6.5 Performance assessments versus traditional assessments
Traditional assessments are “tests” taken with paper and pencil that are usually true/false, matching, or multiple choice. These assessments are easy to grade, but only test isolated application, facts, or memorized data at lower-level thinking skills. Traditional assessment provides little evidence of what a language learner actually can do with the language.
In order to evaluate what a language learner can do with the language, a student must be evaluated using various performance tasks and assessments.
Performance assessments include authentic assessments, alternative assessments, and integrated performance assessments.
Learners must use more complex, higher-order thinking skills. They must reason, problem-solve, or collaborate with others to produce individual responses. Rubrics, provided ahead of time so learners know their expectations, are used to evaluate students on multiple competency levels.
In Herman, Aschabacher, and Winters, 1992, alternative assessment, authentic assessment, and performance-based assessment “require students to generate rather than choose a response.”
Alternative assessments focus on the students’ strengths — what they can do — allowing the teacher to choose an appropriate assessment for students with different learning styles, maturity levels, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and other characteristics that could affect language performance. While one student may choose to write a response, another student may perform better in a role-play situation.
Although paper and pencil tests can be effective when assessing listening and reading comprehension skills, they are not appropriate assessment methods for performance skills such as speaking and writing. In a balanced assessment program, a variety of assessment techniques should be incorporated into daily instruction.
Authentic assessments combine the traditional academic content with the knowledge and skills needed to function appropriately in the real world. The context, purpose, audience, and focus should connect to real-world situations and problems.
Performance-based assessments require the learner to perform in realistic situations. Students participate in specific tasks, interviews, or performances that are appropriate to the audience and setting.