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A new metaphor:

Assessment tasks as performance

One way to rethink assessment is to consider the demonstration of competency as a 'complex performance'. This term comes from an American assessment thinker, Ginette Delandshere. For her, the sum is greater than the parts, and all the parts of a situation fit together. While individual parts may be singled out for specific attention, separate and isolated assessments of these are likely to misrepresent the overall learning, especially when they are reported in ways that strip away the context of the learning being demonstrated. Delandshere also suggests we think about assessment as an inquiry process in which we ask this question: 'What does it mean to know?' (Delandshere, 2002).

Howard Gardner, of 'multiple intelligences' fame, explains assessing the understanding aspects of a performance in this way:

Why talk about performances of understanding? So long as we examine individuals only on problems to which they have already been exposed, we simply cannot ascertain whether they have truly understood. They might have understood. but it is just as likely that they are simply relying on a good memory. The only reliable way to determine whether understanding has truly been achieved is to pose a new question or puzzle - one on which individuals could not have been coached - and to see how they fare.

Gardner, 2006, page 34 (emphasis in original)

This comment suggests an issue with traditional knowledge assessments! Focusing on the reasons for adding key competencies to the curriculum sharpens this challenge by adding dispositional dimensions to the traditional focus on understanding.

Teamwork as a complex performance

When thinking about the challenges of assessing key competencies as complex wholes with contributing parts, it could be helpful to think about the ways we assess a group or team performance. Sports commentators frequently discuss both a whole-team effort and the performance of individuals within that team. Arts commentators frequently evaluate a whole performance but also single out the most talented and enriching individual contributions. This dual-level assessment might also be possible when thinking about:

  • group tasks and the contribution of individuals
  • integrating tasks and learning in one contributing knowledge area
  • a whole performance, with improvement in one specified skill
  • strengthening all the competencies but with a specific focus on one of them.

Next – Gaining the best of old and new

Published on: 17 Mar 2008


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