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Teachers Give Tests That Don't Intimidate

`PERFORMANCE-BASED testing allows students to really demonstrate that they understand what they're doing,'' says Jan Coleman, a 7th-grade history teacher at Thornton Junior High School in Fremont, Calif. She is part of the California Assessment Program's pilot project of performance-based teaching and testing in the subjects of history, English, science, and mathematics.

The challenge of teaching history in a more hands-on fashion and testing students by allowing them to perform their knowledge of history has been welcomed by Mrs. Coleman.

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``Performance-based testing,'' she explains in a phone interview, ``allows you to touch the past, you touch artifacts and the literature.... And by doing that, it makes the students better assess where they are right now as part of history themselves.''

Her classes participate in ``history labs'' that provide them with opportunities to research specific items. For example, while studying the Roman Empire, her students were given a coin from that era to research and identify. From this artifact they learned a wide range of information about that period in history.

This form of teaching ``raises a set of questions for them and allows them an avenue to pursue those questions,'' according to Coleman. The students often come back weeks after a test or exercise and tell of new information they have learned on a particular subject.

Coleman points to an additional benefit from this type of teaching and testing. ``The student doesn't confront the normal test anxiety,'' she says. In fact, many teachers involved in these techniques say that students don't really recognize a difference between a test and regular class work. In some cases, students in these classes are even volunteering to take the tests again just for fun.

``There is no difference between what you teach and what you test,'' says Ellen Santora, who teaches 7th- and 8th-grade history at Crittenden Middle School in Mountain View, Calif. ``[Students] don't think that they are learning; they think it's fun,'' she says. Many exercises allow students to work in groups. ``As long as you carefully design it, everybody's involved,'' Ms. Santora says.

Valerie Lake is a science resource specialist at Hubert Bancroft Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif. She teaches performance-based science to grades K-6 as an enrichment to their regular science instruction. Ms. Lake agrees with other teachers who say that performance-based testing provides an opportunity to teach while assessing the students.

``A multiple-choice test is guessing,'' says Ms. Lake. ``With this you can see that they understand.''