Why assessing differentiation in the curriculum with technology is difficult…

Picture a traditional PDHPE Assessment task with the aim of demonstrating deep knowledge and deep understanding of these key ‘learn to’ statements from the syllabus:

Participate in a range of movement activities that demonstrate and enhance their ability to:

  • understand the influence of purpose when composing movement
  • respond creatively to stimuli, eg music, ideas, player movements
  • improvise movements to solve problems, eg defending or attacking strategies, expressing ideas
  • communicate or achieve a set purpose using different subject matter, eg ideas from growing and changing, music
  • combine simple movement patterns into logical sequences or phrases

Participate in individual and group movement activities which:

  • demonstrate their ability to use space in different movement contexts
  • explore force and flow
  • use self-paced and externally-paced movements to explore rhythm and timing
  • explore relationships, eg with a partner/group/team member, opposition players, equipment and apparatus, the performance environment

Source: http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/syllabus_sc/#pdhpe (4/8/2010)

In a traditional assessment task, another criterion for the purpose of assessment would be added, something like: “Perform a dance in the Hall on the allocated day of the assessment task”. The students dutifully prepare for and complete the assessment task performing a dance that demonstrates their understanding of the above curriculum statements. And as you predicted you get this lovely bell curve, which makes you feel safe because it reinforced your view that some people can and can’t dance. I would expect the extremes of your bell curve will look something like these:


Some reflective questions:

  • Where do the two “curriculum” statements say “perform a dance”?
  • Does the task enable all students to have reasonable chance at demonstrating the specific curriculum outcomes?
  • Where did the requirement to enforce a “Dance” come from? (I’m pretty sure that syllabus was replaced in 2004)
  • How does forcing a student that knows he can’t dance to dance, connect him to the broader syllabus learn to’s and learn about’s specifically in the context of holistic student development?
  • What will the impact be on the teacher student relationship post this task? Will that change in relationship dynamics have a greater impact on his learning and connectedness to the school and learning?

Technology enables students to demonstrate deep knowledge and deep understanding in different ways (Kimbera, Pillaya, & Richards 2005). So image we replaced the “Perform a dance in the Hall on the allocated day of the assessment task” with “Using any medium present a dance piece on the completion day, a piece includes either a physical performance or a pre-prepared multimedia piece”. A small change in the assessment task could result in extremes of your bell curve like these:




The problem is my bell curve is sick, it’s wrong, infact it’s not a bell at all! It’s skewed and doesn’t conform, I need a statistician to manipulate my data so I can see a bell curve. The assessment task must be wrong! Star wars boy and his two left feet composed this brilliant piece in xtranormal demonstrating his understanding of space, timing and stimulus, HE CAN’T DANCE! Students achieving outcomes they never could before, it’s such a problem isn’t it…

I wonder, what would happen if we removed the non-curricular criterion from our assessment tasks and enabled students to truly demonstrate their deep understanding and deep knowledge?

I wonder, what will happen when low achieving students suddenly start to achieve, just because we removed a barrier?

I wonder, is dance really a metaphor for hand written tasks, traditional word documents and traditional PowerPoint presentations?

4 thoughts on “Why assessing differentiation in the curriculum with technology is difficult…

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why assessing differentiation in the curriculum with technology is difficult… | Inter.Connect.Ed -- Topsy.com

  2. Very interesting ideas, but I am not sure I understand the implications. What about the validity of the assessment claims we make? Someone might argue that the activities you describe refer to different tasks and different sets of abilities, skills and types of knowledge, therefore they should be assessed through different methods and using different criteria, and ideally by different evaluators. Surely dancing in a real physical context involves a certain proprioceptive awareness (i.e. awareness of your own body in space), just to mention one aspect, whereas the ability to create and manipulate digital media involves other sets of skills and knowledge? ?
    Beyond the artificial curricular distinctions and the stilted assessment methods that derive from them, there are real, natural boundaries within domains. If you remove them altogether you lose any entitlement to make meaningful inferences about learners, because, putting it bluntly, your assessment is not valid. You use the same tool and the same observational methods to assess different things.
    You say
    ”what would happen if we removed the non-curricular criterion from our assessment tasks and enabled students to truly demonstrate their deep understanding and deep knowledge? “
    This sounds great, but “understanding and knowledge” about what exactly?
    I apologise if I misinterpreted your point.

  3. I really like this post Ben. I agree with Carlo that there are different skills involved so perhaps it is possible to create a type of assessment that does analyse different types of skills. However I think the distinctions that can be made are less clear than we first think.

    Also I think there are cognitive and metacognitive strategies involved that may account for the difference. There doesn’t really seem to be space on the rubric for that kind assessment and I wonder where it fits.

    I have noticed that the idea of creativity or imagination is in many rubrics but how is this actually measured. How is it measured even in the HSC?

  4. Ben, interesting thoughts and an interesting reply from Carlo. I guess we argue here exactly what we are assessing. Is the proprioception Carlo mentioned an identifiable component of assessment for the course. I know in the Qld syllabus actual physical movement is 50% of the grade therefore could not be substituted for a digital performance. For Qld teachers though your ideas certainly should have us questioning the habitual application of written assessment, especially as the updated syllabus (which is to be implemented in 2011) calls for one piece of multimodal assessment.

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