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The Role of Assessment in Today's Schools

This is an excerpt from PE Metrics-3rd Edition by SHAPE America - Society of Health and Physical Educators.

With increased calls for accountability in public education and the shift to data-driven decision making, the role of assessment has evolved to take center stage in the education reform movement. Assessment can be defined as "the gathering of evidence about student achievement and making inferences about student progress based on that evidence" (Society of Health and Physical Educators, 2015). Many policymakers, parents and administrators assume that assessment occurs every day in every classroom, and that assessments produce evidence of student learning. While assessment does provide such evidence, student learning is only one of many roles assessment plays in education. Assessments must provide ongoing measures of student performance using more than one method, be aligned with student learning outcomes, and allow students to demonstrate competency in a variety of ways. No longer can just one assessment at one point in time provide adequate evidence of student learning. To get a complete, nuanced picture of a student's learning requires multiple assessments dispersed over time.


Purposes of Assessment


Just as the role of assessment has evolved, so have the uses of assessment. While the focus remains on measuring student learning, using assessment to provide feedback on student performance, make instruction-related decisions, and inform teaching is just as important. Assessment information and data should inform teachers and teaching in every part of the instruction process. Student performance and improvement are determined by the interaction of student learning and teachers teaching. It is part of the ongoing instruction process, just as planning learning experiences, establishing student outcomes and managing a classroom. Assessment is as multidimensional as teaching and serves multiple purposes in the instruction and learning processes.


The primary purpose of assessment in physical education is to provide stakeholders with evidence of students' learning as well as their attainment of National Standards and Grade-Level Outcomes. Collecting and reporting on data specific to outcomes allow you to document student progress, communicate your teaching effectiveness to students, parents and administrators, and make the case for additional time and funding for your program. Part of the accountability movement in education reform is data-driven decision-making. As physical educators, we must improve our ability to collect, analyze and use data for program improvement and demonstrate the use of data to ensure that all students are physically literate. Without the use of data generated by a matrix of assessments, we cannot make our case for the continued inclusion in the school curriculum.


A second purpose of assessment is to provide students with feedback on their progress. Effective assessments go beyond assigning a number, percentage or grade to student performance by providing specific, corrective feedback through the assessment itself. The most common example of providing specific feedback through an assessment is the use of analytic rubrics to assess assignments or performance (see Appendix D). Well-developed analytic rubrics identify critical elements of the performance at various levels and dimensions and allow you to provide detailed feedback to students on their performance simply by having them complete the assessment. Analytic rubrics often are used when assessing complex skills, the application of knowledge, or a multipart performance or assignment. By using an analytic rubric, you can facilitate students' self-assessment of their performance, define performance expectations, and evaluate relative strengths and weaknesses for each student.


A third purpose of assessment is to gather information and data that drive instructional decision-making. All students enter your gymnasium with a wide variety of prior knowledge, experience, and skill that you must account for in designing their learning experiences. Before teaching any unit or lesson, you must determine starting points for each individual student in your class by conducting some form of pre-assessment. The information or data could come from records kept from the previous year, from pretest data, from observing students, or from simply asking students about their experience levels through a survey, self-assessment or even a wordle. For an example of a wordle as a pre-assessment, see Appendix G. In addition to determining individual starting points, pre-assessment gives you the information you need for differentiating instruction, assigning partners or groups, and setting expectations. Without assessment information or data, you are simply guessing about students' competency levels or teaching as if all students are the same, rather than teaching and assessing individuals.


Once you begin an instructional unit, assessment is key for determining your next steps, adapting or modifying learning experiences and, potentially, identifying the need to re-teach. Methods for gathering this information or data can range from peer assessments to quizzes and project updates. Assessment should occur each day in some manner and the results should always inform the next day's instruction and design, but to use the results most effectively, you need an established method for tracking assessment data. One solution is adopting one or more forms of technology, which can facilitate the gathering, analyzing, and tracking of student data, making the process much more manageable than in the past. A good resource for using technology in a physical education setting is Chapter 8 in National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education (SHAPE America, 2014).


The final purpose of assessment is to inform your teaching. Throughout the unit of instruction, you use informal and formal assessments to make decisions about your instruction. At the end of a unit of instruction, you must review the information or data from these assessments to determine strengths and challenges for student learning. Based on a summative assessment, you can determine what skills and knowledge students have mastered and what you will need to review or repeat. You also can use data to determine what worked best during the unit of instruction and what you might need to change in the future. Assessment data allow you to self-evaluate your teaching effectiveness based on the performance of your students. Assessment and instruction are inseparable in the planning and teaching process.


While assessment data often are used for determining grades, grades and assessments have different purposes. The goal of grading is to evaluate individual students' learning and performance based on indirect and direct measures. For example, a range of indirect measures, such as attendance, participation and effort, often have been part of the grading process. While those constructs are important, they are not direct measures of learning. Paul Dressell from the Michigan State University describes a grade "as an inadequate report of an imprecise judgment of a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite amount of materials" (Miller, Imrie & Cox, 1998, p. 24). While grading can play a role in assessment, assessment is a much broader measure of student learning and includes many ungraded measures, such as worksheets, discussion and concept maps. A grade is one data point, not linked to any particular learning outcome, and it does not allow for any systematic examination of learning. A matrix of assessments (formal and informal) allows you to examine data to determine learning patterns and guide instructional decision-making.