Publications & Resources

Insights Gained From a Classroom-Based Assessment Project

Dec 1997

Lorrie A. Shepard

According to Resnick and Resnick (1992), “Assessments must be designed so that when teachers do the natural thing-that is, prepare their students to perform well-they will exercise the kinds of abilities and develop the kinds of skills and knowledge that are the real goals of educational reform” (p. 59). Wiggins (1989) said almost the same thing: If tests determine what teachers actually teach and what students will study for-and they do-then the road to reform is a straight but steep one: test those capacities and habits we think are essential, and test them in context” (p. 41). In this paper, the author describes the experiences of teachers and researchers in a classroom performance assessment project. Shepard’s research team agreed with Resnick and Resnick and Wiggins that introducing performance assessments aimed at thinking and problem-solving goals could be an important inducement for instructional improvement. Shepard disagreed, however, that high-stakes consequences should be used to leverage change. Even authentic measures are corruptible and, when practiced for, can distort curriculum and undermine professional autonomy. Shepard’s team was more interested in a “bottom up” approach. The study was conducted in a mixed lower and middle-class school district on the outskirts of Denver. Shepard’s research team worked with teams of third-grade teachers in three schools, meeting weekly for after school workshops for the entire 1992-93 school year. The “successes” of the assessment project support the claims of assessment reform advocates, albeit on a much more modest and tentative scale. Performance assessments have great potential for redirecting instruction toward more challenging and appropriate learning goals. Open-ended assessment tasks not only prompted teachers to teach differently, but criteria were made explicit, and students learned more. However, the concomitant “struggles” give the lie to the presumption that new assessments will automatically improve instruction. If teachers are being asked to make fundamental changes in what they teach and how they teach it, then they need sustained support to try out new practices, learn the new theory, and make it their own.

Shepard, L. A. (1997). Insights gained from a classroom-based assessment project (CSE Report 451). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).