Our Journey: Developing Authentic Performance Assessments

Featured

By Annie Evans @mapM8Ker and Kelley Aitken @Teachsci4all 

VaSCL Task Bank Coordinators and Project-based Learning Coaches 

Four years ago, we began our journey into the world of performance assessments when the Virginia Assembly passed legislation removing the state SOL test from several courses and replacing them with “Local Authentic Assessments.”  At that time, no one really understood or agreed what a local, authentic assessment was or how to create them. So we created a “rogue” group, now known as the VaSCL Task Bank, that agreed to band together and support one another as we explored the unchartered world of performance assessments.

That first year we begged previous test bank writers to join our group.  We knew we needed to develop assessments for grade 3 Science and Social Studies, 5th-grade Writing and middle grades US History I and US History II, but at the time we could not even agree on what exactly a performance assessment should look like and how we would evaluate student work.  Should we follow the Stanford SCALE model? Are we using GRASP or RAFT? It seemed at the time that there were more questions than answers, but at least we had a team to support one another. The VDOE guidelines were still in the process of being articulated, so we were “flying the airplane as we were building it” for sure!

Looking back now on some of those earlier tasks we wrote, we recognize these were not great examples. Our students (aka early “guinea pigs!”) and division leaders were supportive of our work, and we were lucky to partner very early on with many partner organizations such the Virginia Science Education Leadership Association,  the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium, and later our “heroes” Jay McTighe and Chris Gareis. While most of the early tasks and rubrics have long been “retired,” we wouldn’t trade that experience for anything because it helped us work out a lot of important issues and concerns we had about SOLs vs student growth. In addition, we gained valuable information on how students can develop skills through frequent formative assessments/tasks vs. showing proficiency as it applied to previous summative assessments.  

Through these meetings, we developed a common language and through our work with VaSCL were able to help influence how performance assessments were defined across the state.  VaSCL provided an opportunity for our partner divisions to have a voice at the table as VDOE was redefining assessments across the state. Perhaps the most important part of this process has been the transformation we have seen in improvements to Tier 1 instruction.  We quickly learned that before we can see our students succeed on a performance assessment, instruction must change and teachers have to focus on teaching skills instead of emphasizing the memorization of a finite set of facts.

Throughout the process, our focus has been on developing teams and creating resources to share with all partner divisions.  We have found that examining student work and collecting a wide variety of work samples has been the most beneficial way to improve our tasks and rubrics. Now we are begining to assemble anchor sets of examples and non-examples to help teachers assess student work and move toward interrater reliability.  Tasks and rubrics have been organized into an interactive Google Site and protocols have been developed for sharing locally developed performance assessments, piloting tasks and rubrics, and collecting student work samples.

Moving forward, we are hoping more divisions will be willing to send adventurous educators to join our expanding task bank team ( we now have task banks for Virginia Studies, Civics, 11th-grade writing, and World History!!). We need VaSCL divisions to encourage and support teachers to pilot tasks and provide feedback and we need samples of student work to help us refine our tasks and rubrics and create anchor sets. More importantly, we need school administrators and division leaders to continue to support our work and give teachers and students permission to try new ways of teaching and learning and assessing, even if it is messy in the beginning.  This is all part of the process and on the other side of this we are seeing teachers and students being engaged, skills being taught and refined, and first instruction in the classroom improve.

We are nowhere near the end of this journey, and many of our VaSCL team members are just starting on their own journeys — luckily we have a few experienced “tour guides” to help them begin to find their way. Please join us on this journey; there is plenty of room for you join us!  

To find out more about joining the Virginia School Consortium for Learning and getting involved in the Test and Task Bank work  click here 

Sources:

SCALE (Stanford Center for Assessment Learning and Equity)

GRASPS (Jay McTighe/Grant Wiggins) 

RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) Nancy Vandervanter, in Adler, 1982.