Now that we are firmly ensconced in the 21st century, we need to reconsider the way traditional education has assessed the learning of students. In many cases, when the student needs to be evaluated teachers fall back on the paper and pencil assessment assigned to everyone at the same time. We cannot think like that anymore. We’re starting to recognize the value of tailoring the educational experience to the individual student, and we need to do the same for assessment. Certain assessments fit with certain students.
For example, let us say you have a student who is not a particularly strong writer but shows a propensity for giving an effective oral argument. Unless the skill you are assessing is writing, why not allow this student to give an oral argument for his assessment? Should it matter how you assess the learning of that student as long as she shows she has mastered it? We need to provide students with options for how to showcase what it is they learned.
One way to assess students differently is by using performance assessments. What exactly is a performance assessment? According to Project Appleseed (2010):
Performance assessment requires students to demonstrate knowledge and skills, including the process by which they solve problems. Performance assessments measure skills such as the ability to integrate knowledge across disciplines, contribute to the work of a group, and develop a plan of action when confronted with a new situation. (para. 1)
But what does a performance assessment look like? Below are some examples according to Project Appleseed (2010):
- group projects enabling a number of students to work together on a complex problem that requires planning, research, internal discussion, and group presentation
- essays assessing students’ understanding of a subject through a written description, analysis, explanation, or summary
- experiments testing how well students understand scientific concepts and can carry out scientific processes
- demonstrations giving students opportunities to show their mastery of subject-area content and procedures
- portfolios allowing students to provide a broad portrait of their performance through files that contain collections of students’ work assembled over time (para. 3)
There are many choices when it comes to performance assessment. To simplify it here are some categories that can be used:
- oral presentations
- role playing
- group discussions
- research papers
- journals/student logs
Within these categories are endless possibilities for a student to produce a product that will assess their learning. If you wish for students to learn a very specific 21st century survival skill such as public speaking, you would want to choose an assessment that demonstrates this such as oral presentation, debate, or role-playing. Or if you are trying to promote literacy across the curriculum, having them improve their writing skills by doing an essay, research paper, or journal.
Another thing to think about is, rather than assigning one of these assessments to give to the entire class, imagine letting the students choose how they want to be evaluated. You would give them this list and say to them, “Which one would you like to use in order to show me what you learned?” Wouldn’t the student be more motivated because they have some decision-making power in the process? That means if a student is very creative she could choose to do an exhibition and create a model of the Parthenon. Or if the student is into the performing arts, he could write and perform a play to show what they learned. Because the students are playing to their strength, the assessment will be that much better and gives a true indication of what they learned.
You will have some students who prefer the traditional method of assessment. You can certainly still offer that to them. The only problem is you might not get the richness and depth of understanding a performance assessment allows. You would want to encourage students to stretch themselves out of their comfort zone and find something to show what they have learned as well as challenging themselves.
Let me make a final argument for the value of performance-based assessments as an alternative to the traditional form of testing. Something writers learning the craft are advised of is to show the story rather than tell it. Instead of saying a character is smart, a good author will describe an action in which the character is actually being smart. This shows the reader instead of simply stating it. More traditional methods of assessment, such as multiple-choice tests, allow students to tell you what they know, but they do not show you how they arrived at the answer, to what level of depth they understand it, or how they can take the information and make something new from it. In the real world, this is what you spend most of your life doing; showing, not telling. You want to get your students ready to be part of that 21st-century world.
If you would like to find out more detail about performance assessments and how to use them effectively in the classroom, you can reference my book Performance-Based Assessment for 21st Century Skills (2014).
Performance Based Assessment (2010). Project Appleseed: The National Campaign for Public School Improvement. Retrieved from http://www.projectappleseed.org/assessment
Stanley, T. (2014). Performance-based assessment for 21st-century skills. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.