Performance Assessment: The Realities That Will Influence the Rewards

Article excerpt

As educators continually strive to improve evaluation methods, performance assessment has grown in popularity and use. Performance assessment is an authentic way to acquire accurate information about students' performance and comprehension (Perrone, 1991). Its appeal may be related to the growing need for local decision-making about student progress and instructional programs, as well to the interest in outcome-based education. Extensive debate about this type of assessment is carried on in education journals, professional meetings and education policy discussions. "Expert" perceptions of the "movement" range from skepticism to a belief that it is the solution to all of education's ills (Arter, 1991; Cizek, 1991).

At best, performance assessment could be the key to restructuring schools for higher standards and improved accountability. At the very least, it adds an expanded dimension to education assessment. At worst, performance assessment could become another promising idea tossed on the junk heap of discarded innovations if care is not taken to really understand its nature and limitations. As more schools move toward performance assessment for student evaluations, teachers and particularly administrators must become knowledgeable users.

Performance assessment is not a totally new idea. It is a common form of assessment in fields such as medicine and law. Industry uses performance assessment to make promotion decisions. Performance assessment was once the most common form of assessment in education, prior to the widespread use of standardized tests (Perrone, 1991). And it has been used regularly in such subjects as physical education, music and art.

Language arts teachers, in particular, have embraced the concept of performance assessment, perhaps because they have been using performance testing to varying degrees for many years (i.e., to evaluate essays, speeches, book reports and various forms of oral reading). Their cry to legitimize teacher observations of students engaged in actual literacy tasks is being heard and supported by other teachers, administrators, governors and legislators. Performance assessment of reading and writing is becoming a reality in many classrooms across the United States.

As the "movement" generates increased enthusiasm and optimism, more and more administrators are seeking help to establish performance assessment procedures not only for reading and English programs, but also for other content areas, such as math and science. The authors, as assessment consultants, have discovered that enthusiasm for and acceptance of performance assessment often exceed knowledge about its nature and complexity. As they wrestle with the task of helping administrators develop environments and structures for moving toward performance assessment, the authors have identified three basic and critical questions that often go unanswered when schools rush to jump on the performance assessment bandwagon:

* What exactly is performance assessment?

* What advice is available from experts and the research?

* What issues and concerns must be addressed?

What Exactly Is Performance Assessment?

Few discussions of performance assessment clearly define the phrase. The authors found Berk's (1986) operational definition to be a fair and concise representation of current beliefs about performance assessment. He defines performance assessment as "the process of gathering data by systematic observation for making decisions about an individual". Stiggins and Bridgeford (1986) establish three criteria for a performance assessment. First, students must apply knowledge they have acquired. Second, students must complete a clearly specified task within the context of either a real or simulated exercise. Third, the task or completed product must be observed and rated with respect to specified criteria in accordance with specified procedures, requiring students to actually demonstrate proficiency. …