Thursday, April 16, 2015

Performance Tasks, Because Life is not Multiple Choice

Multiple-choice tests are easy to score, and there's a whole science built up around ensuring that results are fairly comparable from school to school and from year to year.  Those are good things.  And yet...

The work students will need to do as adults will be so different. They'll need to create their own solutions, analyzing the problem independently, hunting for their own information, thinking it through, and communicating their conclusions and reasoning effectively.  So I was glad to spot the new, which is promising "articles, discussions, and resources" on some richer ways for students to demonstrate what they know and can do.

In the initial blog post, Jay McTighe offers a definition:
A performance task 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 context.
McTighe also offers four examples of performance tasks students might be asked to take on: one for siting and designing a public park, another for testing a company's claims about its cat litter, a third for choosing where a regional consultant should base her home and office, and the last on developing articles on the role of forensic investigators.

All of those tasks are harder than choosing from prepared answers.  Students have to work harder, and the scorers have to work harder, and public officials using the data have to think harder about the implications.  The trade-off is this: this kind of work offers evidence that really shows whether kids can really do the sorts of things we really want them doing.

Mind, I'm not saying we need to use this kind of task for statewide accountability.   They're expensive, and there's not a lot of public tolerance for the uncertainties that are included in the scoring.  We learned that in the 1990s when Kentucky tried to break new ground with this kind of activity.

Still,  there could be big benefits if we could use this kind of task as evidence for students, parents, teachers, and communities to consider.  We'd have a better idea of what students will know and be able to do as contributors to our shared future.   In those slightly looser uses, we should be open to richer ways of checking for learning and thinking through what's most important in teaching.

From that perspective, is a welcome invitation to new discussion.

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