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When is an assessment an assessment?

By Jacalyn Lund, Georgia State University


While writing about assessment, people refer to informal and formal assessment. When they use the term, “informal assessment” they usually are referring to teacher observations that are not recorded. In 1995, NASPE defined assessment as “the process of gathering evidence about a student’s level of achievement in a specified subject area and of making inferences based on that evidence for a variety of purposes” p. vii (Moving into the Future: National Standards for Physical Education).  While teacher observations are an important part of assessing students, observations without some type of documentation or evidence are merely part of the teaching process. Teachers use observations all the time prior to giving feedback to their students – by definition, observations without some type of data recording are not assessments.


Several years ago, I worked with a colleague on an assessment study looking at the types of assessments student teachers used. Student teachers kept referring to “teacher observation” for assessment, but then failed to provide any documentation that they had completed an assessment. Our conclusion was that they had not assessed their students. When planning a lesson, teachers should think about how they are going to record student performance.


Why do you need to have written assessment results? For one thing, your observation will be more focused and useful. Developing an assessment requires you to identify specific criteria used for the observation and provides you a good picture of what students have learned. Secondly, when you record assessment information, patterns or trends that you may not have noticed become apparent. You can decide whether the entire class needs more instruction or whether just a few students would benefit.


So how do you convert teacher observations to assessments? Here are some ideas:

  • Recording forms to document what you see (critical elements/correct form).
  • Charts to record game play stats or student performance during drills.
  • Recording sheets for counting, timing and measuring what students are able to do when completing the assessment task.
  • Teachers can also use peer and self-assessments and let students record information about their performances.


By taking this extra step, teachers can convert their observations into assessments that will provide information about whether students have really learned. Teachers will find the information gathered useful as they help students develop skills.


Jacalyn LundJacalyn Lea Lund, PhD, is a professor and the Chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She began her teacher educator career in 1990 following graduation from Ohio State University and had 16 years of teaching experience in public schools prior to that. She has Performance Based Assessment for Middle and High School Physical Educationpresented on assessment at conferences and numerous workshops and has taught many classes on assessment in physical education. She has literally written the book on Performance-Based Assessment for Middle and High School Physical Education. Dr. Lund has been a member of SHAPE America for over 40 years, most recently serving as the association’s president. Dr. Lund loves spending time with her family, dancing, reading, and, as she puts it, “having her dogs take her for a walk.” 

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