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Multiple intelligences represent the kinds of content students will find in the world. Learning styles embody the different ways people think as they learn, solve problems, and interact. Thus, it should come as little surprise that proponents of both models stress the need for assessment that emphasizes real-world applications and that favors realistic performances over out-of-context drill items. Howard Gardner (1997) argues for assessment practices that look “directly at the performance that we value, whether it's a linguistic, logical, aesthetic, or social performance” (pp. 12–13). Learning style expert Richard Strong (1999) similarly sees performance as central to probing students' understanding. He claims, “At the root of these assessments is performance. Such assessments require students to generate—rather than choose—a response, and to actively accomplish complex tasks while bringing to bear prior knowledge, new learning, and relevant skills” (Keynote at the 1999 National Conference on Standards and Assessment, Las Vegas, Nevada).
What Is Performance Assessment?
What if pilots could receive certification just by getting good grades on short-answer tests? Have you ever heard of a shortstop who could “knock 'em dead” on any written test on baseball, but didn't know how to swing a bat, field a grounder, or throw a ball? What if doctors never worked with patients during their training and learned about the nature, causes, and treatments of illness only by perusing medical textbooks? Surely, the expectation for members of vocations is that they can demonstrate their competence, that they will know how to perform well and complete tasks that are central to their chosen careers. Yet in many schools, assessment means asking students to take short-answer or multiple-choice tests that focus on monitoring students' factual knowledge, rather than on helping them better understand how their learning and their talents are applied in the world that awaits them. If we expect to assess students' understanding, then we need an assessment system that is driven by realistic problems and questions that make up the disciplines students learn and that asks students to engage in authentic and motivating work around these problems and questions. In the philosophy of performance assessment, to study biology is to think, act, and perform like a biologist—to conduct inquiries, test ideas, build arguments, analyze data, and compare and contrast organisms—much more than it is to commit the types of protozoa to short-term memory for a test.