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Performance task form of assessment and PEP

Education Matters

By Camella Buddo

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

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Change is an ongoing process which results in positive or negative outcomes, although the expectations when changes are implemented are for the good. The underpinning theories and principles in education have evolved from traditional behaviourism to contemporary constructivism. Focus has shifted from practices which are teacher-centred to those that are learner-centred. No longer should classroom practices involve drills and practices for mastery.

For the teaching and learning of mathematics, for example, learners should be actively engaged in the learning of concepts, principles and procedures (algorithms) so that they are able to not only apply these constructs to real-world scenarios, but also to appreciate the beautiful nature of mathematics and its role in all aspects of life and living. Classrooms should be buzzing with co-operative group activities, discussions, discourse between teacher and student, and among students. In these ways, the learners are provided with opportunities to identify patterns, make generalisations, defend their positions, guess and improve, and estimate, thus developing and improving their analytical skills and other high-level thinking skills.

Likewise, assessment has changed focus from traditional methods of pen and paper in decontextualised settings to strategies that are referred to as alternative assessment which include: performance task, projects, and portfolios. It is well documented that there should be a common thread linking curriculum, instruction and assessment. In other words, what learners are expected to know, understand, and apply should be included in the curriculum document, taught, and then measured (assessed). The learning of mathematics is best achieved through an engagement of the mathematical ideas. Students should be given opportunities and allowed adequate time to 'experiment'. Questions can be posed by the teacher such as: “If (so and so)…. then….?” Or a problem-solving situation can be presented.

The Ministry of Education, Youth & Information has implemented the National Standards Curriculum and has made changes to national assessment by replacing the single-sitting Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) with the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) examination. PEP involves a total of three components across three sittings:

• In grade 4, students do a graded performance task (PT).

• In grade 5, students do a graded performance task (PT).

• In grade 6, students do a performance task (PT), curriculum-based test (CBT) and an ability test (AT).

Note that PT is present in each of the three sittings.

What is a performance task?

The literature clearly outlines the failure of objective-type items (multiple choice, true/false, matching, short answers) and even standardised achievement tests to adequately assess students' abilities and competencies. It is recognised that examining and judging a student's actual (or simulated) performance on significant tasks that are relevant to learning and to real life are more appropriate for assessing what students know, understand and can apply. Assessing performance tasks thus involves observing and assessing the student while in action, against designed descriptors of performance (Gallagher, 1998).

Why include performance task as an assessment strategy?

Like other forms of assessment, there are advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few advantages and considerations for using performance assessment:

Advantages:

• provides a means for assessing higher-level cognitive abilities, eg, problem-solving, analysis, synthesis and evaluation;

• observing student performance is a way of identifying students' strengths and weaknesses;

• provides a medium for the teacher to reflect on his/her own instructional strategies/practices.

Considerations:

Performance task assessment take time to create. It requires careful consideration of an appropriate task(s) for the learning outcome, as well as designing scoring rubric to guide observation during the performance. Adequate time has to be allowed in the timetable for the diverse students to complete the task and students need adequate practice in carrying out performance tasks.

All the conditions relevant to real-life performance are impossible to create in the classroom. Hence, appropriate tasks for the classroom are necessary. For those tasks that require the making of a product, it is recommended that judgement is not made solely on the product, and that other abilities are assessed.

Findings from my research on evaluating teachers' practices for implementing a revised primary curriculum (Buddo, 2012) indicated a number of shortcomings in the educational system to include the following (which have not changed):

• lack of adequate resources in schools

• large class sizes

• varied interpretation of the curriculum by the teachers

• poor physical infrastructure

• inadequate teacher-training.

Based on the foregoing explanation of performance task as an assessment strategy, much will be required of the class teacher or assessor in:

(i ) understanding the rubric descriptors;

(ii) observing each student in the large classes; and then

(iii) making reasonable judgements.

Embarking on anything new can create anxiety and some amount of apprehension for those involved. From discussions in the media it appears that some primary teachers lack the confidence and know-how to effectively prepare their students for the new national assessment strategies, and also for them to serve as assessors in the assessment processes.

Following on the structure of PEP, as previously stated, my questions are:

• Would the cohort sitting the exit examination in 2019 have carried out a graded performance task in grade 4, and a graded performance task in grade 5?

• For students who do not sit all three stages of PEP, how will their placement, by the Ministry of Education, in a secondary school be impacted?

• Are plans in place for additional training of primary teachers and others for support?

• Would all schools be required to sit PEP on the same day?

• What support would be available for schools with large classes in grades 4, 5 and/or 6?

• What support will be provided to schools in their formative assessments of students using performance tasks?

To my mind, these questions and others should be seriously considered before commencement of the next academic year. Students and teachers need to be guided and supported for any new national venture. Many students dislike mathematics and have a fear of the subject, and for many primary teachers, mathematics is not their favourite subject. Hence, there should be no need to create undue stress for both students and teachers.

The Ministry of Education seems to have embarked on a pathway that aligns with good educational practices in a few other countries. The goal of always seeking to create an educational system that builds on quality and equity, in an environment whereby change is ongoing, can be achieved if all relevant stakeholders play their part in providing quality education for all.

Dr Camella Buddo is a mathematics education lecturer in the School of Education at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. Send comments to the Observer or camella.buddo02@uwimona.edu.jm.

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