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Performance Assessment and the English Curriculum
Written by Irit Ferman
Published in ETAI Forum, English Teachers' Association of Israel,
Vol. XVI No. 3,
Summer 2005, pp.18-20


This article, the first in a two-part series on Performance Assessment, takes an in-depth look at the "what" and the "why" of the subject. It investigates what performance assessment actually is, and why English teachers in Israel have shown interest in learning more about it. Evidently performance assessment is reflected in the standards established by the English Inspectorate and expressed in its decrees for teachers of English as well as in the public EFL tests in Israel.


What Is Performance Assessment?

Performance assessment, also known as alternative or authentic assessment, is a way to measure what students can do with what they know, rather than how much they know. It is a form of assessment that requires students to perform a task rather than select an answer from a ready-made list (Sweet, 1993). It is not just a testing strategy but an assessment method that involves both process and product. It integrates teaching, learning and assessment.

Performance assessment can be perceived as a continuum of assessment formats, which allows teachers to observe student behavior ranging from simple responses to demonstrations of work collected over time (Rudner & Boston, 1993). Performance assessments have two parts: a clearly defined task and a list of explicit criteria for assessing student performance or product.

Performance assessment is a dynamic process calling for students to be active participants, who are learning even while they are being assessed. No longer is assessment perceived as a single event (Wangsatorntanakhun, 1997). "The purpose of assessment is to find out what each student is able to do, with knowledge, in context," (Wiggins, 1997, page 20).

The main goals of performance assessment are to gather data on students that focus on growth over time rather than comparing them with each other; to focus on what they know rather than on what they don't; and to meet the needs of diverse learning styles, cultural backgrounds, and proficiency levels (Tannenbaum, 1996).

Performance Assessment Assumptions

Performance assessment is based upon the following assumptions (Wangsatorntanakhun, 1997):

Knowledge is Constructed

Research tells us that students show greater interest and perform at higher levels of learning when they are required to organize facts around major concepts and then actively construct their own understanding of those concepts. They also retain knowledge better. Active participation is the key to all performance assessments (Sweet, 1993).

The Task is Worthwhile

The ideal performance task is "inherently instructional, actively engaging students in worthwhile learning activities." (Sweet, 1993) Performance tasks are therefore open-ended and assess an array of knowledge and skills related to the curriculum. Thus the curriculum powers the test, not the other way around. (Sweet; 1993, Kulieke, et al, 1990)

Better Assessments Improve Teaching

Assessment's overall purpose is "to provide valid information for decision making." (Kulieke, et al, 1990) When teachers prepare students for a performance task, they must carefully describe the task and the standards that will be used to evaluate performance. When teachers are informed of the learning progress and difficulties of their students they can then make better decisions about content and instruction (Fuchs, 1995).

Meeting Criteria Improves Learning

Students should be active participants in their own learning. They perform better when they know what goals they are working towards, when they have the opportunity to examine models of excellence, and when they understand how their own performance compares to a set of established criteria. (McTighe, 1996)

Performance Assessment and Core Requirements

In September 2001, the English Inspectorate presented the teachers of English with a document entitled Core Requirements for Teachers of English: Knowledge and Performance (2002). The purpose of the document is to provide standards of knowledge and performance for teachers of English in Israel in several domains.

The domain of ASSESSMENT states standards for the role of assessment as follows: Teachers are aware of the role of assessment as an integral part of the teaching-learning process and assess the performance of their learners as part of their teaching routine.

Performance Assessment and the Curriculum

The curriculum sets standards for four domains of English language learning: social interaction, access to information, presentation and appreciation of literature and culture, and language. According to this curriculum, by the end of twelfth grade, pupils should be able to perform in English as follows:

  • interact effectively in a variety of situations

  • obtain and make use of information from a variety of sources and media

  • present information in an organized manner

  • appreciate literature and other cultures and the nature of language
The domains characterize the goals and levels that have become the basis of the curriculum for English teaching in Israel. The standards that have been set for the four domains of language learning, define a cumulative body of knowledge and set of competencies for each domain.

The focus of assessment - as stated in the English Curriculum - is on pupils' ability to apply their skills and knowledge of English to meaningful situations. Benchmarks are indicators of progress within each domain. Each of the four domains includes criteria for pupil performance and/or choice of materials.

The assessment principles stated in the English Curriculum (2001) obviously aim for the goals presented by the performance assessment approach to teaching, learning and assessment: "Assessment is viewed as an integral part of the teaching-learning process. It involves collecting evidence of learning over a period of time, using a variety of assessment methods." (English Curriculum, 2001)

The goals of assessment are to provide feedback on both the on-going progress and the end product in achieving the standards. Formative (on-going) and summative (end-product) assessment are carried out using both traditional tests and alternative methods of assessment. The focus of assessment is on pupils' ability to apply their skills and knowledge of English to meaningful situations (English Curriculum, 2001)

Formative and Summative Assessment
  • Assessment focuses on both the on-going process and on the product.

  • Assessment allows for different levels of progress in pupils' language development.

  • Assessing attainment of the standards is carried out by collecting and recording information in a variety of ways.
Alternatives in Assessment
  • Multiple methods of assessment are applied in measuring language ability.

  • Feedback is based on a collection of evidence from a variety of sources.

  • Group processes and products are included in classroom assessment.

  • Assessment should include tasks, such as thematic projects, that promote pupils' involvement and reflection on learning and require pupils to use a variety of learning strategies and resources.
Assessment Requirements and Criteria
  • A wide range of opportunities for assessment is necessary.

  • Pupils are assessed at various stages of the learning process.

  • Criteria for assessment represent all areas of language ability.

  • The type of task and content of task to be assessed should be made clear to pupils.

  • Criteria for assessment are known to pupils prior to the assessment.

  • Criteria for assessment can be negotiated between pupils and teacher
The Role of the Pupils
  • Pupils take an active part in the process of assessment.

  • Pupils learn how to set their own goals and assess their progress.

  • Pupils are given ample time to think about and revise work to be assessed.

  • There are opportunities for peer and self-assessment.
(English Curriculum, 2001)

The format and content of the national tests (both "meitzav" and "bagrut") reflect the standards and the benchmarks of the English Curriculum assessing pupils' performances expressed in the form of tasks and projects.


References
Core Requirements for Teachers of English: Knowledge and Performance.
Dov Spolsky, Nava Horovitz, Debbie Lifschitz, Elana Milstein, Judy Steiner. ETJ # 54 June 2002. English Teachers' Journal, Ministry of Education, Pedagogical Secretariat - English Inspectorate.
http://www.anglit.net/main/docs/core-requirements.pdf

English Curriculum: Principles and Standards for Learning English as a Foreign Language for all grades. State of Israel Pedagogical Secretariat, English Inspectorate, Jerusalem 2001
http://www.anglit.net/main/curriculum/index.html

Fuchs, Lynn S. 1995. "Connecting Performance Assessment to Instruction: A Comparison of Behavioral Assessment, Mastery Learning, Curriculum- Based Measurement, and Performance", June 1995. ERIC Digest. E530. ED381934.

Kulieke, M., Bakker, J., Collins, C., Fennimore, T., Fine, C.,Herman, J., Jones, B.F., Raack, L, & Tinzmann, M.B. 1990. "Why Should Assessment be Based on a Vision of Learning?" Copyright, North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. All rights reserved.

McTighe, Jay. "What Happens Between Assessments?" Educational Leadership, December 1996-January 1997. 6-12.

Rudner, Lawrence M., and Carol Boston. 1993. "Performance Assessment." ERIC Review 3 (1) (1993): 2-12.

Sweet, David. 1993. "Performance Assessment" Office of Education Research Consumer Guide.

Tannenbaum, Jo-Ellen. 1996. "Practical Ideas on Alternative Assessment for ESL Students." ERIC Digest. ED395500

Wangsatorntanakhun, Jo A., "Designing Performance Assessments: Challenges for the Three-Story Intellect" Ruamrudee International School, Bangkok, Thailand, 1997.

Wiggins, Grant. 1990. "The Case for Authentic Assessment." ERIC Digest. ED328611.

Wiggins, Grant. 1997. "Practicing What We Preach in Designing Authentic Assessments." Educational Leadership. December 1996-January 1997. 18-25

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