Pennsylvania's High School Culminating Project as Assessment: A Case Study Concerning Validity and Reliability of a Program at a Pennsylvania High School

Anthony T. S Conrad, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Concurrent with the drive for accountability in schools, Pennsylvania has enacted legislation and implemented school reforms in its public high schools. Along with a series of standardized tests (Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, the PSSAs), the state requires that all public high school students demonstrate proficiency by completing a “culminating project” prior to graduation. “The purpose of the culminating project is to assure that students are able to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information and communicate significant knowledge and understanding” (22 Pa. Code, Sec. 4.24, 1999, amended 2002). Standardized testing traditionally maintains valid and reliable assessment of student performance. The culminating project, however, presents a significant challenge in terms of assessment validity and reliability. Individualized and unique exit performance assessments which are conducted on a large-scale raise significant concerns. The question arises—to what degree are these diverse and unique performance assessments a valid and reliable way to determine whether students “are able to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information and communicate significant knowledge and understanding” (PA code) and a legitimate way to award a high school diploma? This case study, conducted at a comprehensive high school in a suburban setting near Philadelphia, examines in detail the school's interpretation of the Pennsylvania reform mandate. Further, it examines developmental and operational aspects of the school's performance assessment program and preliminary results for the 2003 school year. Special emphasis is placed on the validity and reliability of the performance assessment. Participants and stakeholders were surveyed for their first-hand impressions and experiences of the culminating project at the subject high school. Respondents include 11th grade students who are required to present ‘graduation’ projects and their faculty assessors. Analysis and discussion follow about the program design and implementation, communication of directives and expectations, and the use of assessment anchors and rubrics. Several aspects of validity are examined. Inter-rater and Intra-rater reliability issues also surface.

Subject Area

Curriculum development|Secondary education|Educational tests & measurements

Recommended Citation

Conrad, Anthony T. S, "Pennsylvania's High School Culminating Project as Assessment: A Case Study Concerning Validity and Reliability of a Program at a Pennsylvania High School" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179718.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3179718

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