Using PARCC Performance Tasks to Design Curriculum

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Note: Click here to download grades 3-11 Standards-based Unit Task Topics (as seen below) aligned to PARCC’s ELA/Literacy Task Models.

Using PARCC's Assessment Blueprints, Dr. Dea has designed a one-page matrix for each grade detailing the tasks topics and associated standards assessed.

Using PARCC’s Assessment Blueprints, Dr. Dea has designed a one-page matrix for each grade detailing the tasks topics and associated standards assessed.

In my work with schools, I am often urged to blog about ideas I share with teachers and administrators. I make lists of requested blogs. I make promises about blogs I will write. But in the flux of current education, there is much to write about. My mind never tires of considering what I could develop as a blog post. Sometimes, all that consideration (indeed part of the writing process) postpones the actual act of writing—a most important element in the process.

Today I’m finally getting to one of those blogs. At the left is a matrix I have designed to summarize and organize the Common Core ELA/Literacy Standards and PARCC’s Assessment framework for grade six. I share these documents (I have designed one for each grade level) during my workshops both as a means to help educators understand PARCC assessment and as a foundation for building a comprehensive curriculum.

But let me tarry no further….today I am going to explain to my readers how they can use the PARCC assessment blueprints to support curriculum design and student assessment—whether they are in a PARCC state or any of the other 30+ states that adhere to the Common Core ELA/Literacy standards but have chosen alternate annual assessments (Smarter Balanced, Aspire, AIR, etc.).

Regardless of Your State, Common Core ELA/Literacy Standards Goals are the Same!

You see, if your state adheres to the ELA CCSS the assessments you will be giving must also adhere to the standards, that is the law:

“…Each State plan shall demonstrate that the State has adopted challenging academic content standards and challenging student academic achievement standards that will be used by the State, its local educational agencies, and its schools…describe two levels of high achievement (proficient and advanced) that determine how well children are mastering the material in the State academic content standards; and describe a third level of achievement (basic) to provide complete information about the progress of the lower-achieving children toward mastering the proficient and advanced levels of achievement (ESEA, Subpart 1, Section 1111).

What I appreciate about PARCC is their transparency—by looking at their assessment blueprints, any school or teacher could design a standards-based curriculum and write their own standards-based assessment. On the PARCC website (www.parcconlineorg) is published a series of documents related to assessment: formatted item guidelines, combined task models. As a matter of fact, PARCC recently released a number of 2016 test items from Math and ELA/Literacy complete with annotations regarding scoring. Whatever state you are in, the goal for literacy imbued in the standards is the same: responsible, literate thinkers are able to read a variety of texts (from alphabetic print to visual representations, including symbols and art) in a variety of formats (from hard copy publications to digital renderings)and make meaning that is accurate and, under the appropriate contexts, creative, insightful, enlightening, perceptive, extending, evaluative, and more!

Across the twelve grades covered by the CCSS for ELA and Literacy each of the aforementioned adjectives the literacy standards demand all of those adjectives in relation to reading and as an extension, in relation to writing. The work of centering the standards in a curricular fashion is left to the readers and teachers of the standards. It seems to me, in their attempt to ensure all standards would be assessed, the PARCC assessment blueprints to a fine job of organizing one way to build curriculum.

PARCC’s Task Topics can be Used by Everyone to Meet All Standards

At each grade, PARCC identifies task topics. These task topics are the focus for a written task to be assessed during the Performance –based Assessment (PBA) portion of the summative evaluation. But if—if a teacher adopted a performance task as a unit of study, the task itself could take many forms untenable for large scale assessment: a speech, a presentation, a visual representation all which would also meet the speaking and learning standards.

Below is a matrix exemplifying the structure of the third grade performance tasks. Note that in the yellow section are the four performance tasks related to literature studies: analysis of the contribution of illustrations; central idea/lesson of literature from diverse cultures; characterization in a story; author’s study including analysis of illustration. The green section provides a matrix of the research simulation performance tasks. The brown section details the standards associated with the narrative task, built on the foundation of writing anchor standard #3: “Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences” (Common Core ELA/Literacy Standards).

Above is a summary of the Grade 3 Performance Tasks as framed by PARCC. Dr. Dea has organized all Performance Tasks (grades 3-11) in a way that can be used by any teacher to build curriculum and assessments.

Above is a summary of the Grade 3 Performance Tasks as framed by PARCC. Dr. Dea has organized all Performance Tasks (grades 3-11) in a way that can be used by any teacher to build curriculum and assessments.

These tasks are in no particular order and though each one is designed to meet Reading Standard 1, the evidence standard, each one also meets at least one additional standard. For example, each of the four Literary Analysis Tasks at the third grade clearly indicate a pair of standards (PCR, prose constructed response) as the basis of for each prompt and writing evaluation: the analysis of the contributions of illustrations meets both RL.3.1 and RL.3.7; central idea/lesson of literature meets RL.3.1 and RL.3.2; characterization meets RL.3.1 and RL.3.3 and so on.

Not only do the performance tasks identify the standards to be met with the performance task…again which could be a written or performed or digitally designed…the task also identifies supporting standards (which in the PBA assessment becomes the basis for the selected response or multiple choice questions). If a teacher uses the performance task as framework for unit writing, s/he can use those standards to build text-dependent questions that support reading comprehension and content knowledge.

Moreover, if a teacher feels the performance task needs a third standard…for instance in any of the third grade performance task referenced above—there is no reason not to add a standard to the performance task. In grade 3, RL 9 could easily be incorporated into a student task: “compare and contrast the themes, settings, and plots of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters (e.g., in books from a series). By adding standard 9, teachers open the opportunity to teach and reinforce analysis, a topic I’ve written about often on this blog…here, here, here, and for science…here

Also provided are performance tasks for what PARCC labels research simulation tasks. These tasks are grounded in the writing standards, specifically standards W.7, W.8, and W.9.

CCRA.7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCRA.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCRA.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

As with the literary analysis task, the research simulation task indicates which of the reading standards are the supporting standards and act as the basis for the selected response items on the PARCC assessment. However, as suggested with the literary analysis task, in curriculum design and by extension, in classroom instruction, these standards can become the basis for development in reading comprehension and building content knowledge.

Note that although the standards assessed in each grade are similar if not identical, the performance task has language and focus tied to the language of the grade level standard.

Note that although the standards assessed in each grade are similar if not identical, the performance task has language and focus tied to the language of the grade level standard.

To demonstrate the similarities among the grades and simultaneously demonstrate the differences between them, compare the performance task matrix for the grade four to that of grade Although all grades develop a performance task around literature standards 1 and 7, the nature of the task changes with each grade. In grade three, what was “Analysis of contributions of illustrations” becomes in fourth grade “connecting a text and companion visual or oral presentation of that text” and in grade five becomes “analysis of visual and multimedia elements.”

Interested in seeing all the performance task planers? Contact me and I will send you the one-page grade level charts or click here to view my performance-task planners interactive tools that support teachers in designing units around each of the performance task topics. Wondering how to design a curriculum that builds on the structure of performance tasks to strengthen literacy skills while building content knowledge and skills? Next blog!

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4 Responses to “Using PARCC Performance Tasks to Design Curriculum”

  1. Michelle Helmer February 27, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    Great thinking! I am excited to see the other matrices. Is there similar thinking with Math by any chance? Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom and experience. I know how hard it is to find the space and time.

    • Dr. Dea Conrad-Curry March 2, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

      Thank you for your comment, Michelle. I have had others ask me about a math matrix or chart of sorts. And, I have consulted with some math specialists who believe it can be done. Unfortunately, up until now, I haven’t had the time, but it is on the list! I hope to post the follow-up blog to this in the coming days and there, post the remainder of the grade level charts. Stay tuned!

  2. Susan Richmond July 5, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    Do you have any ideas about standard 2 in RL and RI? The terms are so confusing!

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