Mapping Student Learning

Emerging Performance Assessment

Performance assessments have emerged as a school reform strategy because they collect better evidence of student learning and because they help guide teachers and students to more rigorous work. Standardized tests will still have a place when we want students to memorize a set of facts like the driver’s education test. But we won’t let students drive until they can parallel park. The performance assessment part of the driver’s test is an experiential and hands-on project that a student develops, including their skill at parallel parking, over time.

Narrow and Shallow

When teachers receive the results from multiple-choice tests, they can analyze the results and adapt their teaching, but the evidence of student learning is narrow and shallow.

Creativity is Deeper

Performance assessments have emerged as a way to collect more accurate evidence of what students have learned because instead of narrowing down the answers, performance assessments give students creative choices in how they expand on their answers. When creativity is put at the center of student learning and students get to choose how to answer their questions, their learning deepens. 

Evidence of Student Learning

Learning is so much more complicated than a yes or no answer. Learning is about what students say they have learned, verbally or written, or through what they do next. But where deeper learning is concerned, students actually make a series of learnings, or steps, or realizations. To capture these steps in the learning process, a performance assessment, documenting those steps, and ending with an academic product that meets or exceeds standards can be very powerful.

Progress Maps

So to get more information about student learning, using performance assessments, look into some type of map of student progress. Teachers may not be superb at making learning maps, but good education researchers love documentation that starts at the beginning, shows evidence of learning, and finishes with an academic product. When we document where students start in their learning process—with a set of questions, or an observation, about what we want students to learn, we can more accurately measure the distance our students go in learning deeply. When students remember their beginning it also helps teachers to see how far students get when they come to the end of their project. So mapping our student’s progress starts with wonderings, questions, inquiry, and then gives way to experimenting, testing, re-working, and ends with final academic products that have great depth of undertstanding. The glue in performance assessment and progress maps is the engaging question that students follow. The enduring question over the length of a project drives their deeper learning and provides teachers with evidence of deeper student learning.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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