Preservice Teachers' Development and Implementation of Science Performance Assessment Tasks

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  • JUDITH A. MORRISON, AMY ROTH McDUFFIE and VALARIE L. AKERSON

    PRESERVICE TEACHERS DEVELOPMENT ANDIMPLEMENTATION OF SCIENCE PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT

    TASKS

    ABSTRACT. Preservice teachers in a science methods course were provided instructionon performance assessment, then guided through a design and implementation process ofperformance assessment tasks. We assessed the effect of designing and implementing aperformance assessment task on preservice teachers understanding of standards-based as-sessment. The findings show that these preservice teachers improved in their understandingof assessment as a formative process as well as their science content understanding of thetopic addressed in their designed task. We found that preservice teachers need to experi-ment with performance assessment tasks in an authentic context in order to understand thefull potential and value of the task.

    KEY WORDS: field-based experience, performance assessment, science methods, stand-ards-based assessment

    The research project described in this paper explored how a field-basedproject involving preservice teachers development and implementationof science performance assessment tasks in K-8 classrooms affected thepreservice teachers understanding of standards-based assessment and in-struction. Preservice teachers in a science methods course were providedinstruction on performance assessment, then guided through a design andimplementation process of performance assessment tasks.

    Performance AssessmentScience reform efforts (American Association for the Advancement ofScience (AAAS), 1993; National Research Council (NRC), 1996) havecalled for students becoming more involved in their own learning basedon the philosophy that student understanding is facilitated by active in-volvement. The science reforms have required that students be assessed ontheir scientific reasoning and understanding rather than only their discretescientific knowledge. This type of assessment, often termed performanceassessment, may be problematic to define. According to Champagne andKouba (2000), alternative definitions for the term performance assessmentare abundant. They state that performance assessment involves data suchas student writing being analyzed not only on the scientific accuracy

    Author for correspondence.

    International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education (2005) 3: 379406 National Science Council, Taiwan 2005

  • 380 J.A. MORRISON ET AL.

    of the writing but also on the quality of the reasoning (p. 226). Sten-marks (1991) definition of performance assessment provides a descrip-tion of the type of assessment recommended by the NRC (1996) Perfor-mance assessment . . . involves presenting students with a . . . task, project,or investigation, then observing, interviewing, and looking at their prod-ucts to assess what they actually know (p. 13). According to Shavelson,Baxter & Pine (1992), performance assessment is characterized by stu-dents performing concrete, meaningful tasks scored on the reasonable-ness of the procedure not simply on achieving the correct answer. Us-ing students performances to assess understanding of concepts in sciencehas been recommended by Shymansky, Chidsey, Henriquez, Enger, Yore,Wolfe & Jorgenson (1997). Well-designed assessment tasks not only as-sess student understanding but teach concepts and require students to ex-plain and communicate their solutions (Darling-Hammond & Falk, 1997;Shepard, 2000). Performance assessment is well-suited to this purpose be-cause of its focus on the application of knowledge in an authentic contextfor an authentic purpose. According to Shepard, Flexer, Hiebert, Marion,Mayfield & Weston (1996), performance assessment is advantageous be-cause it provides the opportunity to examine the process as well as theproduct and represents a full range of learning outcomes by assessingstudents writing, products, and behavior. Performance assessment allowsteachers to assess higher order thinking skills and deeper understandings(Firestone, Mayrowetz & Fairman, 1998). Kelly & Kahle (1999) foundthat science students who took performance assessment tests were betterable to explain their reasoning and conceptions than students who tooktraditional tests, leading to the conclusion that they had stronger under-standings as a result of working through the performance task.

    The instructional benefits of using performance assessment strategiesseem to be established but it is not clear that teachers can easily or quicklylearn to implement these strategies in practice. When Firestone et al. (1998)studied the instructional strategies of teachers who were required to useperformance assessment in their instruction to prepare students for statetests, they saw little change in the teachers instructional strategies. Fire-stone et al. (1998) identified two major barriers to change: a lack of sophis-ticated content knowledge necessary for implementation of performanceassessment and a lack of rich tasks and problems in the curricular materialsnecessary to support this approach to instruction. To effectively implementperformance assessment, Firestone et al. (1998) concluded teachers needsubstantive training opportunities (not just new policies requiring the newassessment approaches) and new curricular materials aligned with perfor-

  • SCIENCE PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT TASKS 381

    mance assessment strategies and a standards-based vision for teaching andlearning.

    In accordance with Firestone et al.s (1998) research, Borko, Mayfield,Marion, Flexer & Cumbro (1997) found that for teachers to effectively useand realize the benefits of performance assessment approaches, they needsubstantive and sustained professional development. Borko et al.(1997) also indicated that time was a major obstacle to implementing per-formance assessment approaches. Specifically, teachers were found to needtime to plan for implementation of new strategies, employ more complexscoring rubrics, administer the assessment tasks, record observations ofstudents, and interview students before, during, and after the performanceassessment. All of the findings establishing that time is necessary for teach-ers to learn to use and to actually implement performance assessment tasksare germane to our study in which we attempted to inform preserviceteachers about performance assessment in one semester.

    Field ExperiencesEducational researchers and students bound for a teaching career agreethat there is a need for more direct, specific, and practical experiences inclassrooms prior to student teaching (Anderson & Mitchener, 1994; NRC,1996). Field experiences early in the teacher training have a lasting effect.Schoon & Sandoval (1997) indicate that more real-world opportunitiesfor preservice teachers to practice their skills will help them gain necessaryskills faster. Borko et al. (1997) emphasized the importance of situatingpreservice teacher learning in classroom practice for professional growth.They found that a key component of their program was their teachersability to experiment with and implement the ideas of professional devel-opment workshops in their own classroom practice and then to reflect othese efforts in follow-up workshops.

    Putnam & Borko (2000) argue that for teachers to construct newknowledge about their practice, the learning needs to be situated in au-thentic contexts. First, learning needs to be situated in authentic activ-ities in classrooms to support a transfer to practice. Preservice teachersneed a combination of university learning for theoretical foundations andschool-based learning for a situated perspective. Second, preservice andinservice teachers should participate in discourse communities as part oflearning and enculturation in the profession. Preservice teachers, in partic-ular, need to learn about and contribute to a communitys way of thinking(Putnam & Borko, 2000).

    Spector (1999) recommends having preservice teachers work with in-service teachers to help them better apply newly learned teaching and

  • 382 J.A. MORRISON ET AL.

    assessment strategies. This finding is in line with Dickinson, Burns, Hagen& Lockers (1997) finding that important changes in science teaching cantake place with the support of an enthusiastic peer.

    As well as providing valuable experiences for preservice teachers, field-based experiences can be beneficial for the inservice teachers who areinvolved in mentoring the preservice teachers. The inservice teachers havethe opportunity to be exposed to new strategies and techniques, share theirown strategies and techniques, and collaborate in the evaluation of stu-dent work. Learning experiences for both preservice and inservice teachersmust include inquiries into the difficulties and questions teachers regu-larly face (NRC, 1996). It is essential that teachers, both preservice andinservice, have opportunities to observe, practice, and evaluate appropriateassessment tasks.

    METHODS

    This study was interpretive in nature (Strauss & Corbin, 1990); qualitativemeasures were used to examine perspectives and meanings that preserviceteachers formed about teaching and learning. We defined two researchquestions for this study: (1) When instruction on and use of performanceassessment is emphasized in a science methods course, and the task isimplemented in a field-based situation, what is the nature of preserviceteachers learning and development toward standards-based assessmentstrategies? (2) What was the efficacy of the project in providing meaningfulfield-based learning?

    Participants

    Participants included 25 preservice teachers enrolled in an elementary sci-ence methods course at a mid-sized Northwestern University. The studentswere working on a Bachelors degree in elementary education (including anendorsement to teach grades K-8). This group of preservice teachers wascomprised of 5 males and 20 females; the students ranged in age from 19to 55 with the average age being 32. The participants entered the sciencemethods course with a variety of background knowledge about science.The most common profile was that of students having had two sciencelab courses during their two years in a community college. Prior to theelementary science methods course, the preservice teachers had been en-rolled in an assessment course where they were introduced to performanceassessment as an alternative assessment strategy. They were not asked touse or create performance assessment tasks in this assessment course, they

  • SCIENCE PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT TASKS 383

    were simply provided with the definition that a performance assessmenttask requires students to demonstrate their knowledge in some way.

    Context

    The science methods course was a three-credit, one-semester course.Classes were held weekly in 3 hour blocks throughout the semester. Themajority of the preservice teachers enrolled in the science methods coursewere concurrently enrolled in a math methods course. Throughout bothcourses performance assessment instruction was coordinated (i.e., taskscould combine math and science content, instruction was not duplicatedfrom one course to the other, and course assignments were similar). Thescience methods course aimed to help preservice teachers develop(a) a theoretical framework for teaching science at the elementary level,(b) a repertoire of methods for teaching science, (c) favorable attitudestoward science and science teaching, and (d) deeper understanding of aspecific science content area.

    Performance assessment activities spanned the semester with the majorevents as follows: introductory performance assessment workshop heldduring regular class meeting (week 3); performance assessment topics se-lected and researched (weeks 35); proposal for task and written reviews ofresearch-based journal articles on topic submitted (week 5); oral and writ-ten feedback on proposals provided by instructor, and mentors assigned(week 6); preservice teachers and mentors met during class time to plantask (week 7); draft of task submitted to instructor and mentors (week 8);tasks revised and then implemented in mentor teachers classrooms (weeks912); reports containing analysis, findings, and reflections on studentswork on the task submitted to instructor (week 13); lesson plan based onperformance assessment findings submitted (week 14). For a full descrip-tion of the performance assessment project assignments, see Appendix A.More detailed information on the assignments have been provided in anearlier published work (Roth McDuffie, Akerson & Morrison, 2003).

    Introductory Assessment Workshop. The workshop was conducted dur-ing the regular methods class meeting time for a three hour period.A collaborative team (made up of expert middle school teachers and math-ematics and science methods instructors) planned and facilitated the work-shop with team members leading different parts of the workshop. It wasconducted to (a) briefly discuss general assessment issues, (b) providean overview of the standards-based assessment program in WashingtonState (e.g., see Washington Commission on Student Learning, 1998), and

  • 384 J.A. MORRISON ET AL.

    (c) introduce the preservice teachers to performance assessment issues andstrategies.

    To introduce the preservice teachers to performance assessment weasked them to work in groups on a sample performance assessment taskthat was written and field-tested as part of an assessment program in Wash-ington State. This mathematical task was chosen due to time limitations;we purposefully chose a task that could be previewed in a short periodof time. The task required the preservice teachers to design a cereal boxthat would reduce the amount of cardboard needed and still maintain aspecific volume, and then to write a letter to the cereal company describingand defending their design. While we only provided approximately twentyminutes for the preservice teachers to work on the task, they had enoughtime to identify key issues of the task and key components of task-design.Next, we discussed some of the features of the task (e.g., an open-endedquestion; the descriptive and persuasive writing component; the multi-ple entry points and various solution methods possible in performing thetask, etc.). Although the main concepts addressed in this sample task weremathematical, the task contained the general features of a performance as-sessment task such as requiring generation of information, discriminationbetween relevant and irrelevant information, requiring a written product,and an explanation of work. After a brief discussion of the task, we gave thegroups scoring rubrics and samples of students work on the task at variousperformance levels. Using the scoring rubrics, the groups assigned scoresto their sample students work. Following this group work, we discussedthe scoring process, the rubrics, and the task as a class.

    Next, we worked to formalize their knowledge of performance assess-ment by discussing defining characteristics of performance assessment,advantages, and limitations. We concluded the wo...

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