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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Comprehensive Assessment: An Overview

Performance assessments offer a richer, more holistic approach to evaluating what students know and can do. Read a short introductory article or watch a brief introductory video.
Transcript

Narrator: They are dueling with robots in Florida, and study microorganisms in New York, designing future schools in Seattle, and racing electric cars in Hawaii. All across the country students are being called upon to show what they know in challenging tests of their abilities.

Man: Here we go! The national championship on the line.

Narrator: These are the fun tests.

Teacher: Today we're going to take SAT I, the reasoning test.

Narrator: But today's students face other kinds of exams and their score on one of them can determine their future. With pressures mounting and stakes on the rise, some educators believe we are asking the wrong questions with standardized tests.

Linda Darling-Hammond: There's an irony in testing in American schools. We probably have kids who are the most tested and under examined of any kids in the world. Take New York State for example. Even before they get to the Regents examinations, students will have taken 20 batteries of tests over the course of their school careers.

So there are thousands and thousands of hours spent on taking these tests and preparing for these tests which give very little indication of what kids can actually do in real-world situations.

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".

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

Student: So we could get 120 points just for getting our robots in the end zone without scoring any balls-

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

Eeva Reeder: Is this what the science wing would look like?

Narrator: Teachers like Eeva Reeder believe that measuring performance on projects is a better way to gauge a student's potential for real world success.

Student: Open inviting area-

Narrator: So instead of memorizing geometrical abstractions, her students spend the last six weeks of their sophomore year designing schools for the year 2050.

Student: Why not have the whole side like wall open, be glass facing the water.

Eeva Reeder: To assess a student's deep understanding of a subject and their ability to apply a concept you cannot test those kinds of abilities through a traditional paper and pencil kind of assessment. It has to be what we call a performance-based assessment and that's why I do these projects because the project requires these students to create products or performances.

Student: In the beginning we decided to start with the floor plans and the designs. Our school has one main building.

Eeva Reeder: I have to come up with ways to assess those products and performances so I look at the site plan and look at the perspective drawing. I read the proposal. And I have a scoring guide developed for each one of those. But I think that the most powerful assessment for this project is that provided by the architects.

Man: When I first saw your drawings I thought to myself this is a real consistent idea.

Narrator: While performance-based assessment requires a significant investment of time and energy, proponents insist it is time well spent.

Linda Darling-Hammond: The 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 as well as the teacher. 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.

Narrator: The Urban Academy in New York City is part of a consortium of 32 schools that has rejected tests like the state's Regents exam and replaced it with a series of performance assessments.

Woman: This thesis isn't clear. It seems as though he jumps from-

Ann Cook: We're very interested in students developing certain skills. We’re interested in them developing an ability to work with multiple perspectives to be able to analyze evidence, to be able to critique.

We want them to be able to take text and talk about it, be able to understand to compare different texts and to read whole books, not just little snippets of books. And we've set them up with an external assessor. Someone who has agreed to spend an hour with that student who has agreed to read the book, and who then sites sown with that student and discusses that book for 45 minutes or an hour.

Student: She's going to him to see whether or not he saw what she had done.

Woman: Right.

Ann Cook: What we're really trying to see is can that student take that reading and go and talk to somebody they don't know, a perfect stranger, about the book and have a conversation about it. That's one way that we can tell whether a student is ready to go on and do college-level work.

Student: Is that about a 26. How come it's so low?

Narrator: Critics of performance-based assessment worry that if students are free to pursue projects of their choice standards will suffer. But some assessment experts say that independent study projects should meet the highest standards.

Grant Wiggins: What we have to do is realize that even if we give the kid free reign to do really cool projects it's still got to fit within the context of some objectives and some standards and some criteria that we bring to it.

Student: For those of you who aren't sure what [inaudible] pools are, they're-

Grant Wiggins: So that we can say by the end I have evidence, I can make the case that you learn something substantial and significant that relates to school objectives.

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

Narrator: One school the Key Learning Community in Indianapolis in Indiana has a clear and unique objective. Established in 1987 the school is dedicated to the cultivation of multiple intelligences and to developing new methods of assessment.

Teacher: Ours represent that these are his strength areas and also anytime that you see a the shape of a triangle those also represent the strengths.

Pat Bolanos: We're interesting in how students apply knowledge and so students are required through their high school to do major projects each semester. At the end of high school they should have eight major projects that they would have developed and all of this is put together on a multimedia portfolio to document what it is they're capable of doing.

Student: I've been working with the Egyptians because they had so many symbols and hieroglyphics and things like that.

Pat Bonalos: I think that what we're doing here is going to be needed very soon because people are going to realize how shortsighted all of this effort on standardized tests is. It's going to crash. It has crashed in the past. It will crash and people will need something else to replace it and maybe we might help in that effort.

Narrator: For schools that are challenging the high-stakes testing movement, the goal is to put less emphasis on cramming, drills, and test taking strategies and focus on in-depth learning.

Ann Cook: I'm all for high standards. I don't know of anybody who is for low standards. The question is do we get at what we're saying we want using the tests to drive this? That's the real crux of it and I would argue that we don't.

Grant Wiggins: A lot of teachers and administrators in their understandable concern about these high-stakes tests are making a mistake when they say "Teach to the test, teach to the test. That's what we have to do." There's no evidence to show that you raise test scores by teaching worse. There's no evidence to show that when you teach for an in-depth robust performance where you have high-quality local assessment that your test scores suffer. In fact the evidence is to the contrary.

High quality local assessment is what we need to pay attention to.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education go to edutopia.org.

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Credits

Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

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

Editor:

  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

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

Narrator:

  • Susan Blake

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • The College Board

Comments (54)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mary Ellen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found this information to be an excellent example of Garner's theory of multiple intelligence. Performance assessment can truly asess the knowledge of our students, we can allow them to grow and explore in ways that are less traditional.
Performance assessment allows our students to read a book and with the use of an external assessor express their thoughts feelings and interpertations of the text, this cannot be done with standardized assessments. Students can develop a deeper understanding of the material when they interact and colloborate with other students, this brings the information to life.

Mary Ellen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think performance assessment best represents Garner's theory of multiple intelligence, students can express their understanding in creative and fundamental ways. Performance based assessment can allow our students to express knowledge in ways that best suit them. I particularly liked students reading a book and with an external assessor discussing the text. This allows the students to express thoughts, feelings and their own unique viewpoints; this could never be accomplished with standard testing. I allowed my students to read the Outsiders; instead of a typical multiple choice test a performance based assessment would be far more informative. I would love to hear their unique and thoughtful interpitation of this excellent text.
Performance based assessment can be used in mathematics as well, starting a "store" or coffee shop will demonstrate mathematical knowledge perfectly.
I think this will be the way of the future; students will be encouraged that their true voice will be heard.

Mary Ellen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think performance assessment best represents Garner's theory of multiple intelligence, students can express their understanding in creative and fundamental ways. Performance based assessment can allow our students to express knowledge in ways that best suit them. I particularly liked students reading a book and with an external assessor discussing the text. This allows the students to express thoughts, feelings and their own unique viewpoints; this could never be accomplished with standard testing. I allowed my students to read the Outsiders; instead of a typical multiple choice test a performance based assessment would be far more informative. I would love to hear their unique and thoughtful interpitation of this excellent text.
Performance based assessment can be used in mathematics as well, starting a "store" or coffee shop will demonstrate mathematical knowledge perfectly.
I think this will be the way of the future; students will be encouraged that their true voice will be heard.

MPN's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The past few weeks I have spent much time contemplating the methods of assessment that would be best suited to a heterogeneous group of students. I know that there is going to be a strong need to use a holistic approach in some of the evaluation processes for such a stratified group. However, I am acutely aware of the possibility of bias in this objective approach. Even with a well-developed scoring guide/rubric, a performance-based assessment by its nature has the teacher/evaluator's opinion and position to account for. Taking all this into account, a performance-based assessment must also have reliability and validity. Designing such a tool for evaluation is a matter of delicate undertaking that does not guarantee accuracy.

Blaine M's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I understand the allure of standardized testing in that it is an "easy" way to compare students from different schools, communities, and states but there is nothing easy about measuring the abilities of a student. There has to be a more complete and balanced method of testing.

One of the benefits of performance based testing is the necessity for the student to know the subject matter. In order to be able to complete these projects they will need to have a solid understanding of the material in order to succeed on the test. Learning material and learning to perform are not mutually exclusive. In order to perform successfully the student must know the material. They work hand in hand. In our jobs and careers we have to know both so why shouldn't students learn both?

I think a moderation between the two testing methods would be beneficial. The students would have show at least general knowledge of the subject in order to be involved in the performance testing. Then with that general knowledge they could be propelled into much deeper learning.

C Fisher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After watching the video, I wondered why performance base testing was not applied when I was in school. I think this is a wonderful idea for this generation and beyond. With the advancement of technology and students who learn in so many different ways I think this is one way that can show how much a student really knows. In my opinion Standardized test is not teaching for understanding, instead it is forcing teachers to teach to the test and teaching students to memorize instead of internalize the information that is given to them. Standardized test are not teaching our students to think for themselves, the question I have for those who made the mandates for these test is, "How will Standardized testing help students in the real world when they have to make decision on their own?" I do believe that those who set forth to have students reach a certain standard had good intentions, but, did they realize students would not be learning, and teachers would not be teaching. In the video, there is true learning taking place. Students have to come up with ideas for their projects, they have to gather the information, and then demonstrate how much they learned and present it for a grade. This style of teaching is combining the different intelligences, encouraging independent learning, and higher level thinking which is needed when students go to college and join the rat race. As much as I don't like taking test I do feel they are needed, but as the video demonstrates there must be a variety, with variety, it helps the students learn and it helps make school fun and cool.

C Fisher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After watching the video, I wondered why performance base testing was not applied when I was in school. I think this is a wonderful idea for this generation and beyond. With the advancement of technology and students who learn in so many different ways I think this is one way that can show how much a student really knows. In my opinion Standardized test is not teaching for understanding, instead it is forcing teachers to teach to the test and teaching students to memorize instead of internalize the information that is given to them. Standardized test are not teaching our students to think for themselves, the question I have for those who made the mandates for these test is, "How will Standardized testing help students in the real world when they have to make decision on their own?" I do believe that those who set forth to have students reach a certain standard had good intentions, but, did they realize students would not be learning, and teachers would not be teaching. In the video, there is true learning taking place. Students have to come up with ideas for their projects, they have to gather the information, and then demonstrate how much they learned and present it for a grade. This style of teaching is combining the different intelligences, encouraging independent learning, and higher level thinking which is needed when students go to college and join the rat race. As much as I don't like taking test I do feel they are needed, but as the video demonstrates there must be a variety, with variety, it helps the students learn and it helps make school fun and cool.

Tammy J's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Excellent. I agree with focusing on real world application of knowledge aquired. When working in the business world it will be about taking information and using it to problem solve. I liked the comment by Mr. Gardner about the world does not provide you with multiple choice answers to problems. It is really based on how we actively use the knowledge that will determine whether we are learning.

It would also allow the students to look at what they like to do. The teacher that gave the students the opportunity to create their own schools was excellent. Could you not take that project and determine that you love or hate architecture, math, project management. What a great way to experience career opportunity before you get to college. I also loved the presentation aspect of the projects. What excellent preparation for college and the work world.

Adrian's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thought that this video was intersting in the fact that there are teachers out there not just teaching academic work based on standarized tests. The other day I was talking with a teacher who is in an SED room, and he was telling how difficult it is in trying to teacher his students based on the guidlenes of the state tests. He mentioned that he feels that he sometimes loses that teacher/student relationship because he has to stay focused on these guidelines. My wife is a teacher and she does not like it either. At the end of each year she is told how her students perform on these tests and she feels responsible for these students to perform well on these tests. My question is are these test preparing the students for the real world? The ideas and projects shown in the video seem to be preparing the students better to be successful outside of school compared to some standarized tests. I think all schools and teachers should utilize the ideas shown in this video.

Ursula's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of testing a students ability to apply a concept, through performance based assessments, rather than assessing the students stratospheric testing skills on a standardized test. Because we are primarily only testing one way we are ruling out so many kids, whose test score will determine much of their future. Is it really fair to say to a kid who can rebuild an automobile engine, but scores poorly on the SAT or ACT, that there is no way he can be an engineer? This is what we are doing.

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