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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

An Introduction to Comprehensive Assessment

Performance-based evaluation is a real-world improvement on the artificial measures of paper-and-pencil testing. Read a short introductory article or watch an in-depth video.
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An Introduction to Comprehensive Assessment (Transcript)

Teacher: Today we're going to take SAT I.

Narrator: Tests, from national, standardized tests to final exams are the most common form of student assessment. But many educators believe we need better ways to measure learning and achievement.

Howard Gardner: People may be good test takers but once you leave the world of testing you have to think for yourself because the world doesn't come organized in four choices with the fourth one being "None of the above".

Student: Well can I show you something on the computer?

Teacher: Absolutely.

Student: Okay.

Narrator: Comprehensive assessment provides ongoing feedback so that teachers, principals, parents and students can constantly improve teaching and learning on a daily and weekly basis.

Teacher: As far as listening and speaking and writing you're making steady progress.

Narrator: Comprehensive assessments provide a picture of the whole student, and can include more traditional measures like multiple choice tests and essays as well as portfolios, experiments, and role play that mirrors real life tasks.

Student: Hi my name is Eddie Kim. I am a site planner and thank you for letting us propose a plan.

Narrator: In the Urban Plan project students learn state standards and economics by working in teams to create development proposals.

Student: Yeah, that's way too high. How do we kill our percent but still make the city go up?

Dong-Jin Lee: The project as a whole, it gets you ready for the real world. Just looking out of the book it gets pretty tedious, like you're just looking in a book. You're memorizing facts and stuff. But once you learn how to actually use those facts, you get a deeper understanding and you can better interpret questions and so you build up like really useful skills.

Student: The number is going to be about one point five million.

Narrator: While comprehensive assessment requires a significant amount of time and energy, proponents insist the investment pays big dividends.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Students have to develop the performances. The teachers have to evaluate them. But the time is not lost to teaching and learning. The time is teaching and learning because the actual conduct of the assessment is a learning experience for the students. It informs teaching. It actually gives teachers feedback immediately about what they need to do to meet students' needs, so it's actually productive time.

Student: In the year 2050 education has become project-based.

Narrator: Comprehensive assessment promotes student accountability for learning, self-reflection, and presentation skills needed for the work world.

Student: Transportation, four facts.

Hugh Price: As I was mulling all these issues about assessment, I was struck by the fact that there are all other sorts of attributes like drive and grit and determination, ability to problem solve, communication skills, leadership skills, these intangibles that were critically important.

Teacher: Football field 100 years, 300 feet.

Hugh Price: And that by virtue of the excessive reliance on the testing scores you're ruling out large numbers of youngsters of all races, and all complexions who may not have stratospheric test scores, but who have these other kinds of attributes that experience shows contribute to high-level success in the real world.

Teacher: Oh so you're just going to have a bunch of paths through here?

Students: Yeah.

Teacher: Nice.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Roberta Furger
  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Diane Curtis
  • Roberta Furger
  • Sara Armstrong


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Eric Seguim-Arnold
  • Jon Dobovan
  • Ken Ellis
  • Ward Laver
  • Gabriel Miller
  • Lewis Trusty
  • William Turnley


  • Peter Coyote

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • The College Board

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