Getting Started With Standards-Based Assessment
Students who can identify what they are learning significantly outscore those who cannot.
—Robert J. Marzano
What does it mean to be physically educated? This key question should guide our physical education philosophy, learning objectives, outcomes, and assessment.
Standards-based assessment (SBA) is an assessment system that relies on measurable standards that describe what every student should know and be able to do. Standards are statements of educational goals established by district, state, and federal governing bodies. Each standard has specific and intentional learning targets (or learning objectives) that guide teaching and directly connect instruction and assessment. These learning targets are statements of what we want students to comprehend, apply, appreciate, and demonstrate. Assessment is the means by which we check students’ progress in achieving learning targets and meeting standards. Assessment is so much more than giving a test at the end of the unit. It is an ongoing teaching process by which we continually evaluate student performance over several opportunities. If the best assessments tell us what our students are truly learning, doesn’t it make sense that those assessments should be based on the standards that tell us what we want students to learn?
SBA ensures we are using academic standards as the primary focus of our instruction. The outcomes of these assessments tell us whether students are exceeding the standard, meeting it, or failing to meet it. The expectation that all students can meet a standard becomes a reality when we give students the time, feedback, and assistance that assessment requires. “The primary goal of a standards-based system is for all students to meet the standards. That is, to be competent or proficient in every aspect of the curriculum. The key is to evaluate student achievement using similar criteria, consistently applied at all levels” (O’Connor, 2007, p. 3).
Many students show up for physical education, dress down, and behave well. But why should we use these behaviors to assess learning? They are just part of what we should expect from a physical education student, and they do not indicate whether the student is physically educated. SBA gives us a way to focus our instruction on intentional educational outcomes rather than behaviors that don’t necessarily reflect
We have created an SBA system at Black Hills High School that identifies six power standards that coincide with the six National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) physical education standards and support the philosophy of teaching lifetime sport and fitness skills. Each power standard has a corresponding kid-friendly objective (KFO), which is a simplified definition of what students should be able to learn in physical education class. We organize our philosophy, learning targets, and assessments around our power standards, each of which has its own KFO that can be easily understood by students, parents, and administrators.
What Is Standards-Based Assessment in Physical Education?
We have found that using a research-based assessment system that focuses on proficiency or mastery at a set point in time works best for our students. Our students know what we are assessing them for, and we use various teaching methodologies to get our students to mastery or proficiency.
Using SBA allows us to be objective and accurate when we grade in physical education. Because it eliminates bias, distortion, and subjectivity, students are less apt to be confused about what they are being graded on and how they are assessed. It also brings validity to how we grade our students, giving real meaning to grades and reflecting learning as students either meet or fail to meet the standards. Students receive an authentic assessment of what they understand and are able to do, which creates more student buy-in. All students have set criteria for the same work and are measured similarly, which helps ensure a grade that is accurate, timely, and fair.
Clearly communicating to our students how they are being assessed and what they are being assessed on is a vital task in SBA. Grade marks are developed and communicated to build motivation and sustained work ethic. We share with our students why they are learning and being assessed on skills, concepts, and understanding of the importance of participating in a vigorous, active, and healthy lifestyle. If we can lead our students to value what they are learning, they gain a deeper appreciation of what they are learning.
What we most appreciate about SBA is that it allows us to adapt our instruction by reflecting on students’ understanding. Who met the standard? Who did not? Who exceeded it? Who didn’t learn it, and who partially learned it? Answering these questions is the key to differentiating instruction within our physical education classes. We discover who needs to be challenged with deeper enrichment, who needs more instruction to meet the standard, when the class will be able to move on, what we may need to reteach, and when we may be able to provide more in-depth instruction.
Another important part of SBA is to identify and assess learning targets from standards. These learning targets ensure that we grade on academic content, which means we are not basing our grading solely on attendance, behavior, and effort. Academic content in physical education is based on movement and concepts.
We provide multiple assessment opportunities for our students to demonstrate meeting or exceeding standards. This ensures that all students, who learn at varying rates, are given opportunities to show mastery.
SBA measures what a student should know and be able to do at each grade level. This ensures both vertical and horizontal curriculum alignment. What is most apparent with SBA is evidence of learning, teacher adaptations to student needs, and alignment of teaching with standards.
What Standards-Based Assessment Is Not
The practice of teaching, testing, and moving on to the next unit, which used to be common in physical education, is not quality education. Grades determined by a bell curve, average score, or mean do not accurately measure what a student knows; they only show how students compare with each other. In addition, the older systems of assessing and grading did not give students who learn at slower rates a chance to be retaught, take retests, or demonstrate their learning to the teacher. In the past, students were rewarded for speed in learning, but we do not all learn at the same rate, and we need to accept these differences in our students.
One-time or overly weighted projects, labs, or single measures can unfairly skew grades. This high-stakes assessment is unfair, does not motivate students, and simply does not work. We need to check for understanding multiple times before we can give a project or a lab.
We also know that subjective considerations such as extra credit, attitude, dressing, neatness, showing up, and behavior do not accurately reflect our chosen standards. These are behavior or attitudinal expectations.
Using ineffective assessment practices does not help or motivate our students. Many students give up once they receive a poor grade because they do not have a chance to perform to standard. This has helped to create an “I hate physical education” attitude because there is no chance to catch up, receive help, and be assessed fairly on what they can do. We have found that if students are not successful in physical education, they choose not to take it as an elective. Students across the United States are waiving physical education, and one reason may be arbitrary grading. Once again, SBA is more effective than grading subjectively, grading by a curve, giving one test and moving on, or offering extra credit. SBA measures what a student knows and is able to do.