Responding to Performance Task Assessments in Your PLC

On October 26, PLCs created culminating performance task assessments. The results were fantastic. My next few blog posts will describe examples. I hope you will take from these examples some ideas for your own PLC, along with the motivation to continue and increase this work on your own. The challenge is great, and time is precious, but the work seems well worth the outcome.

PTA in the C&E PLC (OMG)
It took several hours, but the Civics and Economics PLC produced a clever and, more importantly, a meaningful performance task assessment on our 10/26 PD day. Their purpose was to assess students’ understanding of the US Constitution, Supreme Court precedents, and the ways these documents shape legal decisions. In doing so, they assessed students’ recall of information as well as their ability to apply that knowledge and think critically about legal systems. Check out the C&E PTA.

In short, their assessment asked students to take a legal position either for or against Michael, a male student attempting to enroll in an all-women’s college, and defend that position using amendments and SCOTUS cases. It clearly works on multiple levels of Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and provides the PLC with an abundance of information about their students attainment of Common Core and NC Essential Standards.

After a collaborative assessment effort, here’s what they found:
1. Motivated responses. Almost every student, even those who rarely participate in class activities, participated in this written assessment, and many wrote more than the teacher expected.

2. Comprehension: Many students performed better than teachers expected. The underlying assumption seemed to be that students who struggle (or don’t bother to struggle) to memorize the information they are taught would have no chance of applying knowledge to a complex problem. Frequently, students were able to apply knowledge to demonstrate some depth of understanding about a topic, like the First Amendment or Plessy v. Ferguson.

3. Areas of need: The purpose of assessment is to shape future instruction, whether it be remediation, review, or forward progress. C&E teachers could tell which topics, like the First Amendment, their students could recall and understand, and which they could not. They also discovered a specific conceptual shortcoming in most responses. Students applied Plessy v. Ferguson appropriately, except that they failed to understand that the Brown v. Board decision upended Plessy. This information showed the teachers the need to review the Brown case and to clarify, perhaps in another context, what happens when a more recent SCOTUS decision eliminates or modifies an older one. When we talk about depth of understanding, as opposed to breadth of knowledge, this example is exactly what we’re talking about.

4. More of it: The C&E teachers agreed that, though time to work together is painfully rare, they would like to continue with this sort of assessment by creating a PTA for their economics unit. Ultimately, this sort of assessment has tremendous potential. It focuses on depth and works at multiple levels of the taxonomy. When we assess in this way, we will also teach in this way, seeking a depth of understanding and pushing students to apply, analyze, evaluate and create, not just remember. It’s a goal worthy of our pursuit.

Share your own experiences with PLCs and performance task assessments by clicking the comments option above.

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