What Is Assessment?
NASPE’s (1995) definition of assessment is “the process of gathering evidence about a student’s level of achievement. . . and of making inferences based on that evidence” (vii). Let’s unpack that definition and see what the authors meant. The phrase “gathering evidence” implies that assessment involves collecting written data about student learning. Physical education teachers observe students every day, but observation, by itself, is not assessment. When observation is used in gathering assessment data, there is always a written record of what is observed.
The next phrase is “about a student’s level of achievement.” Here, we see that assessment is a process that involves looking at individual students and how much each one has achieved. This should indicate that you are obligated to assess each student fairly and individually.
The last phrase refers to “making inferences” based on the written data. When you make inferences, you come to careful conclusions after reflecting on the assessment data. This process of making inferences through reflection is surely one of your most difficult tasks, but it is also critical for making teaching more effective. The best professional physical educators give the task of making inferences about student learning a high priority as they gather data about students’ learning and about their own teaching. They know that using a variety of assessment techniques makes them more effective teachers because they assess learning in more than one way.
All effective teachers use assessment. In academic subjects like history, math, and English, teachers focus primarily on thinking, understanding, and problem solving, so their assessments are usually written tests and written or oral projects. Physical education teachers focus primarily on movement, physical activities, and sport skills, so their assessments are different. They are a little more complicated because they involve physical performances in addition to written work.
Assessment has changed a great deal over the past several decades. This change is reflected in this NASPE (1995) statement: “The primary goal of assessment should be seen as the enhancement of learning rather than simply the documentation of learning” (vii). We now see that assessment is intertwined with the teaching process and is not separate from teaching. It serves two primary purposes in all school subjects, including physical education.
- Assessment for learning: These ongoing assessments help students learn by providing feedback that leads to goal setting and improvement. They also help you adjust instruction to meet students’ needs.
- Assessment of learning: These assessments are used for grading. They are final because there is no chance for the teacher to adjust or for learners to improve.
Assessments are a critical aspect of the teaching process because they give you an opportunity to communicate expectations to students. In all subject areas, when students see that there is assessment, they perceive that what is being assessed is important. Expectations are defined in the statement of student learning outcomes, which include the criteria for success. Let’s use the high jump as an example. Assume you want students to be able to perform the high jump. Before you teach it, decide how high you want students to be able to jump. The question of how high determines where you set the bar for the high jump. Of course, you will tell and show your students where you set the bar, and you’ll explain and demonstrate for them how to perform the high jump. After your instruction, you’ll give students lots of chances to practice the high jump, starting at a lower level. Gradually, you’ll raise the bar. Over the several days or weeks of practice, you will help students chart their practice by letting them assess their improvements (i.e., gradual gains in how high they can jump, improved technique or form that allows them to jump higher). As the bar is gradually moved higher and higher, and students increase the height of their jumps, they demonstrate learning. Given sufficient practice, most students will be able to jump at the criterion level if it is reasonable. Keep in mind that you can direct students’ energy and effort by telling them the target ahead of time. Knowing the target up front helps students tell how much effort they need to put forth to reach the target. Given enough practice and effort, most students can learn to high jump. But remember that it takes time and lots of practice to learn motor skills.
Just as it takes time for students to learn motor skills, it will take you time to learn how to be a good assessor. You will practice developing assessments, administering them, and then revising your initial work. Over time, you will become more proficient at developing new assessments while increasing your arsenal of assessments to use with your students. As your assessment skills increase, it will become second nature to use assessments as an integral part of teaching.
The standards-based assessment discussed in this textbook is very different from traditional forms of assessment and evaluation. Some call standards-based assessment a new paradigm, meaning a different way of thinking about assessment practice. In the past, the term evaluation was the most commonly used. It was associated with grading and testing. As you read earlier, many educators now believe that the primary function of assessment is to help students learn, rather than to assign grades. The assessment practices we describe in this book are sometimes known as performance-based assessment because they let students demonstrate what they know and can do. Performance-based assessments often consist of authentic tasks. Students usually know the criteria in advance so they can use it to improve their performance. Finally, standards-based assessment is often a performance-
based task that is assessed with the use of a rubric or other statements of criteria. Standardized tests are used less often now than in the
Assessments in physical education should:
- be developed before teaching a unit (e.g., basketball) of instruction,
- be developed for all three domains of learning,
- be focused on essential skills and concepts;
- yield a written record,
- provide evidence of student learning, and
- signal to students what is important.
This book may challenge some of your beliefs about assessment. Our own beliefs about assessment have been challenged and shaped by our teaching experiences in physical education and in teacher education. As we share some of our perspective with you, think about how your own experiences and views compare with what we describe.
- We strongly believe in the power of assessment for learning. In other words, assessment should be used throughout the instructional process to enhance student learning rather than simply being done at the conclusion of an instructional unit for the purpose of determining a grade. This belief is supported by a number of research studies (e.g., Black and Wiliam, 1998b). We believe that good assessment assists students in the learning process.
- We believe that in a quality physical education program, teaching is purposeful and learning is intentional. When learning is expected, assessment is necessary for documenting that students have reached the desired level of competence. Physical education should be more than just providing students with physical activity; physical education should be about teaching new skills and concepts and then holding students accountable for learning. It is your responsibility as their teacher to ensure that students learn. Quality PE looks different than activity-driven programs because you must allocate sufficient time to each unit you teach. Students need adequate practice and instructional time if they are to achieve competence in a sport or
- We believe that secondary physical education students require a substantial amount of time to practice and learn. There is no need to assess if you aren’t spending sufficient time for students to learn. Allocate ample time for each unit taught. One-week units are too short for learning because students need adequate practice and instructional time if they are to achieve competence in a sport or activity.
- We believe that in a quality program, teaching decisions are data-driven and lessons are focused on learning outcomes. If students don’t accomplish a learning outcome, you are responsible for reteaching and for figuring out how to change the instruction or practice tasks to ensure student learning. This willingness to change instruction requires that you practice reflective decision making and base your teaching decisions on assessment data. Physical education classes at every educational level should be about acquiring the skills and knowledge that are vital to a long, active, and healthy life.
- We believe that simply asking students to improve is not enough. Teachers sometimes use improvement as a proxy for learning, but physical education programs should produce physically educated students. Particularly at the level of senior high school, when many students take their last physical education classes, it is vital that students graduate with a level of competence that enables them to live a physically active and healthy lifestyle.
- We believe that the future of physical education depends on your ability to show that your students are learning important skills and knowledge that are valued by students, parents, administrators, other teachers, and the community.