Publications & Resources

How "Messing About" With Performance Assessment in Mathematics Affects What Happens in Classrooms

Feb 1995

Roberta J. Flexer, Kate Cumbo, Hilda Borko, Vicky Mayfield, and Scott F. Marion

When provided adequate staff development and administrative support, teachers will adopt performance assessment and new instructional methods into their classroom, conclude the authors in How “Messing About” with Performance Assessment in Mathematics Affects What Happens in Classrooms. The researchers conducted an in-depth qualitative study in three urban Denver schools, tape recording, transcribing and coding 15 mathematics workshops and interviewing all project teachers. “In short, the introduction of performance assessment,” says Roberta Flexer, “provides teachers with richer instructional goals than mere computation and raises their expectations of what their students can accomplish in mathematics and what [teachers] can learn about their students.” The researchers also found that teachers significantly shifted their instructional practices when exposed to performance assessment. Even some of the most text-dependent teachers began to change the way they taught mathematics: “We found holes in the [mathematics] text book,” said one teacher, “so we used a variety of resources in order to build a unit around probability and statistics.” Many teachers felt that students were learning more, even if this learning was not necessarily borne out by performance on the Maryland performance tasks. “…I just think they understand it [mathematics] more,” said one teacher, “it is not just rote memorization-that they really know what it means when you say 20 times 80 even if they don’t know the answer…There is a much deeper understanding.” Teachers felt, at times, overwhelmed in trying to implement new assessments and instruction into both reading and mathematics. Further, it remains unknown if the changes will be long term. But the study provides further evidence that performance assessment can lead to an integration of instruction with assessment, more hands-on and problem-based activities aligned with the NCTM standards, and greater academic challenges for both teachers and students.

Flexer, R. J., Cumbo, K., Borko, H., Mayfield, V., & Marion, S. F. (1995). How messing about with performance assessment in mathematics affects what happens in classrooms (CSE Report 396). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).