The Use of RAFTS In Performance Task Assessments

As a language arts teacher, determining the difference between written response assessments vs. written performance task assessments is still a difficult undertaking for me. Just when I feel as if I have a grasp of the salient features that distinguish these two assessment types, my moment of clarity is once again clouded with uncertainty. The blame is decidedly mine. Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis and Arter (2012) include clear and concise guidelines for their use: to assess skill and product learning targets, and some forms of reasoning. The difference is further delineated as “Written responses call for composition of original text. Performance assessments can call for an infinite array of products, performances, or demonstrations” , and performance tasks are designed to “elicit the correct demonstration or artifact from the student so that it can be assessed by the rubric” (Chappuis et. al. 2012, p. 210). In essence, performance assessments focus on quality of the product or performance within the context of the task. However, Chappuis et. al. (2012) do concede that it can be difficult to demarcate between the two learning targets when the quality of writing (form) is to be evaluated.

After taking a close look at the Smarter Balanced Assessment Grade 4 performance task assessment, I can whole heartedly agree with the statement by Chappuis et. al ( 2012) that once created, performance assessment tasks should be reusable considering the enormous undertaking required in their creation. Moreover, given my continued uncertainty surrounding written performance assessment task, I found the RAFTS Writing Task Design (Figure 7.4, p. 218) a leg to stand on. Chappuis et. al. (2012) tells us that sometimes students benefit from the clarity present in the RAFTS questions; “When a task is intended to measure writing learning targets, we can use a more explicit formula in its design” (p. 218)

  • What is my role?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What is the format?
  • What is the topic?
  • What is the purpose?

I thought it would be useful to repurpose one of my performance task assessments from last year, a Grade 8 unit on the novel Speak, using RAFTS. I have to mention that considering what I have learned in this class thus far, it is difficult for me to post my original thinking related to this unit; I see all the glaring deficiencies and points of badly needed improvement. But in the spirit of self-reflection, I have managed to put aside my insecurities in the spirit of full-disclosure. In my original unit, I developed numerous formative and summative assessments, including all learning target types (reasoning, knowledge, product, and skill); I will be deconstructing and repurposing each of these pieces as my final portfolio piece for this class.

The performance task I am using today is an oral presentation born out of a two-fold process; the creation of a product Artistic Piece and a reasoning written response Artistic Analysis Essay_. Essentially, students were to create a product, then analyze it in an essay. The final step was to present their product and analysis orally to the class. Now is probably a useful time to provide a brief explanation of  “hat word” both in the novel and in class assessment. In the novel Speak, a fellow student raped the main character, Melinda, shortly before the beginning of her freshman year. As the ramifications of what happened sink in, she disconnects from those around her and loses her ability to speak, quite literally. Melinda’s only refuge is art class where at the beginning of the year, her teacher has her draw a name “tree” out of a hat; this is her special hat word art project for the year and is the impetus of her eventual healing. In class, each student randomly drew a word out of a hat. Each students’ hat words was their lens that they were responsible for analyzing the novel through; students were to keep their word secret, and they actually did! After completing the novel, students created an artistic piece representative of their hat word in addition to writing an essay that in part, deconstructed their artistic piece while discussing their intent as an artist to convey their hat word. The artistic pieces that came out of this project were truly astounding; it is times like these that I wish I wasn’t moving from continent to continent and actually had a means to keep examples of student work. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20; I should have taken pictures so I have a digital record, but I didn’t.

Chappuis et. al. note writer Donald Murray’s lament that it is the fault of the teacher when students exhibit poor writing, based on the generation of poor instructions. I found the RAFTS formula useful in creating clarity in my instructions; I created a new oral presentation performance task handout using RAFTS as my guide. What I particularly like about RAFTS is that I have a visual perspective of precisely what do good instructions look like? Typically, I spend much time and perspiration, attempting to create an explanation of what I’m looking for that will answer all potential student questions while placing the writing task in context; clearly, I am not always successful.

One of the questions I struggled with was purpose. Was the purpose of the task to ask students to describe Melinda’s experiences (to narrate) or to describe/discuss their artistic piece (to inform)? After much debate, I decided that their purpose was to use their artistic piece as the medium to inform the students in Melinda’s art class about Melinda’s “artistic decisions” in relation to their artistic piece. This would in turn, convey her disposition (or hat word) during the novel. I have used the Activity 7-2 Rubric for Tasks as a means to self-assess my RAFTS handout and I feel fairly confident that I have met “Ready to Use” in the areas of target alignment, authenticity and choice. My learning targets are related to the following Common Core Standards: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas 4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience 6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. The task is authentic in the sense that students are asked to take-on the persona of the main character in the novel as she presents her own artistic piece to art class. There is no choice given for this task, all students had to perform an oral presentation.

Chappuis et. al. tells us that “a performance assessment has two parts: the task to be competed by the respondent and the criteria for judging quality of the response.… and we evaluate it by judging the level of quality using a rubric” (p. 204). Similar to the questioning I did regarding purpose in creating the RAFTS performance task, I went back and forth as I attempted to craft a rubric that would pass the Activity 7-5 Rubric for Rubrics test. I also had to consider whether I should create a task-specific rubric or a generic one. Chappuis et.. al (2012) emphasize the use of generic rubrics whenever possible to avoid assessing irrelevant criteria. I also feel it is important at the middle school level, to provide consistency in expectations; if students are typically assessed using a generic oral presentation rubric, they are more likely to master the criteria. This is an example of the Oral Presentation Rubric that I created. When I look at the indicators in the Rubric for Rubrics, I feel that I’ve done a good job of having most criteria in the “Ready to Use” column. The exception is target alignment; in my rubric, I included a “creativity” criteria because I felt it was important for students to take on the role of Melinda during their presentation. I can now see that I would have to be more specific in my RAFTS handout as to creativity being a grading criteria. In other words, I’d have to emphasize that when students take on Melinda’s persona, it counts.

While this was a lengthy process, once again, I feel that I can put another notch on my “assessment experience” belt. As I continue to work through the process of analyzing my past practices with a critical eye, coupled with an expanding repertoire of practices, steps and tools of sound assessment for learning, I become just a bit more competent. I now know that I will never settle for mediocre assessment practices in the future, whether I am creating students friendly learning targets, rubrics or performance tasks; hindsight is indeed, 20/20.

 

Works Cited

Chappuis, J., Stiggins, R., Chappuis, S., & Arter, J. (2012).  Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right, using it well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

 

 

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