Performance Assessments: A Marine Example

Assessment of student learning is an important component of education. While multiple-choice tests are common, they do not often test higher-level thinking skills and may not accurately represent student understanding. Performance assessments, also known as alternative or authentic assessments, require students to actively demonstrate what they know as they perform a task. These types of assessment may be a more valid indicator of students’ knowledge and abilities.

While performance assessments are commonly used in the area of writing, they also have great potential in content areas such as science, social studies, and mathematics. In “New Species Found!” an article from the National Science Teachers Association journal Science and Children, Deborah Reinemann and Jolie Thomas describe a performance assessment that concludes a fourth-grade oceanography unit.

As described in the article, the 14-lesson unit provides an introduction to the oceans and hands-on investigations of salinity, density, and waves. Students learn about currents and tides through reading and compare land formations on land and on the sea floor. Finally, through video and tide pool centers, students learn about marine organisms and their adaptations .

The performance task is introduced at the end of the unit. Students take on the role of a marine biologist who has discovered a new organism. They create a model of the organism and a written profile that includes its name, habitat, and adaptations. A skeleton paragraph supports students who have difficulty writing cohesive paragraphs. Students’ work is assessed with a rubric.

Students share their new species in a mock marine biology convention. Students discuss informed questions that marine biologist might ask of each other, then tour the displays to learn about the new “discoveries.” This interactive session is also used to evaluate students’ understanding.

Like other performance assessment tasks, this project allows students to think creatively and demonstrate their understanding in ways that multiple-choice assessments do not. Furthermore, this particular task allows students to take on the role of marine biologists, which can provide a better understanding of the nature of science.


New Species Found!
This article from the National Science Teachers Association journal Science and Children describes a fourth-grade oceanography unit and performance assessment. The article is free for NSTA members and $0.99 for nonmembers.

Implementing Performance Assessment in the Classroom
This article provides an overview of performance assessment and guidelines for constructing performance assessment tasks.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright May 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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