Assessment Overview - Assessment Process

Why can't I just give a quiz or a survey for my assessment? Why do assessment at all, when the play is the thing?

In the theatre, we rate the play we produce by the reaction it creates in audiences. Indeed, the experience of the play is the "thing we care about." An indirect way to rate our plays is to count ticket sales, season subscriptions and audience applause. A more direct way to rate, or assess our plays is through audience feedback sessions and surveys. The most direct way to rate or assess our plays is to probe through interviews with audience members and what they liked and disliked about the plays. This process of directly gathering audience reaction has a parallel in the education departments of the theatres surveyed: how do we know students are learning from our classes or residencies?

We learn more directly about how students are learning by asking them to show or reveal their learning. Surveys force student thinking into pre-determined boxes of acceptable answers. "Performance assessments," however, provide better evidence of student learning because the student is asked to show their learning. The process of learning does not stop the first time the student is introduced to something new, but continues with how well they can explain their learning to others. It is a process. Performance assessment tasks and projects are more authentic assessments of what students really know and can really do. The process helps students reveal their learning.

Most importantly, good assessment communities value the assessment of student learning for what it tells the community. Assessment is the process of continuous feedback that suggests ways to improve the community's programming. When the assessment process is clear and direct in its feedback, it helps to solidify the teacher/student relationship. And when it is offered in a non-judgmental but accurate way, the process of assessment can launch student learning far beyond what normal classroom instruction usually produces. For a more detailed set of definitions and descriptions of this process, see below:

Assessment
Assessment and Standardized Tests
Performance Assessments
A Task and a Rubric
Valid and Reliable

Assessment
Assessment, from the French, means to sit next to. Assessment is the process of sitting next to students to evaluate their learning. Assessments such as checklists, observations, surveys, portfolios and performance tasks or projects are much more authentic in revealing student learning and can be much more accurate for evaluating student achievement.

Assessment and Standardized Tests
Standardized Testing is now the central strategy of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law of 2001 to improve schools. Standardized testing is used to hold schools and states accountable for student learning. Assessment, on the other hand, has almost always been used to help teachers teach better, help students understand the progress of their learning, help everyone involved diagnose learning disabilities and help theatres and schools change programming for the better. As critics of standardized testing point out, the law’s reliance on testing has not resulted in higher test scores but rather in a "narrowing of the curriculum," away from the arts and towards English and Math, a focus on test-prep in those subjects and a failure to really change schools for the better. That is why the use of assessment to improve the process of teaching and learning is on the rise and may be very helpful to arts organizations and especially to theatres.

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Performance Assessments
Unlike a multiple-choice or true-false tests in which a student is asked to choose one of the responses provided, a performance assessment requires a student to perform a task, to generate his or her own response and to literally make meaning during the learning assessment. For example, a performance assessment in writing would require a student to actually write an extended response, rather than simply answering some multiple-choice questions on grammar or punctuation. Punctuation is important, and should be assessed, but it is more of a basic skill of writing and not a proxy for higher order thinking skills that reflect quality student writing. (From the Chicago Public Schools website)

A Task and a Rubric
A performance assessment consists of two parts, a task and a set of scoring criteria or "rubric." The task may be an academic product, a performance, or an extended written response to an academic prompt. Some examples of performance assessment tasks from different subjects include written compositions, speeches, works of art, scenes from the theatre, science fair projects, research projects, musical performances, and open-ended math problems. Existing classroom instructional activities may be transformed into a performance assessment by specifying how the activity becomes an important task that is required of all students, with the addition of suitable scoring criteria.The arts have long been grounded in this kind of demonstration of learning. To show your work through a performance, an art opening, a recital, a portfolio, etc., is an arts-grounded way for students to demonstrate their understanding and achievement. (From the Chicago Public Schools website )

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Valid and Reliable

Validity and reliability are established by analyzing the types of learning generated by the assessment tasks. For example, asking students to answer 10 questions on only the plot of King Lear is not the most valid measure of what was learned while studying King Lear because it misses the opportunity to assess student learning on issues such as, what was the tragedy of Lear, or the sibling rivalry for Lear's affection? If you only want to measure student learning about the plot, then 10 multiple-choice questions on that would be valid. But, if you want to assess student learning about the complexity and tragedy of King Lear, asking students to re-write the ending of the play would be much more valid than asking them to answer multiple-choice questions. If you were interested in assessing their learning about tragedy or sibling rivalry, a valid assessment would be to ask students to show or reveal their learning on those issues. Asking them to re-write the ending of King Lear would also be more reliable, if in doing so, it produced a rating from students that was reliable across all students. For example, if the students were asked to re-write the ending and they all learned a great deal more about Lear than other types of standardized tests, the reliability of the assessment to produce this kind of learning also increases. Honing our assessments by increasing their validity and reliability helps improve what we learn from them and how we ultimately improve our theatre programming.

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