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Performance-based Assessments and What Teachers Need1
The best possible education for all students has become the new vision for public education. Performance-based assessments are crucial to the achievement of this goal, for, as a teacher researcher, I know these assessments can drive student and teacher competency standards upward. And what do teachers need in order to effectively implement performance based assessments? Teachers need deep reform of their profession and of the school systems in which they work.

Performance-based assessments bear little resemblance to the standardized, multiple-choice skills tests that have been driving the curriculum. Multiple-choice skills tests eliminate teacher judgment and report results as gross indicators in a format that is difficult to understand. They require minimal competency on the part of the teachers, and are not necessarily aligned with the instructional program. In contrast, performance-based assessments are individual or collective teacher judgments. They give rich, detailed information as to what students can and cannot do and therefore enable teachers to plan instruction based on student needs. They require teachers to have broad knowledge of subject matter, instructional strategies, learning theory and human development, and they emerge from instruction. For example, students working in collaborative groups identify an unknown gas, using what they learned during a “Balloons and Gases” science unit (1967). Students conduct experiments, use the scientific method, record their observations, contribute to their group’s work, formulate theories, write up their findings, and present the results to the class.

Such a complex, open-ended assessment produces “messy” results that must be scored, analyzed, and reported. It includes the evaluation of interpersonal skills, and requires teachers to carefully design and teach units that will prepare students for the assessment. In addition, teachers need extensive training in how to assess the whole child, and in how to develop innovative curricula and instructional strategies to teach the whole child. In short, teachers need the mastery of a difficult, specific body of knowledge that supports and improves their practice—the acquisition of which amounts to the professionalization of teaching.

But school districts cannot provide adequate training or resources unless they make profound and essential changes in their central and school management structures, and in their professional norms, for every individual problem is inescapably a systemic one. The success or failure of performancebased assessments will, therefore, ultimately depend as much upon America’s determination to totally restructure management at the central office and the school sites as upon its determination to professionalize teaching. Click here to download a full pdf version.

By Charlotte Higuchi, CRESST/Farmdale Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA, July 1993


1 This paper was presented at the conference “What Works in Performance Assessment?”University of California, Los Angeles, September 10-12, 1992. Transparencies for the presentation are included in the Appendix.
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