I just this week attended a workshop focused on performance assessments, which got me thinking about a lot of things. (I added to my “to be blogged about list” a few times!) But one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is the way the pendulum swings in education. Are performance assessments the next fad in education? Is this a novelty that will die off? I hope not; I think performance assessments can be powerful tools in our classrooms. I just hope that teachers and schools implement them judiciously.
I’m all for balance in education. I’d hate to see all other summative assessments thrown out in favor of performance assessments all the time. I’ve said it before, but I truly believe that a traditional paper and pencil test holds some merit. One of the many arguments in favor of performance assessments over tests is that in the “real world” students won’t be asked to take traditional tests. Of course, so often the very people touting this idea are teachers-teachers who had to take a traditional multiple choice test in order to get their teaching license. Irony at its finest.
In an attempt to articulate my thoughts on performance assessments, I offer a quick list of what I see as the benefits of performance assessments as well as a quick list of what concerns me.
1. Performance assessments, when done correctly, require students to problem solve and think critically. These are skills that are of utmost importance.
2. Performance assessments can give students the opportunity to engage in meaningful ways with the content. Students should be able to connect their learning to the world around them.
3. Performance assessments allow students to work across curricula. When students have to make connections among English, science, math, etc., they are able to make meaning of their learning.
4. Performance assessments are more interesting for students. When I ask students to recall some of their favorite lessons, their answers never include worksheets or tests.
5. Performance assessments are more interesting for teachers, too. Seeing students truly grapple with the course content in a meaningful and enjoyable way is far more inspiring for a educator than watching students get bored. I fear we too often forget that teachers need to see the fruits of their labor in order to stay inspired to do great things.
And a few concerns:
1. Performance assessments can make for fascinating learning activities. This makes me worry that the activities will end up over riding the true goals of the assessment. I hold very true to the UBD model. I worry that teachers will concerns themselves too much with creating the activity and lose sight of the goal.
2. Speaking of the goals, I worry that what is being truly assessed may get lost in the presentation. One of the examples of a performance assessment that I read recently was a math based assessment in which the student had to do all sorts of math related things with the stock market and then make some sort of argumentative pitch with a interesting visual component. There’s a lot going on there. How is the teacher to truly measure the math related goals effectively and accurately?
3. Every performance assessment I have seen has included some “real world” scenario. (i.e pretend you are a journalist/movie director/art dealer/etc.) These always bug me. How is that authentic? Our students aren’t movie directors, and realistically, most of them won’t become one. How is that solving a real world problem?
Those are just a few thoughts that came across my mind as I was at the workshop. I do like the idea of performance assessments; I just hope we proceed cautiously