For more than a decade, widespread concern about the effectiveness of American schools has led to calls for educational reform and greater accountability. At the heart of the most recent wave of educational reform is the identification of learner outcomes, framed in the context of "standards" which define what students should know and be able to do. Furthermore, a cornerstone of the educational reform movement today is assessment. Assessment not only for the purposes of providing indices of accountability, but assessment that is inextricably linked to and performed as an integral part of the instructional process. In 1995 the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) published the landmark document, Moving Into the Future: National Standards for Physical Education, which delineated national standards for school physical education and provided examples of assessments which were linked to these recommended standards. For those of us interested in measurement and evaluation, this represents the "best of times" - a dawning of a new era in American education in which assessment is a highly visible, valued part of the educational landscape. At the same time, however, the greater demands for accountability and the heightened emphasis on assessment comes at a time of growing dissatisfaction with the more traditional forms of assessment, whether it is the multiple-choice, machine-scored tests or the use of standardized sport skill and physical fitness tests. Yet, teachers are being told that they need to be more involved with assessment - the "worst of times." Many acknowledged assessment authorities in education tout "alternative assessment" as the solution to this dilemma (Herman, Aschbacher, & Winters, 1992; Wiggins, 1989). This movement towards alternative assessment is motivated, at least in part, by the belief that alternative assessment methods facilitate teaching, enhance learning, and result in greater student achievement (Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991; Wiggins, 1991). But what is "alternative assessment" and how does this affect assessment in physical education, particularly in the psychomotor domain where skill development is such an important objective? According to Wood (1996, p. 213):
Traditional psychometric assessment devices (e.g., multiple choice tests, sport skills tests) may no longer be sufficient for assessment in the quickly changing educational landscape characterized by emphasis on learning outcomes, higher order cognitive skills, and integrated learning.
Furthermore, traditional assessment instruments and techniques tend to measure narrowly defined characteristics, do not facilitate integration of skills or processes, and are frequently artificial in nature. This has resulted in an emerging shift to more and more alternative forms of assessment in physical education.
Unfortunately, we do not have widespread understanding of what constitutes alternative assessment, although educational authorities generally refer to it as any type of assessment task other than the traditional, standardized paper and pencil, multiple choice type of test. Whereas this description may not fit with much of what we do in physical education, an awareness of key characteristics should facilitate a better understanding of alternative assessment within the context of physical education. Alternative assessment is thought to be performance-based, requiring students to demonstrate specific skills and competencies rather than simply selecting one of several predetermined answers to a question (Stiggins, 1987). Furthermore, Wiggins (1993) suggests that performance-based assessment requires the student to execute a task and bring it to completion. In effect, the student places his or her skill on exhibition, a performance that is valued in its own right, unlike traditional standardized tests which derive value based upon their relationship to other valued outcomes. Moreover, assessment is said to be authentic when the assessment task is designed to take place in a real-life setting, one that is less contrived and artificial than traditional forms of testing. In other words, the assessment task has contextual significance. Note that authenticity is not a dichotomous characteristic, being either present or absent; rather, authenticity is a multidimensional characteristic existing in varying degrees. Thus, some assessments are more authentic than others. While …