The Purpose of the Performance Assessment
While the running record assesses the reading comprehension of a child through snapshots that indicate a just right reading zone, performance assessments assess an independent ability to think. Often times teachers will say to me that all of their students comprehend far below grade level, and I will look at the running record data and find a majority are actually reading on or above grade level. The students don’t necessarily need reading comprehension strategies or lower level texts; they need support to strengthen their thinking about reading. Those are a completely different set of skills.
I have heard many times that pre assessments are a waste of time. However, the purpose of the performance assessment is to guide decisions about small group instruction, additional minilessons, and even read aloud choices.
Using the Learning Progressions to Differentiate
A performance assessment will focus on a small number of specific skills like inferring about character. By matching the thinking to the learning progressions, teachers can determine at what level individuals are thinking about reading for 2-4 skills at a time and use that information to determine what strategies students need to grow their thinking.
We might also find through the performance assessment that a student’s thinking level is higher than their independent reading level. It is just as crucial to take this into account when meeting needs. That’s where read alouds and guided practice come in. These readers can still be given opportunities for thinking about reading and practicing these skills with a text they may not have been able to access independently, and they need these opportunities.
When we look only at independent reading comprehension or at independent thinking without also looking at the other, and we do not provide the differentiated instruction and opportunities to meet readers where they are, we are doing a huge disservice to them.
That is why using performance assessments to inform instruction is a powerful tool. One note of warning, however. Learners need a space for approximation. Don’t feel the need to assess and grade everything. Practicing skills can be clumsy, but we want kids to know that it’s okay to not have perfect notebook entries every day as they practice skills. Feedback not evaluation is important for growth.
Taking Ownership of Growth
One strategy to help learners take ownership of their growth is to invite them into the process. If they are writing about character, for example, use the learning progressions to show the good, better and best and determine where their current thinking sits and what they need to do to grow their thinking.
When you understand the purpose of any assessment and how it can work for you and your students, it becomes more valuable. Performance assessments provide us with very clear data that shows us exactly where kids are in their thinking and what they need next. While we want our students to be strong readers, we also need them to be strong readers who can think.