Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Development of Authentic Assessments for the Middle School Classroom

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Development of Authentic Assessments for the Middle School Classroom

Article excerpt

This article discusses the rationale for, and explicates the process used in, developing differentiated authentic assessments for middle school classrooms (many of which contain gifted students) that are aligned with state academic standards. The assessments were developed based on learner-centered psychological principles and revised based on a content validation study involving a panel of 46 experts representing a variety of educational professionals. In addition to the content validation study of the assessments, interrater reliability estimates based on Kappa were calculated using student responses to the assessments in classrooms in two states. Results provide evidence that these types of assessments can provide quantifiable information about student learning, as well as inform the instructional process.


From today's understanding of cognitive science, students are not viewed as recorders of factual information, but rather as creators of their own unique knowledge structures. As such, meaningful learning is viewed as being reflective, constructive, and self-regulated (Gordon, 1992). Thus, learning that strongly emphasizes drill and practice on discrete, unconnected, or isolated factual knowledge is a tremendous disservice to students, including those who are academically talented (Moon, Brighton, & Callahan, 2003).

While use of high-stakes testing has focused teacher planning on specified, agreed-upon state-level standards, exclusive use of traditional assessments--often in the form of pencil-and-paper multiple-choice tests--have been judged to be a negative in the middle school classroom (Archbald, 1991; Dana & Tippins, 1993; Kennedy, 1996). Critics of these traditional forms of assessment argue that "standardized, multiple-choice tests have definite limitations, are overused and overinterpreted, and are unlikely to help schools achieve the reform goals" (Archbald, p.1). While best practices in the middle school include teaching conceptually and assessing student understanding of concepts, traditional standardized tests fail to do so. Cheek (1993) argued that traditional test items that examine core understanding of disciplines are often discarded because they fail to discriminate among test takers. Rather, questions that deal with peripheral details or subskills do a better job of discriminating among students and are therefore the questions selected for inclusion on traditional standardized tests.

Others maintain that traditional assessments are incompatible with the genuine knowledge, skills, and dispositions of disciplines (Cheek, 1993; Dana & Tippins, 1993; Gordon & Bonilla-Bowman, 1996). Further, Dana and Tippins have argued that these traditional assessments cannot test the extent to which a student has mastered a body of knowledge surrounding a concept, only the information tested in the selected items, nor can they provide rich information about the multifaceted thinking necessary for complex problem solving. Resnick (1987) described the imbalance between how intellective work is conducted in school and in real life: "In real life one actually engages in performances that contribute to the solution of real problems, rather than producing, on demand and in artificial situations, symbolic samples of one's repertoire of developed abilities."

Furthermore, traditional assessments in the middle school ignore the diverse needs of the learners in that setting. Traditional testing requires passive involvement with the subject material and thus is inconsistent with the developmental needs of young adolescents (Dana & Tippins, 1993). However, authentic assessments have been shown to be relevant to curricula for high-ability students (Van Tassel-Baska, Bass, Ries, Poland, & Avery, 1998), as well as curricula that focus on higher level thinking (Van Tassel-Baska, Zuo, Avery, & Little, 2002). In addition, authentic assessments are viewed by some in the field of gifted education as a more valid measure of student learning (Baldwin, 1994; Callahan, Tomlinson, Moon, Tomchin, & Plucker, 1995; Clausen, Middleton, & Connell, 1994). …

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