ELA Assessments & Performance Tasks

by Jennifer Jeffers EDCI840 Fall 2015

While this journal article is geared towards librarians in our schools, I appreciate the information Ms. Sarles shares about performance tasks, testing and how librarians can help teachers in a unified goal of student learning and achievement. This article came out prior to the release of the new tests; however, it shares information on what performance tasks are, what they measure and how we can prepare our students for completing them.

I chose an article on performance tasks because they are another way to assess what our students know, as well as because I have not had an opportunity to genuinely work with the performance tasks in ELA. I use math performance tasks in the classrooms approximately every other week, and the information the teachers and I glean on their students' learning, critical thinking capabilities and processing skills are invaluable.

How Performance Tasks Change the Measure of Testing

In the past, our students have taken multiple choice tests that measure content knowledge versus their critical thinking capabilities. In order to accomplish this, students are "tested on how well they perform on a process of learning" (Sarles, 2013, pg. 10). Performance Tasks are a way of measuring this process as students demonstrate their abilities to synthesize their learning

I found the quote in the picture to be fitting because the thought of open-ended testing via performance tasks and constructed responses is intimidating; however, I think about many of my students that struggle at taking multiple choice tests because they either second guess themselves or cannot find their answer among the list of choices as they make a random, often incorrect, guess. With performance tasks, students are demonstrating their skills and thinking--it becomes more about the process versus the product. The students are no longer boxed into a series of choices with only one correct choice, and they are challenged to extend their thinking because performance tasks involve multiple activities.

Performance Tasks and Student Research

While there are several testing companies that utilize some type of performance tasks as a means of measuring student learning, the student expectations within the performance tasks during the assessment process share similarities. For example, both the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARRC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests have a research component that require student inquiry as they investigate a topic using a variety of sources. Even though students may be expected to use a variety of sources, SBAC focuses directly on internet based research essentially neglecting other important means of research, such as the databases found in the library. According to Sarles (2013), "many teachers do not even know about the databases or how to use them until they receive professional development from the librarian" (pg. 13). Regardless of where students are obtaining their research materials, they are going to need stamina and the ability to persevere because according to SBAC, their research performance task is expected to take 125 minutes for students in the 3rd through 8th grade to complete.

Click on the test acronyms to view sample performance tasks for SBAC and PARRC.

Performance Task Assessment Takes Teamwork

When it comes to preparing your students for performance tasks, collaborating with your school librarian and fellow teachers provides one another with invaluable resources. In fact, research indicates that student performance can increase up to 20% when teachers engage in the right kind of professional development (Sarles, 2013, pg. 12).

When I introduced performance task assessments into my math classes, I met with all the teachers, and we discussed what is it we want our students to be able to demonstrate, as well as how we can measure this. We start with the end in mind, and use a problem based learning format (sometimes we get lucky and one is already created that works with our goal) to create a task the students will work through; we always use a rubric to score the tasks. We found that when the students started completing tasks, they didn't understand how to show their thinking as they completed the tasks, so we had the classes score another class' assessments with everyone remaining anonymous. As the students were analyzing their peers' work, we gained insight into what they know and understand based on the comments they left for their peers to read.

Since ELA performance tasks consist of a classroom activity that involves student discussion, independent research and ultimately an essay, teachers could use the problem based learning approach in their classrooms as a means of increasing student learning, increasing stamina and teaching perseverance with many assessment opportunities that include self-assessment, observation, anecdotal notes, summative assessment and formative assessment.


Sarles, P. (2013). The Common Core ELA Assessments: what we know so far about the

performance tasks. Library Media Connection, 32(1), 10-13.