Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Assessment/Roles

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What roles do assessment of performance and performance appraisal play in schools and administrations?

Education is a state-controlled manufactory of echoes. Norman Douglas

We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) U.S. essayist and poet.

The average schoolmaster is and always must be essentially an ass, for how can one imagine an intelligent man engaging in so puerile an avocation. H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American editor, critic and writer.

There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get off the thing that he was educated in. Will Rogers (1879-1935) U.S. actor and humorist.

Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer. C. C. Colton, Lacon: Reflections, No. 322.

Assessments of performance and performance appraisals play a major role in the education system today. These assessments and appraisals are not only being used to measure student performance, they are also being used to evaluate the performance of teachers and administrators. The topic of performance assessments is considered one of the “hot topics” on the education agenda and with good reason. Performance assessments provide a closer look at how students are progressing. Also,performance appraisals provide a way to monitor teacher and administrator progress. Assessments and appraisals are powerful levers that help to shape instruction. While performance assessments and performance appraisals offer many positive results, they also have some negative effects in our schools today. Throughout this article we will examine some of the ways performance assessments and performance appraisals are used to evaluate students, teachers, and administrators and the effects of these assessments and appraisals.

Let’s first take a look at performance assessments of students. Performance assessment is defined as “a measure of assessment based on authentic tasks such as activities, exercises, or problems that require students to show what they can do (article: The Definition of Performance Assessment). So just how does this work in an actual classroom setting? First the student(s) are asked to perform a task rather than to “select an answer from a ready-made list. The types of tasks that the students are required to perform are based on the method that the teacher decides to use. There are three main types that the teacher will normally use: open-ended, extended, or portfolio. Open-ended exercises “are questions or other prompts that require the student to explore a topic orally or in writing” (article: Performance Assessment). Extended tasks consist of “assignments that require sustained attention in a single work area and are carried out over several hours or longer” (article: Performance Assessment). Portfolios “are selected collections of a variety of performance-based work.”(article: Performance Assessment). All three types of performance assessments “require that students actively develop approaches to the task under defined conditions” (article: Performance Assessment). Once the tasks are complete, the students work is evaluated by the teacher based on a set of agreed-upon standards. From this the teacher can evaluate the students’ knowledge and abilities, as well as the areas of weakness for each student. Performance assessments help students to engage in active learning and to develop skills in critical thinking that will help them throughout life.

The most common tool used in the education system today to assess student performance is the Standards of Learning or SOL’s (as they are most often called). These tests are used to measure student performance or “achievement in grades K-12 in English, mathematics, science, history/social science, technology, the fine arts, foreign language, health and physical education, and driver education”(article: Standards of Learning ). Since implementing the use of these performance assessments within the school system “the earliest years of schooling have become less like a trip to ‘Mister Rogers Neighborhood’ and more like SAT prep. Kids are “tested, and tested again – some every 10 days or so – to ensure they’re making significant progress” (Tyre, 36). Testing is necessary in determining the progress of students learning, but do we really need to test students so much and so often? It has been proven that too much testing creates enormous stress and pressure on children to succeed. Many children are falling behind and “are getting their first taste of failure before they learn to tie their shoes” (Tyre, 36) because of such rigorous testing.

Teachers and administrators are also constantly being assessed on their performance because of widespread public pressure for educational accountability and questions about skills, training, and performance of American teachers. “Teacher training consists of three years of general education and teaching specialization and one year of pedagogical training”(Allen & Cosby, 50) with some technology training. Administrators undergo more training and schooling before assuming their role as educational leaders. You would think that this would be enough, but it’s not because teachers and administrators are still arriving in schools today “fully certified and wholly untested in terms of real-world performance” (Allen & Cosby, 51). One reason for this is the strict curriculum our teachers are expected to follow today. Teachers are told how much time to spend on each subject and what needs to be covered according to state curriculum guidelines. This “makes it hard for teachers to stay sensitive to the important qualities in children that tests can’t measure- diligence, creativity and potential – or to nurture kids who develop more slowly”(Tyre, 42). Administrators are also faced with similar problems when it comes to these assessments. Since the No Child Left Behind Act has been implemented in our school systems, administrators must keep their staff up to par or face stiff penalties. Many schools risk losing funding or even being shut down, if the students do not progress as the state expects. This puts great responsibility and stress on the administrators and teachers in the school systems today.

While performance assessments or appraisals are good for setting guidelines for students, teachers, and administrators, they do not come without a price. Performance assessments are taking away the project-based, hands-on experience that many children need to enhance their learning experience. One reason being because “performance assessment requires a greater expense of time, planning, and thought from students and teachers” (article: Performance Assessment). Another problem found in performance assessments is that they “depend heavily on professional judgment” (Linn). Professional judgment may not always be the same and may not always be fair. So when the assessments are done, this needs to be taken into consideration. There needs to be a focus on the technical and equity issues so that all performance assessments are fair to everyone. Performance assessments and performance appraisals are necessary in keeping our students, teachers, and administrators where they need to be. However, I do not think that they should be our main focus because they take away so much from the teaching and learning experience.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

If a teacher decides to assess his/her students based on authentic tasks such as activities, exercises, or problems instead of multiple choice questions, what three types of assessment does this demonstrate?
A. Open-ended, shortened, and portfolio
B. Close-ended, extended, and portfolio
C. Open-ended, extended, and portfolio
D. None of the above

C. Open-ended, extended, and portfolio

Mrs. Bailey, a fifth grade teacher,could feel the students frustration over the upcoming series of tests. These tests are used most commonly to assess student performance in grades K-12 in the areas of math, science, language arts, and science. What type(s) of test(s) does this refer to?
A. Essay tests
B. Standards of Learning
C. Iowa Test of Basic Skills
D. Multiple-choice tests

B. Standards of Learning

If Mrs. Smith asked her students “What would Abraham Lincoln argue about the cause of the civil war?” What type of task would this be asking the students to perform?
A. An extended task
B. An open-ended task
C. Portfolio
D. All of the above
E. None of the above

B. An open-ended task

The school board was questioned by many concerned parents about the use of performance assessments in the school system. One question asked was "What benefits do performance assessments have?" What do you think the answer was that the school board gave?
A. They help students to engage in active learning and critical thinking.
B. They help students, teachers, and administrators to perform better.
C. They set guidelines for the expected performance of students, teachers, and administrators.
D. All of the above.
E. A and C.

E. A and C.

If Mr. Jones asked his students to conduct and explain the results of a science experiment on photosynthesis, what type of performance task does this demonstrate?
A. An open-ended task.
B. An extended task.
C. Both A and B.
D. None of the above.

B. An extended task.

Essay Question[edit]

Describe some of the effects (both positive and negative) that performance assessments have on students, teachers, and administrators.