Authentic Assessment in Action Shows Principles Can Be Implemented

K-12 Testing

Authentic Assessment in Action: Studies of Schools and Students at Work is not only a valuable set of studies of school and assessment reform. It also shows how the National Forum on Assessment s Principles and Indicators can work in schools and how they are rooted in and evolve from actual practice.


The book, by Linda Darling-Hammond, Jacqueline Ancess and Beverly Falk of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST), focuses on five schools which have implemented performance assessment. One, Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS), in New York City, has such a comprehensive performance assessment process that it alone can illustrate the Principles; but the studies of Hodgson Vocational Technical High, International High, P.S. 261, and the Bronx New School also show that high quality assessment can have powerful, positive effects on teaching and learning.


The Principles in Action at Central Park East

At Central Park East, assessment rests on instructional practices that meet the Educational Foundations for High Quality Assessment described in the Principles. Standards have been established by the school s faculty and continuously evolve. Each student has to define clear individual goals that also meet the general standards. The result is standards without standardization. The school also encourages active learning, group work, and engagement with the outside world, as it strives to meet the individual needs of each student.


Assessment provides feedback for learning and is intertwined with curriculum and instruction (Principle 1). Students opportunities to choose their own work are encouraged, they have many ways to demonstrate their achievement, and self-reflection on their learning is required. Portfolios are used to document student achievement, while performance assessment using projects and exhibitions is the norm.


Graduation involves completing work across the curriculum as shown by portfolios that are evaluated by teams of teachers and outside experts (Principle 2). Portfolio information is shared with parents, and classroom-based assessmentinformation feeds into the school s self-evaluation and outside reviews.


Principle 3 addresses fairness and bias. At Central Park East, most students are children of color and many are low-income, while the majority of teachers are white. Because assessment requires continuous interaction between students and teachers and detailed consideration of actual student work, assessment helps bridge cultural gaps. As a result, CPESS students succeed at far higher rates than do comparable New York City youth, including far higher rates of entering and staying in college.


Professional development focuses on student work, and thus involves assessment, while teacher collaboration informs the assessment and graduation processes (Principle 4). Parents are expected to have a real involvement in the school, and at times they participate in the portfolio review process (Principle 5). Members of the wider community also participate in portfolio reviews and in evaluating CPESS itself. This parent and community involvement enhances communication about student learning (Principle 6).


Finally, the assessment process at CPESS is itself reviewed and revised by the faculty, with the help of outside reviewers (Principle 7). This review is not of a separate and disconnected testing system, but of assessments as an integral part of student learning and the life of the school.


The system is not perfect. Teachers continue to debate issues as they attempt to improve the school. Students have to take many tests mandated by the city or state, though New York State is planning to replace most of its tests with a portfolio system (see Examiner, Winter 1993-94). The school also requires students to take the SAT, needed for admission to most colleges. Teachers and administrators do not believe the tests are worthwhile; rather, they are an imposition that cannot be ignored. However, CPESS refuses to let those tests control curriculum and instruction.


Other Schools Illustrate the Principles

In Delaware, Hodgson Vocational Technical High School has used a senior project to guide revisions to much of its curriculum and assessment. International High in New York City, which like CPESS graduates most of its students and sends them on to college, enrolls students who have been in the U.S. less than four years, have limited English proficiency and low standardized test scores. It has focused heavily on collaborative work among the students, including their assessment. All three high schools discussed in Authentic Assessment in Action have connections with the Coalition of Essential Schools. All rely heavily on teacher collaboration and understand the centrality of professional development.


Public School 261 in Brooklyn is a key site in implementing the Primary Language Record (PLR) in some New York elementary schools (see Examiner, Summer 1992). Using this powerful means of continuous assessment of learning to read and write has required much professional cooperation as teachers learn how to use the PLR and think through changes in instruction. Use of the PLR has begun to produce changes throughout the school.


The Bronx New School relies on detailed documentation of student work and learning as the core of its assessment process. A powerfully moving section of the book describes working with Akeem, a child who seemed destined for school failure, if not worse. The rich information provided by the assessment system enabled his teacher to improve her work with Akeem. But as the teacher said, only the process of collaboration among the staff gave her the insights and help she needed to keep struggling to find a way to successfully work with Akeem. Akeem remains in school, is progressing well, and can envision a solid fuure for himself.


Authentic Assessment in Action shows clearly that assessment reform can happen in ways that meet the Principles. Difficulties and complexities are not avoided, but the emphasis is properly on the positive. The descriptions of schools do not provide answers to questions about public information and accountability, though the cases provide useful pointers. Still, if enhancing learning is to be the central purpose of assessment, this book shows it can be done.


Published by Teachers College Press; $21.95.


See also, The Primary Language Record at P.S.261: How Assessment Transforms Teaching and Learning, by B. Falk and L. Darling-Hammond (from NCREST at Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC).