Work Sampling System

K-12 Testing

As assessment changes from norm-referenced, multiple-choice tests to performance assessments, the manner in which the results are reported must also change. New reporting methods must correspond with the skills and the abilities identified in performance assessments.


One promising reporting technique is the Work Sampling System. In addition to reporting, it is also a means of documentation and evaluation like the PLR/CLR. It was developed in 1991 when University of Michigan Professor of Education Samuel J. Meisels began, with the help of colleagues Judy Jablon, Dot Marsden, Margo Dichtelmiller and Aviva Dorfman, to apply his theories on the development of young children to a systematic assessment program for students from pre-school to fifth grade.


In the Work Sampling System, three complementary elements are the foundation for recording and reporting student knowledge and development. They are: 1) observations by teachers using Developmental Guidelines and Checklists, 2) collection of children s work in Portfolios, and 3) Summary Reports. The Developmental Guidelines used in teacher observations are based on national content standards and current knowledge of child development. This gives all observations the same basis of description and evaluation. Observations and the collection of materials for portfolios continue throughout the school year. Summary Reports are produced and distributed to parents and students three times a year fall, winter and spring.


According to its promotional material, the Work Sampling System offers a comprehensive means of monitoring children s social, emotional, physical, and academic progress. It does this by improving student motivation; helping teachers gain a perspective on how each student learns; providing information that is specific to each student; accommodating every member of the wide variety of students; and using the three overlapping forms of documentation.


The system is based on seven domains or categories, each with performance indicators: Personal and Social Development (focusing on self identity, the self as a learner, and social development); Language and Literacy ( based on the theory that students learn to read and write the way they learn to speak, naturally and slowly); Mathematical Thinking (focusing on children s approaches to mathematical thinking and problem solving); Scientific Thinking (emphasizing the processes of scientific investigation, because process skills are embedded in and fundamental to all science instruction and content); Social Studies (understanding from personal experience and by learning about the experiences of others); The Arts (focusing on how using and appreciating the arts enables children to demonstrate what they know and to expand their thinking); and, Physical Development (developing fine and gross motor skills and a growing competence to understand and manage personal health and safety).


The Work Sampling System is a continuous assessment format which helps teachers, families and students gain perspective on the student s development and skills over an eight-year period, from ages three to 11. It allows schools to create mixed-age groupings in classrooms if desired, and allows for longitudinal study over time to examine how a child has developed. The continuous use also allows parents and families to become extremely familiar with the assessment system and its benefits.


In its five years of existence, the program has expanded rapidly. The number of classrooms using the system has more than doubled within the last year to more than 3,500 nationwide. Estimates are that narly 100,000 students are enrolled in these classrooms. The Philadelphia School System is using part of its $50 million Annenberg Challenge Grant on staff development for the Work Sampling System. South Carolina and Maryland have contracted for a pilot training program with the eventual goal of making Work Sampling available to all of their kindergarten and early elementary teachers. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is also expanding its program to 700 teachers and principals from all of its schools.


Schools in Boston, Cleveland, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C. and many other districts have been working with the project. The Work Sampling System provides workshops in Ann Arbor and also provides on-site consultations throughout the country to individual school districts.


Work Sampling System developers are aware of the need to inform communities and families of the program and its benefits and to gain support from both the outside community as well as inside the school. They suggest the program be introduced gradually into the classroom, in order for educators, students and families to develop familiarity with it and ensure continuation of the program. Families should be shown how to interpret their children s work. The program acknowledges that it will take time for parents to give up conventional grades, percentile scores and rankings on conventional tests as they learn a new way of looking at and evaluating their children's school work.


In reviewing feedback, Education Week wrote Parents appear to applaud the system. In an informal survey of parents in several Pittsburgh schools, 81 percent said they felt positive about the assessment. Only 8 percent did not like it, while the rest were undecided or gave no response.


We had a lot of parents who wanted grades come hell or high water, said Ms. Austine Fowler (of the Washington, D.C. school district, who) is ... one of the 16 specialists serving on the Work Sampling System s National faculty . But, she added, many parents have since said, Wow, the teachers really know my child, or This is the first time I ve received anything positive about my child. (Education Week, May 3, 1995).


Along with support from parents and families, the program stresses the need for internal support from principals, administrators, and teachers. The program incorporates continuous professional collaboration as well as professional development. Teachers need to be properly educated on how to use the system and should meet regularly with their colleagues to share experiences.


The Work Sampling System understands that alternative assessments represent a basic change in public policy governing education accountability: achievement scores must be replaced by achievements, inferences must give way to observations, and testing to find out what children do not know must be replaced by assessing to find out what children know and can do.


Preliminary research about to be published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly indicates information collected in the Work Sampling System is reliable and valid in measuring children s achievement. In an analysis involving 100 kindergartners, the system proved to be an accurate predictor of performance on individually administered norm-referenced tests (NRT s), even when researchers controlled for the potential effects of gender, age and initial ability. Methods for determining technical quality, independent of NRT s, are only in the developmental stage. The technical quality of alternative assessments needs to be found reliable and valid based on standards which would hold true to the WSS s belief that our metric must change from one that seeks simple increments in annual test scores to one that is concerned with documenting multiple indicators of learning over time.


More information on the Work Sampling System is available from Rebus Planning Associates, Inc., 1103 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48104; 1-00-435-3085.