As part of their efforts to support teacher capacity to use standards-aligned assessment to improve teaching and learning, the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) worked with WestEd’s Building Educator Assessment Literacy (BEAL) project to deliver professional learning focused on designing and using standards-aligned performance tasks in classroom instruction.

In 2015, LACOE initiated the Performance Task Development Project (PTDP), a year-long professional learning series designed to support educator development and use of performance tasks aligned with California mathematics and science content standards. To understand the impact of PTDP on teachers, WestEd conducted a mixed-methods case study with participating teachers in one Los Angeles County district, taking a closer look at their PTDP experiences and their reflections after completing the program.

In this Q&A, researchers Sylvia Kwon and Tran Keys briefly describe how teachers experienced the professional learning series and how their experiences impacted teachers’ classroom instruction. This work is captured in greater detail in a recent report, Los Angeles County Office of Education Performance Task Development Project: A Case Study.

Q: What are performance tasks?

A: Performance tasks are a collection of questions for students that lead to a culminating question and are coherently connected to a single theme or scenario. The tasks are meant to measure students’ capacities, such as depth of understanding, complex analysis, and problem-solving. Students are asked to understand data and apply them to an authentic situation to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Q: Focusing on science learning, WestEd and LACOE worked together in 2018 to develop a series of workshops to support educators in developing, administering, and scoring grade-level performance tasks aligned with California’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). What training did the participants receive?

A: In these workshops, educators drafted performance tasks based on scientific phenomena and aligned with relevant NGSS concepts, then reviewed tasks to determine how they fit within the context of the California Science Test format and item types. As a whole, the workshop series was designed to provide educators with opportunities and tools to understand the NGSS, develop assessment tasks aligned with NGSS performance expectations, collaborate with colleagues, and support student learning.

Q: How were you able to gain an understanding of participants’ experiences and impact in the workshops?

A: Our research team designed a mixed-methods case study to examine educators’ professional learning, what they gained through their participation, and the impact of program participation on teaching and learning at their school. Focusing on one LACOE district, we conducted interviews with participating educators and school and district leadership. We also attended and observed two of the workshops to triangulate findings.

Q: What did the case study show?

A: We found that participation in the workshop series provided educators with valuable opportunities to deepen their understanding of the NGSS and to “struggle” with the different NGSS dimensions in developing and utilizing performance tasks. The participants discussed their shifting views of performance tasks, coming to see the ways in which performance tasks reflect the critical thinking and cognitive complexity reflected in these science standards. They also shared the ways they made significant changes to their instruction, embedding different strategies like question types, scaffolding, and expected vocabulary into their practice to build student knowledge and “set them up for success.” On the whole, teachers, school leaders, and district staff felt the workshops increased their understanding of NGSS, as well as expanded their capacity to design and integrate performance tasks into science instruction.

Q: What are the implications of the findings?

A: These findings shed light on potential promises and barriers to success that can inform future performance task development efforts.

To learn more about the Performance Task Development Project, download the full paper, Los Angeles County Office of Education Performance Task Development Project: A Case Study.

View a related webinar, Building and Using Authentic Performance Tasks for Science and Math.

The Center for Standards, Assessment, and Accountability (CSAA) at WestEd supports educators in the development and use of rigorous standards and student-focused assessment and accountability practices. This work impacts students of all ages and learning paths, including early childhood, K–2, postsecondary, and career technical education. Learn more about CSAA.