ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Teaching and Assessing Meaningfully in a Standards-Based World

Great Performances

Post submitted by Larry Lewin and Betty Shoemaker, authors of Great Performances: Creating Classroom-Based Assessment Tasks, 2nd ed., where they tackle the sparkles and blemishes of performance assessments. With expertise in performance-based assessment, differentiated instruction, literacy, integrated thematic curriculum, and teaching comprehension with student-based questioning, they are influencing decision makers about both the importance and quality of great classroom-based assessments instead of high stakes standardized tests. Connect with Lewin by e-mail at and Shoemaker at

"Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked."

—John Dewey, Democracy And Education (1916)

We have some great news! The second edition of our book, Great Performances: Creating Classroom-Based Assessment Tasks, has just been published. We would like to say that it is single-handedly bringing adequate yearly progress (AYP) to its knees. Well ... we can hope that it at least has influenced, and will continue to influence, decision makers about the importance of and quality of great classroom-based assessments as compared to high-stakes standardized tests.

In the preface to the new edition we share how we feel somewhat "ripped off" by efforts to take classroom-based performance assessment and use it for two purposes for which it was never intended: high-stakes evaluation and funding. From our point of view, many current efforts at educational reform in the United States are built upon assumptions that we challenge in the new edition. Here are two of them.

Product or Producer

Many people (both in and out of our profession) continue to see students as the products of teachers' labors. Using this outdated factory model, the teacher is considered the worker and the student the product. As the product (a student) comes along the line, it is the responsibility of the producer (the teacher) to attach grade-level assigned parts onto it as the product moves down the assembly line. These parts are usually drawn from the latest list of grade level standards.

What becomes of the student who comes along the line with those grade-level parts already present? Numerous studies have shown that they wait in the classroom for others to catch up. There is currently little to no staffing or infrastructure in place to meet their needs1.

What becomes of those who missed getting previously assigned parts? Often they get rerouted onto one of two other assembly lines (a moderate intervention line or an extensive intervention line)2. These students have limited access to the comprehensive curriculum in order to get this intensive help. They often get pulled out of science, social science, and elective classes. What little funding is available is assigned to staff and infrastructure to help these students meet standards in reading and math.

Same, Same, Same: A Worn-Out Notion

The current paradigm embraces the assumption that all children start at the same place, learn at the same rate, and should be at the same checkpoints during their school careers or teachers have failed. Anyone who has ever set foot in a classroom—most all of us—knows that this is a myth. It always has been and always will be. We don't need massive high-stakes assessment systems in place to prove that, at arbitrary moments in time, some students have grasped common knowledge and skills while others have not.

Let's rethink these assumptions. Replace the factory model with the studio model. Learners become the producers, and teachers become the managers. All students work to craft better skills and construct new knowledge while their teacher orchestrates the learning environment, manages the resources, and trouble-shoots glitches to facilitate active learning.

Fertile Ground: Where Large and Small Assessments Meet

We live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. We when look west, we see mountains—the Coast Range—and when we look east, we see the Cascade Range. Here in Eugene, we benefit from both ranges. Together they influence the soil, water, and vegetation in the valley to make it fertile and lush. Just as the fertile ground for growth is in the valley, we want to reinforce that the fertile ground on assessments is also in the valley (in the middle).

Some teachers and administrators have been reticent to embrace any form of secured, formal assessments of student progress. In Great Performances we do not advocate throwing out large-scale, secured assessments totally. And we do not advocate the sole use of classroom-based assessments. We do advocate for the use of both in meaningful and judicious ways.

Throughout Great Performances we embrace the notion that students are diverse, dynamic doers who produce knowledge through interactions with their teachers, one another, and the environment. We further believe that teachers, equipped with ample and varied strategies for instruction and assessment, have a profound influence on their students' cognitive development. We need to put our resources and energies into embracing each child, wherever he or she happens to be on this developmental journey, and moving him or her forward toward greater knowledge. The teacher is a critical observer and plays a key role in monitoring and adapting instruction to help all students make growth.

Multiple measures of assessment—including performance-based—are valuable in identifying what has been learned and how well it has been mastered by the student. Great Performances is chock-full of before-, during-, and after-lesson assessment ideas for students to share their knowledge through writing, speaking, visual representations, and large-scale performances and products. Some are designed to be mini assessments (short, but informative), midi (takes a few days, but reveals a lot) to maxi (big substantive synthesis projects). In our view, a great performance task, regardless of length, has five characteristics:

  1. Students have some choice in selecting or creating the task.
  2. The task requires both the elaboration of core knowledge and the use of key processes.
  3. The task has an explicit scoring system.
  4. The task is designed for an audience larger than the teacher; that is, others outside the classroom would find value in the work.
  5. The task is carefully crafted to measure what it purports to measure.

We are confident that if you read the book, you will be inspired to join in the conversation on how to better create and use classroom-based assessments that you can easily incorporate into your own instruction to increase student achievement.



  1. See: Plucker, J. A. N. Burroughs, and R. Song (2010). Mind the (Other) Gap! The Growing Excellence Gap in K–12 Education. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy, p. 37. See also: Davidson Institute for Talent Development (2004). "Summary of a Nation Deceived." Educators Guild Newsletter, 1(3). Reno, NV: Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
  2. Check out for information on Response to Intervention.


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