpose of the assessment is for students to demonstrate the process of the scientific method including writing a report, then the format of the report may not be significant. However, if the purpose includes integrating two subject areas, science and technology, then the use of publishing software is important. Because performance assessments take time it is tempting to include multiple skills without carefully considering if all the skills are essential to the learning goals.
“A portfolio is a meaningful collection of student work that tells the story of student achievement or growth” (Arter, Spandel, & Culham, 1995, p. 2). Portfolios are a purposeful collection of student work not just folders of all the work a student does. Portfolios are used for a variety of purposes and developing a portfolio system can be confusing and stressful unless the teachers are clear on their purpose.
When the primary purpose is assessment for learning, the emphasis is on student self-reflection and responsibility for learning. Students not only select samples of their work they wish to include, but also reflect and interpret their own work. Portfolios containing this information can be used to aid communication as students can present and explain their work to their teachers and parents. Portfolios focusing on assessment of learning contain students’ work samples that certify accomplishments for a classroom grade, graduation, state requirements etc. Typically, students have less choice in the work contained in such portfolios as some consistency is needed for this type of assessment. For example, the writing portfolios that 4th and 7th graders are required to submit in Kentucky must contain a self reflective statement and an example of three pieces of writing (reflective, personal experience or literary, and transactive). Students do choose which of their pieces of writing in each type to include into the portfolio.
Portfolios can be designed to focus on student progress or current accomplishments. For example, audiotapes of English language learners speaking could be collected over one year to demonstrate growth in learning. Student progress portfolios may also contain multiple versions of a single piece of work. For example, a writing project may contain notes on the original idea, outline, first draft, comments on the first draft by peers or teacher, second draft, and the final finished product. If the focus is on current accomplishments, only recent completed work samples are included.
Portfolios can focus on documenting student activities or highlighting important accomplishments. Documentation portfolios are inclusive, containing all the work samples rather than focusing on one special strength, best work, or progress. In contrast, showcase portfolios focus on best work. The best work is typically identified by students as one aim of such portfolios is that students learn how to identify products that demonstrate what they know and can do. Students are not expected to identify their best work in isolation but also use the feedback from their teachers and peers.
A final distinction can be made between a finished portfolio -such as used to for a job application - versus a working portfolio that typically includes day-to-day work samples. Working portfolios evolve over time and are not intended to be used for assessment of learning. The focus in a working portfolio is on developing ideas and skills so students should be allowed to make mistakes, freely comment on their own work, and respond to teacher feedback. Finished portfolios are designed for use with a particular audience and the products selected may be drawn from a working portfolio. For example, in a teacher education program, the working portfolio may contain work samples from all the courses taken. A student may develop one finished portfolio to demonstrate she has mastered the required competencies in the teacher education program, and a second finished portfolio for her job application.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Portfolios used well in classrooms have several advantages. They provide a way of documenting and evaluating growth in a much more nuanced way than selected response tests can. Also, portfolios can be integrated easily into instruction, i.e. used for assessment for learning. Portfolios also encourage student self-evaluation and reflection, as well as ownership for learning. Using classroom assessment to promote student motivation is an important component of assessment for learning which is considered in the next section.
But there are some major disadvantages of portfolio use. Good portfolio assessment takes an enormous amount of teacher time and organization. The time is needed to help students understand the purpose and structure of the portfolio, decide which work samples to collect, and to self reflect. Some of this time needs to be conducted in one-to-one conferences. Reviewing and evaluating the portfolios out of class time is also enormously time consuming. Teachers have to weigh if the time spent is worth the benefits of the portfolio use.
- Evaluating portfolios reliability and eliminating bias can be even more difficult than in a constructed response assessment because the products are more varied. The experience of the state-wide use of portfolios for assessment in writing and mathematics for 4th and 8th graders in Vermont is sobering. Teachers used the same analytic scoring rubric when evaluating the portfolio. In the first two years of implementation samples from schools were collected and scored by an external panel of teachers. In the first year the agreement among raters (i.e., inter-rater reliability) was poor for mathematics and reading; in the second year the agreement among raters improved for mathematics but not for reading. However, even with the improvement in mathematics the reliability was too low to use the portfolios for individual student accountability (Koretz, Stecher, Klein & McCaffrey, 1994). When reliability is low, validity is also compromised because unstable results cannot be interpreted meaningfully.
If teachers do use portfolios in their classroom, the series of steps needed for implementation are outlined in Table 10- 8. If the school or district has an existing portfolio system these steps may have to be modified.
- Popham, W. J. (2005). Classroom Assessment: What teachers need to know. Boston, MA: Pearson.
- Stiggins, R. J. (2002). Assessment crisis: The absence of assessment FOR learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 758-765.
- Airasian, P. W. (2000). Classroom Assessment: A concise approach 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.
- Airasian, P. W. (2004). Classroom Assessment: Concepts and Applications 3rd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.
- Arter, J., Spandel, V., & Culham, R. Portfolios for assessment and instruction. ERIC Digest #388890"