What are they learning? Ways to assess learning in Physical Education

(Steve Jefferies and Wendy Mustain, CWU Ellensburg)


This presentation will expose participants to some easy-to-implement and motivating methods for assessing learning in PE. Using juggling and unicycling as the subject matter, differences will be shown between quantitative and qualitative motor skill assessment methods, and suggestions for ways to assess cognitive and affective learning in PE. Participants will be shown how reports can easily be generated for students, parents, administrators, and school boards to illustrate the effectiveness of a school PE program.

WA State Essential Academic Learning Requirements in Health and Fitness
The following EALR relates directly to the expectation that PE teachers should be able to demonstrate that their students have developed fundamental physical skills.

1. The student acquires the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain an

active life: movement, physical fitness, and nutrition.

To meet this standard, the student will:

Benchmark 1 - TBDBenchmark 2 - TBD Benchmark 3 -TBD
1.1 develop fundamental physical skills and progress to complex

movement activities as physically able

develop, as physically capable, physical skills (locomotor, nonlocomotor, and manipulative) and learn to control the body in motion perform, as physically capable, fundamental physical skills and apply more complex skills to a variety of movement activities apply, as physically capable, movement principles and skills to complex activities that lead to a physically active personal and work life

Why is Assessment Important?

As you are probably aware a great deal of time and money is currently being expended in Washington state to improve the quality of public school education. The passage of House Bill 1209 has significant implications for all educators, including those of us who teach physical education. The expectation is, that we should be able to demonstrate what our students are learning as a result of participation in physical education. While this might not sound very new, after all it might appear obvious that physical educators know what they teach, some different expectations need to be appreciated.

First, stating what you are teaching (e.g. basketball dribbling, shooting, and passing) does not adequately answer the question, What are the students learning? In view of the vastly different skill levels of students entering many PE classes, what each individual student will learn by the end of the class will also be different. Second, you should anticipate being able to answer a parent who poses the question, What is my son/daughter learning? or even more specifically, What is it that my daughter/son will be able to do after this class that s/he couldn't do before? Responding to such questions will demand information that many of us do not presently have available.

Different Assessment Methods

Skill and Fitness Assessment

Currently the most widely-used assessments in PE are fitness tests. As you know, with most of these tests a student score is compared to a table of norms and given a rating. This is an example of a norm-referenced or quantitative test. You probably also know that similar tests are available for sport skills. For example, counting how many times a student can rally a tennis ball against a wall in one minute is also a quantitative test. With some skills these types of assessments provide useful indicators of student learning.

With more complex skills or when students are introduced to new skills, learning often occurs more slowly and performance of the whole skill is not a good measure of learning and improvement. In these instances it is often more useful to use qualitative types of assessment. In qualitative tests, as the name suggests, we are looking for changes in the quality of the skill as it is performed rather than the outcome. For example, for a genuine beginner it would take a long time to be ready to rally a tennis ball against a wall for one minute using the proper forehand technique. Assessing this student's learning from a one minute rallying test would not adequately indicate what the student had really learned. A better measure might be to ask the student to demonstrate the key parts of the tennis forehand while rallying against the wall (e.g. correct grip, sideways position, keeping the racquet head up, etc.). While the student might not be ready to play the game of tennis, improvement would be evident. For physical educators, a measure of learning and conversely teaching effectiveness would become available.

In today's session you will be presented with some simple quantitative and qualitative methods for assessing the learning juggling and unicycling skills. An example of a quantitative method might be to see if you can continuously juggle 3 scarves for 30 seconds using the Cascade pattern, without stepping outside of a hula hoop. A qualitative method for assessing your scarf juggling would be to record if you are indeed tossing the scarves with your palms down, tossing the scarves above your opposite shoulder, catching downwards, and keeping a smooth regular rhythm.

One of the challenges we face in PE is providing learners with measures to show that they are improving in situations where improvement may not be indicated with quantitative assessment. For example, I suspect few participants in today's session can ride a unicycle. The obvious quantitative assessment of your learning would be to set a distance (e.g. ride across a badminton court unaided), and measure your success accordingly. Unfortunately, learning this skill will probably take a lot longer than one instructional session. It may take several sessions. The challenge for us as teachers is to find ways to indicate to you that you are improving even though you still cannot actually ride the unicycle without assistance. By breaking down this complex skill into many smaller parts, and visibly recording your achievement of these parts on a chart, we are able to record and illustrate that learning is indeed occurring.

You can use a chart, notebook, cards, or a Personal Digital Assistant such as the now defunct Newton, or the popular Palm III. Each method has certain benefits and limitations. The good news is that you now have data to show:

1. That your students are learning and consequently that you are teaching.

2. What your students already know and what they should be practicing - useful information for teachers and students.

3. Which students are progressing and which students need assistance.

3. The value of your PE program to Principals, parents, and school boards.

Contrast this situation to one in which the PE teacher has no data other than fitness scores, and cannot produce any valid measures of student learning. In an era of program elimination, PE teachers are unwise to assume that neither they nor their subject matter could ever be replaced!

Cognitive Assessment

There are many ways to assess a student's knowledge of the key parts of a motor skill. In addition to actually demonstrating them to a teacher or peer, a student can communicate knowledge about the skill cognitively in a variety of ways. This provides inclusion for the student who, while understanding the hows and whys of a concept or skill in physical education, as yet may be unable to demonstrate proficiency in performing them. Armed with the knowledge however, the student can become an independent learner and continue to refine his/her skills and use of concepts outside the physical education setting. Here are a couple of examples:

Assessment: School newspaper article

Ask students to work in groups of 2 or 3 (solo if they prefer) and create an article for the school newspaper that would provide instruction about a motor skill to the reader. Students can be asked to seek outside sources of information, and provide illustrations or photographs that would be helpful in clarifying their instructions.

Assessment: Create an evaluation for a motor skill

In this assessment, students are asked to create a form, checklist or rubric that they could use to assess the qualitative performance of a peer. Critical components of the motor skill would be included and weighted. Students would explain the use of their evaluation and the support for their weightings in a short (1 page) instruction page to accompany the evaluation form.

Benefits of Cognitive Assessment Techniques:

Other ideas for assessments:

What you probably notice about these assessments is that they ask students to create a demonstration of their knowledge, rather than respond to, or recognize, information provided by the teacher as in traditional testing formats. Inherent in this process is one of the benefits of these assessment techniques -- they are instructional while at the same time indicating an understanding of content. While the use of traditional written tests is quick and familiar, and often serves useful purposes, other assessment techniques can provide insights that are inaccessible from test scores. This is especially true of students who lack skills in reading. Because of the varied formats of the assessments listed above, students who are hindered linguistically can select a mode of communication that will enable them to communicate their knowledge of physical education skills and concepts. In any case, assessments such as these have the potential to better interpret the progress of student learning, as well as the effectiveness of instruction and programs.

When Should I Assess?

Assessing learning at the completion of a unit is the bare minimum for assessment. Unfortunately, by then it's too late to make any instructional changes that might have enhanced learning. There's also no way of showing that student performance was the direct result of your instruction. Pre- and post-testing improves slightly on this situation by at least showing changes in performance during the unit. Adding an assessment in the middle of a unit creates time to make changes but still means that you may have been wasting the preceding instructional time.

Probably the best way to implement assessment is to make it continuous. In other words, to create some means by which students are always aware of what they have already learned and the remaining expectations. "Whoa," you say. "I don't have this much time to spend on assessment. I won't have any time to teach." Well folks, the not-so-secret truth is that if you aren't assessing, you probably are not teaching! If we as teachers are not aware of what our students already know and can do, how can we possibly be confident that what we are teaching is what they need? Fortunately, the task is not so daunting. Effective teachers are always continuously assessing. These teachers watch how their students are performing and make adjustments to the lesson. The big difference in what will be expected in the future is that learning must be documented rather than exist in the teacher's head. Read on...

Assessment Reports

There is no single most effective way to record or report student learning. Many methods exist and you need to choose what works best for you and your students. Some teachers like to use assessment charts that they post in the gym. Student names go down the side and the skills go along the top. As students achieve the skills they are given stickers. Many teachers and students find these extremely motivational and informative. The challenge is to break the skills into small enough steps so that all students are able to record progress in their learning. In some settings, older students do not enjoy having their names so visible in the gym. In this case teachers can keep assessment charts in a 3-ring notebook. Wall charts work well but of course they can't be used for administrative reports.

In this presentation we will distribute printouts from a popular classroom grading program called Grade Machine. As you will see the physical education teacher simply added the key learning objectives for the unit on this spreadsheet-like computer-based grading program. Once the data has been entered it can easily be manipulated in a variety of ways to produce reports on student learning.

Teaching Implications

Implicit in all of the preceding discussion is the belief that as far as possible instruction in PE should be individualized. Individualizing instruction necessitates the use of different teaching strategies from the traditional whole-group, command-style instruction. As will be shown in this presentation, teaching stations offer one possible alternative. But please note - stations demand a lot of organization in terms of charts and equipment. They also only work for teachers who are skilled classroom managers.

For More Information...

1. A 30-minute video shot in WA public schools entitled, Assessing learning in physical education: Motor skills is available for $20.00 including p&p (check payable to CWU - send to Dr. Jefferies). The video won the 1996 Sport Pedagogy Award at AAHPERD. This video provides an overview of assessment that might be useful to share if you are engaged in any curriculum review.

2. PE Central has a web page devoted to assessment - http://pe.central.vt.edu/assessment.html

3. Some books on assessment include: Strand and Wilson's (1993) Assessing sport skills; Hopple's (1994) Teaching for outcomes in elementary PE; and Carroll's (1994) Assessment in physical education.

4. For more information about Grade Machine contact Misty City Software 1-800-795-0049

And if you'd like to contact the presenters for more information...
Dr. Steve Jefferies Prof. Wendy Mustain
509-963-2241 509-963-1929
jefferis@cwu.edu mustainw@cwu.edu

(Revised 10/21/98)



    Page Constructed by Stephen C. Jefferies
    or: jefferis@ellensburg.com