Sonoma County Office of Education

Technology for Learners

Preparing for the SBAC: Understanding Performance Tasks

Author: Rick Phelan
Published: 01.15.14

Public schools in California will be field testing Smarter Balanced Assessments this spring. Field Tests will include assessments in English-language arts and mathematics, and a performance task.

Puzzle PiecesPerformance tasks are a new area of assessment to many. They are designed to help teachers, administrators, students, and parents understand how students are integrating knowledge and skills across multiple content standards. This is important because the ability to integrate knowledge and skills is a key component of college and career readiness.

Performance tasks will challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills in response to complex, real-world problems. The tasks will include extended response and technology-enhanced items that allow students to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving skills. They are meant to measure capacities such as depth of understanding, writing and research skill, and complex analysis—capabilities that can’t be adequately assessed with traditional assessment questions. Students will complete the performance tasks on a computer. The task will take one to two class periods to complete.

Performance Task Guidelines

In creating performance tasks for grades 3-11, the SBAC test authors had specific guidelines for their work. Here are the criteria used for each performance task:

  • Integrate knowledge and skills across multiple content standards or strands within a content area
  • Measure capacities such as depth of understanding, research skills, complex analysis, and identification of relevant evidence
  • Require student-initiated planning, management of information and ideas, amd interaction with other materials
  • Require production of extended responses, such as oral presentations, exhibitions, and other scorable products, including extended written responses that might be revised and edited
  • Reflect a real-world task and/or scenario-based problem
  • Allow for multiple approaches
  • Represent content that is relevant and meaningful to students
  • Allow for demonstration of important knowledge and skills, including those that address 21st century skills such as critically analyzing and synthesizing information presented in a variety of formats
  • Allow for multiple points of view and interpretations
  • Require scoring that focuses on the essence of the task
  • Be feasible for the school/classroom environment

Three Basic Components of Performance Tasks

Offering more detail on SBAC performance tasks, this explanation is from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Performance Task Specifications:

All Smarter Balanced performance tasks will consist of three basic components: stimulus presentation, information processing, and scorable product or performance. Information processing means student interactions with the stimulus materials and their content. It could include note taking, data generation, and any of a number of other activities that advance the students’ understanding of the stimulus content or the assignment. All activities within a task must have a reason for being there (e.g., to increase understanding, for scaffolding, as early steps in product production, or for product creation itself). While a task will involve multiple parts and associated responses or products, the parts should be related, contributing to a whole or leading to the final product or performance.


Performance Task Administration

Performance tasks will be administered in controlled classroom settings with time limitations established by grade and subject. Smarter Balanced item and task specifications assume computer delivery of the items and tasks. Most tasks will be long enough to warrant two test administration sessions. Such sessions will be same-day, back-to-back sessions with short breaks between sessions. Time requirements for tasks are provided in subject-specific performance task specifications. The links below provide access to sample performance tasks and scoring guides:

Smarter Balanced Practice Test Portal
Smarter Balanced Practice Test Scoring Guides

In addition to these sample items, the California Office to Reform Education (CORE), a consortium of eight California districts, has designed and developed materials to enhance understanding of performance tasks. Their performance tasks have a variety of uses: as diagnostic pre-assessments, as mid-instruction formative assessments, or as mini summative benchmark assessments. CORE performance tasks are available for:

English Language Arts: Grades 1, 4, 7, 9
Mathematics: Grades 3, 5, 7

The modules incorporate a “stimulus” (in ELA, an excerpt of complex text; in math, a set of variables), a series of “constructed response” questions arrayed along a cognitive ramp of increasing complexity, and a culminating performance task (an evidence-based writing prompt in ELA; a complex problem to solve and write about in math).

Blog: Technology for Learners