Student Performance Assessment

Student Performance Assessment, which measures students' mastery of a skill, became popular in schools during the late 20th century.

This form of assessment has long been used to test the skills of students in the fields of medicine and law, physical education, music, art and language, where performance is easily measured by outcome. Used correctly, it could raise standards, foster accountability, shape the future of education and the curriculum for the better. However, as well as gaining general approval, it has also received some criticism.

There are various ideas about what a performance test entails but it is widely held that the students must demonstrate proficiency by applying the knowledge they have acquired to a task that is either real or simulated; this is observed and rated according to specific criteria. A performance test can be applied in different ways but it is believed that an assessment of a task that closely reflects something performed by people in real-life constitutes the most appropriate type of performance assessment. It may be spontaneous or structured.

A structured assessment makes use of specified scoring criteria and measures well-defined behaviors. It is designed and planned with specific purposes in mind. Spontaneous assessment could be equally valid as it centers on a teacher's day-to-day observations and judgments in the classroom. It may offer a broader view of a student's accomplishments. This method has been criticized for applying no standards for selection and analysis.

One type of performance assessment requires the student to produce a constructed response. This is the alternative to the multiple-choice test and is considered to display a broader range of skills and knowledge than selection from a list of possible answers. The constructed response test may involve writing short answers, solving a maths problem, filling in a blank or completing a diagram.

Essays can effectively measure a student's performance and have long been used in education to assess students' understanding of a subject. It can be a description, analysis, explanation, or summary in one or more paragraphs. This type of testing requires analysis, synthesis and critical thinking. It also demonstrates how well a student is able to use and present facts and structure a coherent discussion.

A common type of performance assessment tests a student's written skills. This is where performance testing comes into its own as it clearly demonstrates composition skills such as their knowledge of language, syntax, and grammar. In addition, it tests the ability to convey their ideas to fit the purpose and the audience.

Oral testing, in the simplest definition of the term, has been practiced for many years and precedes the pencil and paper test. It is commonly used to test graduate students at masters and doctoral level who are required to orally defend a thesis or dissertation. It is also applied in the testing of foreign languages to assess fluency, which can only be measured by listening to a student speak. It is widely used, although perhaps not so stringently, to test young children in the classroom through the reciting of sums, poems and prose.

The performance testing of science subjects is useful in demonstrating the application of science rather than just a theoretical understanding. Testing is carried out through the planning and execution of experiments. It may involve developing hypotheses, writing up findings and using the skills of measuring and estimating. It is considered to be valuable in allowing students to actively engage in science rather than assessment via the conventional paper-and-pencil method (particularly where hands-on laboratory work is increasingly the focus of the curriculum. One of the drawbacks is the time-consuming nature of performance assessment as it requires considerable time commitment from both students and teachers alike and can allow lessons to focus too closely on one particular goal.

Another possible negative aspect of performance assessment is the fact that it tests only a small sample of a student's work, rather than giving a sustained picture of their attainments and understanding. It poses the question of how effective one piece of work or demonstration of ability is in demonstrating the mastery of a student across the subject as a whole. This can be countered by performance testing on a regular basis, in which case time constraints could become a major issue.

Student Performance Assessment: Selected full-text books and articles

Test Better, Teach Better: The Instructional Role of Assessment By W. James Popham Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2003
Short History of Performance Assessment: Lessons Learned By Madaus, George F.; O'Dwyer, Laura M Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 80, No. 9, May 1999
The Uses and Limits of Performance Assessment By Eisner, Elliot W Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 80, No. 9, May 1999
Performance Assessment and Education Reform By Haertel, Edward H Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 80, No. 9, May 1999
Performance Assessment: The Realities That Will Influence the Rewards By Pierson, Carol Anne; Beck, Shirley S Childhood Education, Vol. 70, No. 1, Fall 1993
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Using Performance Assessment and Portfolio Assessment Together in the Elementary Classroom By Chen, Yih-Fen; Martin, Michael A Reading Improvement, Vol. 37, No. 1, Spring 2000
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