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A number of states, schools and school districts are engaged in efforts to develop and implement new forms of assessment. These efforts are known by several names. Performance assessment, the term used in this paper, refers to tasks that require students to construct responses or take actions to demonstrate specified knowledge or skills. Performance assessment tasks appear in a variety of formats ranging from open-ended questions to demonstrations of skills or comprehensive collections of bodies of work over time. The tasks focus on higher order skills are non-routine and are sometimes loosely structured. Students may be called upon to make, explain and defend assumptions, make predictions and estimates and explain connections and generalizations.
Performance assessment is usually proposed as a supplement to standardized multiple-choice tests, which have the advantages of low cost, objectivity, ease in scoring, and requiring relatively little time to administer. Multiple-choice tests have been criticized for focusing teachers' attention on basic skills content at the expense of higher order outcomes and being based on outdated assumptions about learning. Performance assessment is considered to be superior to the multiple-choice format for measuring students' problem-solving strategies, ability to collect evidence and construct arguments, and skills at integrating previously-acquired knowledge to produce original insights or products. Proponents argue that teaching to the test, which is a concern when multiple-choice tests are used, is not an issue with performance assessment since it involves students' practicing essential knowledge and skills. Some experts disagree, however.
A number of concerns have been expressed about performance assessment. State testing directors have expressed reservations about the feasibility of implementing it quickly because of the high cost of development and the lack of necessary technical knowledge. On the bright side, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has recently developed scoring procedures for use with writing assessment that appear to have acceptable levels of scoring reliability when scorers have had advance training.
One of the most ambitious efforts to implement performance assessment is taking place in Kentucky, where a statewide system is expected to be in operation by 1996. A state council is crating prototype tasks on which students may demonstrate achievement of specified high-order outcomes, and teacher will later develop instructional strategies to help students successfully perform the prototype tasks. In effect, the assessment tasks become the new curriculum. The state will audit assessments to ensure uniformity in administration procedures and to safeguard accurate reporting.
Performance assessment is used most widely for writing. California pioneered the use of writing assessments by specifying nine genres of writing that students were expected to master. Teachers, aware that students might be tested on any of the nine, altered their teaching practices to place more stress on writing.
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