Performance Tasks and Performance Assessment

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Learning has been inextricably linked with "doing" since Aristotle began theorizing and writing about education in Ancient Greece (384 to 322 BC). For the next 2300 years many others have added to this idea, including Benjamin Franklin and educational psychologist, philosopher, and educator John Dewey to name a few. Learning by doing is also a time honoured pedagogy; the apprenticeship model of work and learning traces its origins in our socierty to the household economies of medieval Europe.

One thing is certainly clear. During the process of learning, children obtain content knowledge, acquire skills, develop work habits, and practice the application of all three to “real world” situations. They "perform" authentic tasks during which they learn with feedback and direct instruction from teachers and classmates.

Performance tasks and performance assessment tasks are not a curriculum design. Whereas educators decide what to teach, performance tasks and performance assessment tasks are a better way to deliver curriculum. Because authentic tasks are rooted in curriculum, teachers can develop tasks based on what already works for them. Through this process, classroom learning experiences and assignments become more authentic and more meaningful to students. Through these meaningful and engaging performance tasks, students acquire and apply their knowledge, skills, and work habits, extending additional fact-and-skill instruction to more powerful learning.

A performance task, then, is any learning activity or assessment that asks students to perform to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and proficiency. Performance tasks yield a tangible product and/or performance that serve as evidence of learning. Unlike a selected-response item (e.g., multiple-choice or matching) that asks students to select from given alternatives, a performance task presents a situation that calls for learners to apply their learning in a context.

Performance tasks are routinely used in certain disciplines, such as the visual and performing arts, physical education, and career-technology where performance is the natural focus of instruction. Education researcher and scholar Jay McTighe affirms that such tasks can (and should) be used in every subject area and at all grade levels (McTighe, What Is A Performance Task, April 10 2015, retrieved online from http://www.performancetask.com/what-is-a-performance-task/ ).

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The Goal of Teaching Is Knowing and Doing

Performance tasks must build on students' existing content knowledge, process skills, and work habits and are strategically placed in the lesson or unit to enhance learning as the student “pulls it all together.” Such performance tasks are not “add-ons” at the end of instruction. They are both an integral part of the learning and an opportunity to assess the quality of student performance. When the goal of teaching and learning is knowing and doing, the performance-based classroom emerges.

Two of the concerns of teachers moving toward performance-based classrooms are the amount of time needed for performance tasks and the subjectivity traditionally associated with teacher assessment and assigning “grades.”

First, performance tasks may range from short activities taking only a few minutes to projects culminating in polished products for audiences in and outside of the classroom. In the beginning, most performance tasks should fall on the short end of the continuum. Furthermore, most teachers find that many activities they are already doing can be shaped into performance-learning tasks.

Second, performances tasks are relatively easy to assess with the use of rubrics and examplars or learning goals with clear success criteria. Furthermore, peformance assessments often cover multiple subject strands, and they invite student self-assessment and goal-setting.

The Importance of Performance Tasks

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This cartoon, drawn by 31-year-old Randall Munroe, is a testament to the power and importance of performance-based learning. It makes the point that he learned more about orbital mechanics by playing the Kerbal Space Program simulation game than during from working at NASA, his university physics degree, or high school physics. 

"I've had a long term interest in space, and an undergraduate degree in physics, and I Iearned far more about orbital mechanics by playing Kerbal Space Program than through my education. It makes orbital mechanics intuitive. Coincidentally, the program has been under development for years, and is scheduled to launch Version 1.0 on Monday (April 27 2015)."

In the classroom, performance tasks and performance assessment tasks anchor curricular units because they function as a target or a learning goal which, in turn, guides instruction and illuminates student needs, such as targeted instruction and feedback. (Ontario Ministry of Education, Growing Success, 2010, pp32, 39)

Performance assessment tasks prevent teachers from falling into the habit of thinking like activity designers, and instead encourage teachers to think like assessors and instruction designers.

Performance Assessment tasks should contain no surprises for students. In other words, students should know, understand, and be able to do the sub-tasks before attempting the performance assessment, or they should be able to do them with scaffolding and direct instruction in the form of mini-lessons or feedback provided by teachers during the process. As a rule, a great deal of teaching and practice of sub-skills should have taken place in the classroom before students attempt the performance assessment task.

Performance Assessment tasks must be transparent and provide students with a “road map” which enables them to succeed at Level 4. In other words, these tasks should be presented to students with clear success criteria.

The purpose of evaluation tasks is to rank students, assign grades and marks, and report student achievement. These activities do nothing to improve student achievement.

Evaluation tasks, compared to formative assessment tasks, should be used sparingly throughout the year.

Evaluation tasks should be based on the concept of the triangulation of data (create-write, say, do) to ensure that they are accurate, balanced, and fair. See Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, Growing Success, pp6, 34, 39 at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf 

Evaluation should be reported with care and sensitivity, should confirm the trend in achievement that a student has demonstrated over time, and should contain no surprises for students or parents. (Damian Cooper, 2007, Talk About Assessment; Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2005, Understanding by Design; Lorna Earl, Classroom Assessment for Deep Understanding,2004; Keith Leithwood, et. al., Teaching for Deep Understanding: Towards the Ontario Curriculum That We Need, 2004).

Tips for Constructing a Performance Task

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In their book, Understanding by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe have developed a process for developing performance assessment tasks and accompanying rubrics. They have summarized their process in the form of an acronym: G.R.A.S.P.S.: goal, role, audience, situation, product, and standards for success.

These experts recommend starting by creating a performance “scenario” using a set of stem statements which they have created. They have also provide a list of idea starters to help brainstorm possible scenarios. (Note: Resist the urge to fill in all of the blanks.)

Goal:

  • Your task is
  • The goal is to
  • The problem/challenge is
  •  The obstacle(s) to overcome is (are)

Role:

  • You are
  • You have been asked to
  • Your job is

 Audience:

  • Your client(s) is (are)
  • The target audience is
  • You need to convince

 Situation:

  • The context you find yourself in is
  • The challenge involves dealing it

 Product, Performance and Purpose:

  • You will create a
  • ... in order to ...
  • You also need to develop
  • ... so that ...

 Standards, Expectations, and Criteria for Success:

  •  Your performance needs to
  •  Your work will be judged by
  •  Your product must meet the following standards
  •  A successful result will

 

Sample Performance Task Scenario Using G.R.A.S.P.S.

(Mathematics example)

Goal:

The goal (within the scenario) is to minimize costs for shipping bulk quantities of M&Ms.

Role:

You are an engineer in the packaging department of the M&M Candy Company. 

Audience:

The target audience is non‑engineer company executives.

Situation:

You need to convince penny‑pinching company officers that your container design will provide cost‑effective use of the given materials, maximize shipping volume of bulk quantities of M&Ms, and be safe to transport.

Product, Performance and Purpose:

You need to design a shipping container from given materials for the safe and cost‑effective shipping of the M&Ms. Then you will prepare a written proposal in which you include a diagram and show mathematically how your container design provides effective use of the given materials and maximizes the shipping volume of the M&Ms.

Standards for Success:

Your container proposal should...

  • provide cost‑effective use of the given materials
  • maximize shipping volume of bulk quantities of M&Ms –
  • be safe to transport

Your models must make the mathematical case.

(Jay MeTighe and Grant Wiggins, Understanding by Design, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), 2005.)

 

Sample Performance Task Scenario Using G.R.A.S.P.S.

(Social Studies example)

Goal:

Your goal is to help a group of foreign visitors understand the key historic, geographic and economic features of our region.

 Role:

You are an intern at the Regional Office of Tourism.

Audience:

The audience is a group of nine foreign visitors (who speak English).

Situation:

You have been asked to develop a plan, including a budget, for a four‑day tour of the region. Plan your tour so that the visitors are shown sites that best illustrate the key historical, geographic and economic features of our region.

Product, Performance and Purpose:

You need to prepare a written tour itinerary and a budget for the trip. You should include an explanation of why each site was selected and how it will help the visitors understand the key historic, geographic and economic features of our region. Include a map tracing the route for the tour.  [Optional: Provide a budget for the trip]*

Standards for Success:

Your proposed tour plan needs to include...

  • an itinerary and route map
  • the key historical, geographic and economic features of the region
  • a clear rationale for the selected sites
  • accurate and complete budget figures

 (Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, Understanding by Design, ASCD, 2005)

 Possible Student Roles and Audiences

actor

advertiser

artist/illustrator

author

biographer

board member

boss

boy/girl scout

businessperson

candidate

carpenter

cartoon character

cartoonist

caterer

celebrity

chairperson

chef

choreographer

CEO

coach

community members

composer

clients/customer

construction worker

dancer

designer

detective

editor

elected official

embassy staff

engineer

expert (in ________)

eye witness

family member

farmer

filmmaker

fire fighter

forest ranger

friend

geologist

government official

historian

historical figure

illustrator

intern

interviewer

inventor

judge

jury

lawyer

library patron

literary critic

lobbyist

meteorologist

museum director/ curator museum goer

neighbor

newscaster

novelist

nutritionist

panelist

parent

park ranger

pen pal

photographer

pilot

playwright

poet

police officer

pollster

radio listener

reader

reporter

researcher

reviewer

sailor

school official

scientist

ship's captain

social scientist

social worker

statistician

storyteller

student

taxi driver

teacher

t.v. viewer

tour guide

trainer

travel agent

traveler

t.v./movie character

tutor

viewer

visitor

website designer

zoo keeper

(Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, ASCD, 2005)

 Possible Products and Performances

Next, Wiggins and McTighe suggest teachers consider what student product(s) and/or performance(s) will provide appropriate evidence of understanding and/or proficiency.

In their book, they provide the following lists offer possibilities.They remind us that student products and performances should be framed by an explicit purpose or goal and an identified audience. 

Written

Oral

Visual

 

advertisement

biography

book report/review

brochure

collection

crossword puzzle

editorial

essay

experiment

record

historical fiction

journal

lab report

letter

log

magazine article

memo

newscast

newspaper article

play

poem

position paper

proposal

research report

script

story

test

web site

audiotape

conversation

debate

discussion

dramatization

dramatic reading

interview

radio script

oral presentation

oral report

poetry reading

puppet show

rap

skit

speech

song

 teach a lesson

advertisement

banner

cartoon

collage

computer graphic

data display

design

diagram

diorama

display

drawing

fiImstrip

flyer

game

graph

map

model

Power Point show photograph

questionnaire

painting

poster

scrapbook

sculpture

slide show

storyboard

videotape

(Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, ASCD, 2005)

Descriptive Terms for Differences in Degree

Wiggins and McTighe have also provided the following general terms to describe differences in degree when constructing a "first time" scoring rubric with a 4‑point scale. According to them, an analysis of student work once the rubric has been applied will yield more precise descriptive language and/or a rubric with more gradations.

Degrees of Understanding

  • thorough/complete
  • substantial
  • partial/incomplete
  • misunderstanding/    

            serious misconceptions

 

 

 

Degrees of Frequency

  • always/consistently
  • frequently/generally
  • sometimes/occasionally
  • rarely/never

Degrees of Effectiveness

  • highly effective
  • generally effective
  • somewhat effective   
  • ineffective

 

 

 

 

Degrees of Independence

student successfully completes the task:

  • independently
  • w/ minimal assistance
  • w/ moderate assistance
  • only w/ considerable assistance

Degrees of Accuracy

  • completely accurate; all _____ (facts, concepts, mechanics, computations) correct
  • generally accurate; minor inaccuracies do not affect overall result
  • inaccurate; numerous errors detract from result
  • major inaccuracies; significant errors throughout

 

 

 

 

Degrees of Clarity

  • exceptionally clear; easy to follow
  • generally clear; able to follow
  • lacks clarity; difficult to fol­low
  • unclear impossible to follow

(Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, ASCD, 2005)                                                    

Assessment Criteria and Rubric Ideas 

Criteria for assessing understanding performance tasks must also be considered. Wiggins and McTighe point out that the challenge is to ensure that teachers assess what is central to the understanding, not just what is easy to score. In addition, they explain that teachers need to make sure that they/we identify the separate traits of performance (e.g. a paper can be well‑organized but not informative and vice versa) to ensure that the student gets specific and valid feedback. Finally, we need to make sure that we consider the different types of criteria (e.g. the quality of the understanding vs. the quality of the performance in which it is revealed). They provide generic ideas for assessment criteria below. 

Four types of performance criteria (with sample indicators)

content

process

quality

result

 

Describes the degree of knowledge of factual information or understanding of concepts, principles, and processes.

Describes the degree of skill/proficiency.  Also refers to the effectiveness of the process or method used.

Describes the degree of quality evident in products and performances.

Describes the over­all impact and the extent to which goals, purposes, or

results are achieved.

 

Accurate

Appropriate

Authentic

Complete

Correct

Credible

Explained

Justified

Important

In‑depth

Insightful

Logical

Makes connections

Precise

Relevant

Sophisticated

Supported

Thorough

Valid

 

Careful

Clever

Coherent

Collaborative

Concise

Coordinated

Effective

Efficient

Flawless

Followed process

Logical/reasoned

Mechanically correct

Methodical

Meticulous

Organized

Planned

Purposeful

Rehearsed

Sequential

Skilled

Attractive

Competent

Creative

Detailed

Extensive

Focused

Graceful

Masterful

Organized

Polished

Proficient

Precise

Neat

Novel

Rigorous

Skilled

Stylish

Smooth

Unique

Well‑crafted

Beneficial

Conclusive

Convincing

Decisive

Effective

Engaging

Entertaining

Informative

Inspiring

Meets standards

Memorable

Moving

Persuasive

Proven

Responsive

Satisfactory

Satisfying

Significant

Useful

Understood

(Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, ASCD, 2005)