CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.
Transformation Through Performance Assessments: Attleboro High School
Attleboro High School was one of the first schools to join MCIEA when the consortium formed in 2016, and since then the school has grown quite a bit, incorporating performance assessments into all of its departments. This drive for performance assessments aligned perfectly with Attleboro Public Schools' initiative to create a curriculum that is relevant to all students and boosts engagement. A lot goes into creating cross-departmental support for performance assessments, though. Here's how Attleboro High School is making strides in that area.
Attleboro High School began their performance assessment work by sending six teachers from English, Math, and Science to MCIEA institutes. That quickly expanded in the coming months to 20 teachers, with more engaging in performance assessment professional development back at the school. Attleboro High School succeeded in having every teacher develop a performance assessment by the end of 2018. To achieve this, the school relied on professional development from MCIEA coaching, while adapting their learning to Attleboro High School’s unique needs. The staff zeroed in on tuning, validation, and calibration activities to ensure that their performance assessments were of high quality. To cap it all off, students and teachers had the opportunity to showcase these performance assessments through evening events highlighting Attleboro High School’s progress towards performance assessment implementation.
Attleboro High School’s goal throughout has been to ensure instruction and assessment are relevant and engaging to all students. The district as a whole is focused on building out inclusive practices and recognizing that each student learns differently.
"[Quality Performance Assessment] fits under our district focus of inclusive practices and recognizing that different students learn in different ways, and we should give them myriad opportunities to demonstrate their learning. Not just through perhaps a multiple choice test," says Attleboro High School assistant principal Kevin Gorman.
As a result of this particular focus, the school has seen success across grades and departments in implementing performance assessments. Students at Attleboro High School have engaged in mock-trials, traveling to the local courthouse to compete against other districts in court cases. Meanwhile, in social studies classes, students are taking on environmental issues, going out into the community and meeting with civic leaders and legislators to discuss climate change and urban development issues. Attleboro High School even leads a class on the UN’s 2030 initiatives about global warming, engaging students in advocacy that’s packaged as a performance assessment.
While performance assessments give students more opportunity to present what they know and explore their own learning, the assessments also present a significant change in instructional design. Teachers at Attleboro High School said that there was a learning curve in shifting from teacher-led instruction to student-centered instruction. With students at the center, teachers give up a bit of control, so classroom expectations have to be clearly communicated. Teachers had to find ways to ensure in-class work time was productive.
“Getting kids to work together, getting kids to plan out, getting kids to pick topics that they are interested in, that is a little bit intimidating to some students,” says Gorman. “Sometimes kids are like, ‘Just tell me what to do and I'll do it.’ On the other hand, some students love it. They’ll say, ‘I know exactly what I'm going to do and this is how I'm going to do it.’”
Teachers, too, need to have a direction for creating performance assessments. Gorman recommends that schools have a focused roll-out plan. Have achievable goals and make the time for professional development, but don’t do too much at once. Allow teachers to work at their own pace and comfort level. Now that each teacher has created a performance assessment, the school is moving on to the next step—assessing the assessments. Gorman explains:
"Now that we've created the performance assessments, how can we ensure that they're measuring or focusing on the skills we want to focus on? So now we've introduced the stage of assessing the assessments. Does this rubric really measure what we want it to? It's led us to conversations where we're like, 'So we're grading them on neatness and critical thinking? Should those things be weighed equally?' And some teachers—there's a wide variety of opinions there. There are interesting conversations for sure."
Going step by step, focusing on one bite-sized aspect of the performance assessment at a time, the school is making considerable progress in this work. "I think that is kind of where we are right now," Gorman says. "Keep the quality high, and slowly and strategically expand when and where appropriate."
Now that each teacher at Attleboro High School has tried their hand at designing a performance assessment, the school wants to keep that momentum going. As Attleboro High School’s capacity for performance assessment design and implementation expands, the school hopes to involve the community more and get more students out of the classroom to engage in opportunities with local organizations and businesses.
"I think [performance assessments] have a future. We'd like to continue to evolve and expand," Gorman reflects.