On the Cutting Edge of Assessment: Testing What Students Can Do with KnowledgeAssociation for Supervision and Curriculum Development
By Scott Willis
How should a teacher in 1996 assess his students' understanding of 1492? That was the question confronting Larry Lewin after his class of 8th graders had studied, in depth, the historic events of 1492. Lewin wanted to assess his students' understanding of the relationships among Columbus, the Spanish, and the Native American Tainos, but he didn't want to give a traditional short-answer test, which would "put a ceiling" on how much learning his students could demonstrate. Tests are also "a turnoff" for students, says Lewin, who teaches at James Monroe Middle School in Eugene, Oregon.
So Lewin asked his students to write a persuasive letter to the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. In their letters, students were expected to define the encounter between Europeans and Native Americans by a key word of their choice--discovery, visit, invasion--and then argue why that word fit. Students had to call upon their newly acquired knowledge of history to defend their point of view. When finished, the letters were assessed against criteria that the class had helped generate.
The letter-writing task revealed more about students' learning than a traditional test would have, Lewin says, because it called on students to do something with their knowledge -- not just regurgitate it. For the same reason, the task was "definitely more inherently motivating," he believes. "Kids are more motivated to write to dead monarchs than to take a test."
This performance assessment--and the challenges it poses--are representative of the new trends in assessment. To give readers an overview of these trends, Education Update spoke with 10 experts in the field, who offered their perspectives on how the assessment of student learning is changing, and why. Chief among these trends are educators' efforts to assess active learning and to base assessments on clearly defined standards.
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