Measure What Matters: Students, Experts Discuss the Value of Performance Assessment
With large higher education systems like the University of California moving beyond standardized assessments for college admissions, high school educators are exploring additional ways to determine student mastery. Many turned to performance assessments even before COVID-19, and many more began to leverage this form of assessment in distance learning. On Wednesday November 17, students and education leaders from California, Colorado, and Virginia joined the Linked Learning Alliance, Center for Innovation in Education, and Envision Learning Partners to share how performance assessments have made an impact in their context.
Roneeta Guha, Vice President of Strategy and Impact for the Linked Learning Alliance, grounded the conversation in a shared understanding of what performance assessments can be and the research that supports their usage. She began by sharing a performance assessment many in the audience were familiar with: a driver’s test. This behind-the-wheel performance assessment gives the assessor real information about the test-taker’s skills in safely operating a multi-ton vehicle, and at the same time, preparing for the test helps improve these very skills, she explained.
In the classroom, performance assessments can include composing a few sentences in an open-ended short response, developing a thorough analysis in an essay, conducting a laboratory investigation, completing original research, or completing a graduate profile or portfolio of learning. These types of assessments are grounded in substantive research that has shown performance assessments improve instructional quality, increase teacher collaboration, increase student achievement on standardized assessments, improve social-emotional learning competencies, and contribute to more equitable higher education admissions outcomes.
We were joined by Vera Ngueyn, a senior at Madison High School in Fairfax County Public Schools, to share her experiences with performance assessment. She shared a clip from her independent study research project, where she examined culturally responsive curriculum and classroom practices. In conversations with moderator Yvonne Armenta, Envision Learning Partners and University of California, Berkeley graduate, Vera shared that her performance assessment allowed her to connect with the material and subject matter she was working on. She also reflected that it built her communications skills in a way that couldn't have been measured through standardized testing. When thinking about how educators can more equitable and effectively assess students, Vera said that the assessment practices educators use should be shaped by students, not the other way around.
We were then joined by Center for Innovation in Education’s Paul Leather to guide a conversation among true leaders in the performance assessment space: Beth Blankenship, English Teacher & Cross-Curricular Program Leader, Fairfax County Public Schools, Young Whan Choi, Manager of Performance Assessment, Oakland Unified School District, and Angela Landrum, Principal Consultant, Assessment Unit, Colorado Department of Education. Each expert shared a bit more about performance assessment in their specific contexts before diving into deeper questions around how and why they leverage these forms of assessment for their students.
Yvonne asked panelists to reflect on how performance assessments are a driver of equity for young people. Angela reflected that in Colorado, the instructional strategies that make performance assessments successful are ultimately driven by a student-centered, equity focused lens. In Oakland, Young Whan shared that students of color report finding performance assessments more valuable than traditional standardized assessments, and provide more opportunities for them to bring their whole selves into the classroom.
In Fairfax, Beth leads The Learning That Matters Initiative, where they are able to keep in touch with young people even after they graduate. Beth shared that students continue to find the performance assessments they completed in high school have an impact far beyond the classroom. The soft skills they develop, including communication, collaboration, and self-reflection, have carried with them into postsecondary and career opportunities.
As the panel discussion concluded, Angela reminded the audience that integrating performance assessments into current curriculum is possible without having to do a complete curriculum overhaul: “Look for your Trojan horses. Look for policies that have open doors,” she said. By leveraging policies that already exist, educators can get started on performance assessments now, and deepen their practices by building on existing systems and structures.
Justin Wells, Executive Director of Envision Learning Partners, closed our conversion by reflecting on what our experts shared, particularly Vera. “When students are involved in shaping assessments, it takes it to a whole new level,” he said. Justin invited the audience to think about how we can collectively shape assessments to meet the needs of students and provide opportunities for students to prove, not only to the world but to themselves, all that they are capable of.
We want to extend our deep gratitude to our partners, panelists, moderators, and audience members for joining this conversation. We look forward to the next one!