ESSA and the future of performance task assessments

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has opened the door for many developments and innovations in the way we assess students and educators, and, as we get closer to the start of ESSA implementation during the 2017-18 school year, more and more changes will be revealed. One of the changes being discussed across the country is the use of performance tasks with student assessment in place of traditional and standardized tests.

Simply put, performance tasks are anything other than multiple choice tests. Going beyond traditional fact-and-skill instruction and evaluation, performance tasks ask students to apply their knowledge in real-world and authentic ways. Instead of having students take a test on the novel that they’ve just read and discussed, the teacher would asks the students to demonstrate their knowledge by conducting mock interviews with characters, focusing on a specific literary element or constructing a comparison between the novel and a modern adaptation. Performance tasks can be used in every field of study and allow teachers to assess and students to demonstrate a greater depth of knowledge than traditional testing methods permit.

Additional benefits of performance task assessments:

  • The 21st Century skills of Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity can be emphasized while performing cross curriculum skills.
  • Performance tasks support students in developing the skills required to be successful in a rapidly changing global economy.
  • Formative assessment processes embedded in complex extended tasks are seamlessly included in the instruction.
  • Complex performance tasks can engage students in solving real world problems over a period of a week or more.

New Hampshire is the first state to have initiate a performance assessment program with their Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) pilot program. Schools across the state have the opportunity to apply to the pilot program. According to the New Hampshire Department of Education, “PACE implementing districts will give the Smarter Balanced assessment once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school – in three grades instead of seven. In all other years, the PACE districts will administer carefully designed common and local ‘performance assessments’ developed by the districts themselves, and validated at the state level.” This shift is revolutionary and may set a precedent for districts across the country.

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