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Donald G. Perrin

Assessment can be used to determine the performance of learners, instructors, procedures, products, and environments. It can be qualitative, quantitative, or both. Assessment can measure change in performance, separate high performers from low performers, or determine needs. Assessment can be used to measure progress or quality, justify expenditures, award prizes, accept or reject products and services, and reform institutions, curriculum, and programs of instruction.

Observable and measurable objectives are the basis of authentic assessment. Performance is ideally assessed in its real-world environment. Measuring tools must be relevant, high in quality and provide reliable and valid performance data. Where authentic assessment is not possible, simulations, gaming, or a combination of methods can provide alternative ways to gather valuable performance data. Test instruments range from pencil and paper to interactive computer graphics, 3-D animations and simulators.

In training and education, a Needs Assessment determines the starting point for learning. A Gap Analysis determines what knowledge, skills and attitudes must be acquired to meet the criterion performance. Training and education fill that gap. When combined with Learning Management Systems, learning is transformed into a science. Data collected from testing and monitoring can be used to improve teaching and learning as well as the assessment instruments themselves.

Assessment determines the level of learning as we progress from novice to expert. Rubrics are useful tools to measure progress through significant learning milestones. It is hardly appropriate to punish failure because failure is in itself a punishment. Assessment must be fair. Ignorance is not failure if there is no opportunity to learn. We should not unfairly categorize or pigeon-hole the unfortunate, disadvantaged, or late-bloomers. We need to recognize potential and reward performance.

Pencil and paper tests suffice for knowledge based verbal and numeric skills, but not for physical performance such as marksmanship with a rifle or cross-country skiing. Assessment tool must be relevant to the task at hand. Using the wrong assessment tool will produce erroneous data.

New skills and competencies are needed to succeed in today’s workplace, especially higher level skills like reasoning, problem solving and working collaboratively. Creativity and entrepreneurial skills are of increasing importance. New curriculum goals and methods of instruction should be supported by performance-based assessment, portfolios, student-designed assessments, and alternative assessments where necessary.

Assessment should have low visibility so that curriculum is focused on its ultimate purpose and not to narrowly “teach the test”. My preference is to embed testing within the learning experiences so that correction is part of the learning process with simulations, portfolios, and projects as a basis to measuring performance.

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