performance assessments: the why and how

one of the biggest game-changers for our instruction in reading and writing has been implementing the regular use of performance assessments.

in reading, performance assessments as we’ve used them usually involve reading a text aloud to the students (so that any students with decoding issues are able to focus on their comprehension of the text rather than the decoding), and asking them to pause and write their ideas at specific, pre-planned places. you could do a performance assessment to assess students’ thinking for one standard at a time, or ask questions that would assess a variety of standards.

as the teacher, you’ll look through and sort the student responses to the performance assessment to create some flexible groups. you’ll decide to teach mini-lessons to where the majority of the class is, and then do small groups to address the outliers (lower level and higher level groups). you may decide to start by comparing the student work to the standards and figure out how to deepen the work for the standard it matches before attempting to move them to a next step.

creating a continuum of possible responses, and using it during conferences and small groups or even on a whole-class chart makes how to make the move to more complex work clear for students. here’s an example of a whole-class continuum we’ve used for inferring:

rising stars of inference

one way you could use the chart in a small group is to pull a group of students whose performance assessment or writing about their reading shows that they’re doing more literal work. they’re writing about events in the story. their work isn’t on the chart yet, and so the goal of the small group is for them to move to doing some more inferential work, a one star post-it. a few possibilities for how this small group could go:

  • pull the small group and have each student have his performance assessment jotting in his hand. ask them to work with a partner in the group to determine how many stars they’d give their post-it. rotate among the partnerships and provide coaching. once students have realized their post-its don’t match the work on the chart, look together at a one-star post-it and name out what makes it a one star. maybe annotate the mentor example with the different parts so it’s really clear what their job is for a one star post-it. then have students revise their post-it so that it’s one star. students can keep this post-it on a mentor post-its page in their reader’s notebooks and refer to it as they continue to work independently, using it as a model of the work they’re aiming for.
  • pull the small group and show them only the work that’s the next level higher than where they were in the performance assessment, so, in this case, a one star post-it. (you could reveal just this column of the chart to them.) name the characteristics and annotate the mentor post-it if that’s supportive to students in this group. then have students continue reading in their just right books while you rotate and coach them in doing some writing about reading that’s modeled off of the mentor text. at the end of the small group, they can share with a partner and keep their work from the small group on their mentor post-its page in their reader’s notebook to use as an example when reading independently.

a few thoughts about small groups that are done in this way:

  • they’re heterogenous reading-level wise. sometimes, our high level readers are doing low level work. so, doing work like this grounded in the depth of a reading skill is a great way to have students of different reading levels working together. this is especially true because they can bring their own text and practice the work in their own text while you coach them during the small group.
  • it’s important to use ongoing formative assessments beyond the initial performance assessment. often, once a chart like rising stars is introduced, a large chunk of your kids are able to independently and quickly move themselves to higher level work. so, you’ll want to make sure that you have your finger on what they’re currently doing so that you’re not wasting precious teaching time pulling them in a small group when they’ve already moved themselves to higher level work than the small group will address.
  • you’ll want to use your sense of the kids being pulled and your class as a whole when determining your approach to the small groups. if the culture in your room is not about what’s better or worse, but growing stronger always, labeling their work as a one star won’t be a big deal because it’s not permanent – it’s a chance to grow! if kids in your class are more fixed mindset, though, you’ll probably want to try the approach where you show them the one level higher so there’s less talk around a label of what their current work is.

in writing, performance assessments most often look like a writing piece completed at the beginning and end of the unit, as a pre and post assessment of the work. we call these pieces an “on demand” because students have one writing workshop to complete them.

reading the on demand pieces before the unit begins gives us a chance to plan our instruction intentionally. we often use a chart to record the data we gathered from the on demand so that we can see, across the whole class but also within categories or strands, who is missing the work, beginning to use it, or secure with it. here’s an example of a chart we’ve used when reading fantasy on demands: on demand chart .

the work that performance assessments will create for you and your students is endless. not only can you use it as a teacher, and ground your instruction in the data that you’ve collected through the performance assessments, but students can also learn to reflect on their own performance assessments and use a continuum or checklist to set goals and move themselves to next level work.


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