Practical Assessment for Physical Education Teachers

By Doolittle, Sarah | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, October 1996 | Go to article overview

Practical Assessment for Physical Education Teachers


Doolittle, Sarah, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Physical Education Teachers, unlike classroom teachers, generally have not felt obliged to demonstrate student achievement of goals in a formal and systematic way. Instead, we often simply require students to attend classes and demonstrate good behavior. Thus, in order to earn physical education credit for graduation, students are graded on attendance rather than achievement, on participation rather than learning.

As the current reform movement focuses the attention of administrators, parents, and school boards on outcomes-based schooling and assessment practices that authenticate students' learning, we are being pulled away from awarding credit for class attendance and compliance. With the current pressure on teachers to show what their students know and can do, no content area is likely to be exempt from an achievement-oriented scrutiny. Physical education teachers and administrators are increasingly expected to prove that their programs are worthwhile through valid, reliable, and authentic forms of student assessment.

Physical educators all over the country have begun to publish materials which propose outcomes-based programs and assessment plans to be used in existing physical education classes. In the forefront are the National Association for Sport and Physical Education Outcomes of Quality Physical Education Programs (1992) and Moving into the Future: National Standards for Physical Education - A Guide to Content and Assessment (1995). These two resources are designed to help teachers define and communicate worthy program goals. Importantly, these and similar state and local publications merge the establishment of outcomes with the expectation of "instructionally integrated" student assessment. In effect, teachers are now expected to demonstrate, in ways that are acceptable to school administrators and taxpayers, that students have achieved stated program goals. Consequently, teacher educators and researchers have begun to publish "teacher-friendly" translations of outcomes-based learning (for example, see Hopple, 1995) and assessment theory (for example, see Veal, 1995a) which are intended to be easily adapted for real physical education classes.

From one point of view, this renewed focus on outcomes and appropriate student assessment bodes well for physical education programs under fire to justify, their place in the K-12 curriculum. Too often physical education programs have suffered from unfocused or unexamined teaching. From a different perspective, the mandate to add specified outcomes to established programs may oversimplify, the complex nature of teaching physical education in schools today. For some, simply adding a new authentic assessment technique to traditional teaching sounds too much like ending every unit with a skills and rules test. Teachers routinely give up that approach within their first few years of teaching because they believe the tests don't work. Textbook skills tests and true/false rules quizzes do not appear to measure achievements that are important for teachers. Furthermore, the atmosphere created by those tests is so far from the active, playful atmosphere teachers want to achieve that in the end teachers eliminate them as they would eliminate any negative class disruption. Mandates requiring teachers simply to add assessment to standard practice miss the point of outcomes-based learning and threaten to have the same impact that systematic measurement and evaluation has had on physical education programs.

In order to make outcomes-based learning a genuine part of their programs, teachers may need to reexamine the meaning of assessment in their day-to-day teaching, and some may need a new image of assessment and its practical benefits for students and teachers. Even teachers convinced of the political necessity of implementing assessment practices may need help moving beyond superficial practices and toward genuine assessment of the complex motor, cognitive, social, and affective goals of their programs. …

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