Performance-Based Assessment for High-School Students in a Natural Resource Management Program

Article excerpt

THEME ARTICLE

"Show me the money" was the memorable phrase screamed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 1997 film Jerry Maguire. Gooding's character, Rod Tidwell, used this phrase to show his advertising agent Jerry Maguire, played by Tom Cruise, how much advertising income Maguire had not generated for him. "Show me the money" was Tidwell's performancebased assessment of Maguire's work and efforts. Educators often ask their students to "show them the money" by demonstrating what they have or have not learned in the classroom.

Educators often rely on paper and pencil tests using true/false, multiple choice or short answer questions to measure students' abilities. However, these assessment strategies test the students' short-term memory or ability to memorize and regurgitate facts. The Performance-Based Skills Certification for Natural Resource Management in the Utah Agricultural Education Program uses authentic or alternative assessment to measure students' ability to complete a set of performance skills within a multitude of standards. Authentic assessment is based on nontraditional measurements of student performance; for example, a student's understanding of rangeland management is measured by having the student establish a rangeland transect, collect and interpret data, and report the results instead of administering a multiple choice test. Authentic assessment applies the FFA motto of "Learning by Doing" to the assessment of student performance.

A natural resources emphasis area was recently added to the Agricultural Education Program in Utah high schools. The Utah State Office of Education contracted with agricultural and natural resource educators at Utah State University (USU) to develop a performancebased skill certification assessment for this emphasis area. In 1996, an Agricultural Education-Natural Resource Management Committee was assembled to determine the objectives and competencies necessary to prepare students for careers in natural resources. Twenty-one competency standards were developed through curriculum review, combined with teacher and industry validation. Utah teachers and representatives from such groups as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management participated in a Q sort activity to identify and prioritize topics and skills that needed to be addressed in a natural resource emphasis area. Topics (standards) include areas such as: range, forestry, recreation, fisheries/wildlife, soil, and watershed management; ecological concepts; environmental ethics and conflict management; energy resources; waste disposal; land classification and planning; inventory and monitoring methods; business and economic principles; and career opportunities (refer to table I for a complete listing). Each standard is further supported by a series of objectives. The objectives become the assessment point in determining student learning. The committee also prepared a program planning and curriculum development guide to assist the secondary agricultural education and technology instructors in planning for their teaching of natural resource management.

In August of 1998, work began on refining and validating the standards and objectives. Soon after, an activity design format was developed. It is important to note that the objective of the program was not to develop complete instructional units but an assessment guide to test the understanding of material previously instructed. It does not replace the teacher or the teacher's expertise. However, because natural resources was a new and emerging area for Utah's secondary agricultural science and technology instructors, background information and some instructional units were included with each performance activity. The assessments can be adapted to a variety of locations, teaching materials, and student interests and backgrounds. For example, teachers in a more urban environment, have the option of establishing a rangeland transect in a school area or local park instead of traveling to an area that would be classified as rangeland. …