The Performance Task: A Love Defined

With all the chatter in our professional learning communities, meetings that seem to last for days at district levels, even in our social media groups, the Common Core Standards have become, not just ubiquitous background noise, but the only language we teachers speak. Unfortunately, with the frantic need to implement new standards, often comes a cacophony of negativity. It is hard sometimes to see the value in change. Then, love smacks you right in the face.

I was fortunate to be asked to participate in an online class offered through Stanford University for the sole purpose of helping educators understand and create effective performance assessments.  I was familiar with the concept, having researched Smarter Balance and experimented with one in the classroom last spring. However, I was still wet behind the ears.

Understanding what a performance assessment truly demands is the key to execution.  It is not just an assessment of what students should have learned. It asks students to think and to produce–to demonstrate learning through work authentic to the real world. AUTHENTIC. That is the key. Real life situations. Stanford breaks it down into four key principles a performance task should encompass:

1. Targets skills and knowledge that matter, and preparing for performance assessment improves skills and knowledge that matter.

2. It is assessment for learning and as learning.

3. It links curriculum, instruction and assessment.

4. It is learning by doing.

The performance task is the CCSS curriculum ultimate assessment. It takes students beyond what you taught, in turn, they learn even more on their own They’re not just regurgitating what you hammered at them through lectures and simple practices. They are using what you taught and applying, synthesizing, analyzing and all those great buzz words to actually do and produce something. And isn’t that what we ultimately want?

As I was creating my first CCSS performance task on my own, I started recalling all the great teachers I have worked with over the years. Yeah, this wasn’t anything new. They’ve been doing this stuff for years. That’s why I fell in love with teaching almost 20 years ago. Sure feels good to be in love again.

My first attempt was a culminating activity on The Outsiders. I had students pretend they were an intervention group handing out brochures and giving a speech to the teenagers of the town to stop the violence.  The concept wasn’t bad, but I didn’t do the best job delivering it. The results were mediocre, with only a few standouts. Perhaps the students aren’t used to these types of assessments yet, but really, I’m still learning how to create effective tasks. I’m giving myself a break, knowing I can only get better. New love is always fragile.

Just the other day I read a tweet by Marc Seigel that really nailed it, “If you can Google the question, you need to change the assessment.” Ain’t that the truth? So, embrace the performance assessment. Don’t be afraid to commit to the time it takes to plan and carry out. Don’t be afraid to fail a few times. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Love can hurt, but it can also save your life. 🙂

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