Getting Real about Assessment: Making It Work

Article excerpt

The articles in this feature focus on activities teachers can use to collect evidence of student progress that can be used to provide feedback and make decisions about teaching. These authors' ideas stem from a belief that the primary purpose of assessment is to find out what students know, can do, or value, so that students' individual learning needs can be met and decisions about appropriate future activities can be made. Assessment of this kind may represent a new perspective for some teachers, although using assessment in this way is by no means a new idea. These kinds of assessment practices can be found in many physical education programs that value student learning as their central purpose.

Good teachers in respectable programs have reported several barriers to using systematic student assessment. Some teachers say that assessment practices are simply not necessary in their programs because their aim is to provide enjoyable, physically active environments, not to have students learn. Therefore, assessment and teaching for learning are not areas where they invest their energies (Matanin & Tannehill, 1994). Other teachers who do intend for their students to learn - whether the content be physical skills, sport knowledge, or body management - prefer not to take the time to give tests that they feel do not provide accurate or useful information about their students' abilities. The tests seem unrelated to the goals of the units, and the time necessary to explain and conduct the tests, record the scores, and analyze and report the results seems better spent actually engaging in the activity (Hensley et al., 1989). Teachers also perceive that tests bore or discourage students and don't seem to yield more information than what experienced teachers can see in their daily observations (Lund, 1992). Unless administrators require assessment, teachers prefer to devote their class time to the learning experiences their intuition tells them is most worthwhile.

I decided to find out how some teachers who do use assessment have coped with these difficulties. I talked with two teachers about the reasons they take time and energy to incorporate assessment into their teaching on a regular basis. I asked them to describe how they began using assessment and to offer advice to teachers trying assessment for the first time. Their responses may provide a useful perspective regarding the practical concerns teachers face when considering how to incorporate assessment into their day-to-day teaching.

DOLLY LAMBDIN is an elementary physical education specialist at Blanton Elementary School in Austin, Texas. She has been teaching physical education at the elementary level for 17 years and has been experimenting with different ways to assess student learning throughout her career. In addition, she is a member of the teacher education faculty at the University of Texas at Austin.

SUE SCHIEMER is an elementary physical education specialist at Memorial Elementary School in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. She has been teaching elementary and middle school physical education for 18 years, and she began experimenting with alternative assessment techniques during her first two years of teaching.

What have you learned from using assessment that convinces you that it adds to, rather than detracts from, students' experiences in the gym?

DOLLY LAMBDIN: Assessment provides the accurate means for providing appropriate experiences for children. The experiences are still more important, but structuring them appropriately to meet the needs of the students requires assessment data.

SUE SCHIEMER: Assessment in the cognitive domain provides evidence of student learning that might not be observable in students' performance. Since I only see students once a week, students often do not show changes in their abilities to perform. But if asked, they can describe what the critical elements of a skill or movement are. Without this "pre-post writing" assessment of student understanding, I might not see evidence of student learning. …