Authentic Assessment | Performance Assessment
Educational Assessment: Elementary Years
Assessment has the potential to be very simple or very complex. Take for instance a teacher assessing reading ability; there are many different ways to decide a child’s reading level. A very simple approach would be to listen to the child read; making mental notes of rate, prosody, word recognition, miscues, self-corrections, etc. After which, an experienced teacher can determine what range of texts the child will need to read to advance to the next level. A more complex approach would be for the teacher to observe the same child by writing down everything he says, marking everything, down to the stutters and pauses that the child makes. After which, the teacher can analyze each miscue and determine whether its meaning, syntax, and visual appearance are similar to the original word. Next, the teacher could use a formula to calculate an adjusted ratio of correct words per minute (assuming of course the reading was timed) and compare the reading rate to grade level numbers. Finally, they could count the number of words and syllables in a variety of books and use a Lexile formula to determine texts that match the child’s reading rate. Obviously, there is a wide range of variance between the simple and complex versions of assessment but they will probably yield similar results. This sounds like a lot of work for similar results (and it is) but the complex version is valuable in today’s society because it provides concrete evidence that the decisions the teacher is making are coherent with best practice. However, I believe that most assessments a teacher makes should be informal because rigorous formal assessments are time-consuming in nature.
The teacher needs to spend most of his day constantly assessing through observation and examination of student performance. This method of assessment is called authentic assessment (Eric Development Team, 1990). Authentic assessment can be used in all subject areas; it relies on the performance of the student to determine progress. I use authentic assessment because it allows the student to interact with his environment at the same time I am assessing him. Authentic assessment can take the form of anecdotal records, portfolios, formal and informal observation, and examination of student work. All of these methods allow the student to learn while the assessment is taking place. Take for instance a first grader working on a piece of writing. The teacher has noted several times that the student is putting a period at the end of every line of writing instead of at the end of a complete thought. In this case, the teacher has already assessed the need (no test needed!), now the teacher can work with the student one-on-one until he sees that the student is using periods suitably for his grade level. He can assess the student’s progress by photocopying the writing each day and keeping it as a progress portfolio. This mini-portfolio would show that the student once wrote by placing a period at the end of each line but progressed until he arrived at a correct usage of periods. This is much more effective than giving the class a test on period-usage and sending it home with a grade—in my eyes this sort of test would be a complete waste of time.
Using portfolios is a very effective way of showing student progress without interrupting student-learning activities. The mini-portfolio mentioned above is only a taste of the possibilities this assessment method has. Keeping a portfolio can show progress or it can be a compilation of the students’ best work. Regardless, it requires that the student work! Portfolios not only show accurate progress, they also make sense to a parent. If I show a parent a graph of their child’s test scores they may understand that the child has improved but they really cannot see what the child was doing. When showing a parent a portfolio of work, I can show them exactly what their child was doing and how they could improve because I have several examples of the child’s work in my hands.
Sadly, authentic assessments are severely downplayed in America’s society. We live in a society of standards. We are standards-driven to the point of providing students’ with standardized tests that tests students on (you guessed it) knowledge of standards through multiple-choice questions. These tests are viewed by the public as the all-deciding factor in a child’s educational career. The “good” schools have “good” results on the standardized test as well as vice-versa for the bad schools. The “sad” part is not that we are taking these tests—because they could be a helpful tool in the assessment repertoire—but what we are taking away from our students in order to get good grades on these high-stakes tests. The results of these tests are so important that they are often put before the students themselves. The students suffer from a lack of real instruction because they are busy studying facts and teachers are squeezed out of any real teaching because their job often depends on satisfactory test scores, it is a vicious cycle that I bitterly disagree with. I know that standardized testing will never go away, but if I could change one thing in American education, it would be the emphasis we place on these tests. If we deemphasized high-stakes testing and instead made them low-stakes testing, I think we would see a large increase in actual learning instead of fact memorization and multiple-choice test taking skills. Students would once again be allowed to study social studies, science, and the arts and perhaps even enjoy education.
Eric Development Team (1990). The case for authentic assessment. http://eric.ed.gov:80/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage _01/0000019b/80/22/c5/e7.pdf
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