As you know, this month we’ve been immersed in hiring our two new principals. One of the questions the committees have asked every candidate is to describe a good performance assessment. We’ve expected our candidates to provide an example -- which they should be able to do because quite frankly ‘you know one when you see one.’
Unlike ‘one right answer’ assessments, performance assessments require both
process and product. Students need to think through a realistic scenario and produce something that demonstrates what they can do with what they know. To paraphrase a really good analogy I read somewhere: It’s more like playing a game of baseball, the unique coming together of skills, concepts, rules, and attitudes… than playing a game of catch.
Race Brook’s 4th Grade ‘Yankee Doodle Travel Agency’ is an excellent example of performance assessment. However, I would predict the kids didn’t know that. They only knew that they had worked collaboratively together and worked hard. They only knew that, for their final showcase in the Race Brook gym on Tuesday, June 12th, they were excited when someone stopped for a ‘tour’ and immensely proud to show-off what they had accomplished.
This year-long language arts and social studies project was initiated in the fall with each student picking a Connecticut city or town. Families were encouraged to take the time to visit their child’s community and to see the sights. By
January, the students began searching the Internet for additional landmarks and
pictures, and they wrote to the first selectman or mayor requesting postcards and additional information. Each group of three students then created a travel agency identity with a logo and a motto. The Garnet Group Travel Agency,
for example, claimed, ‘We are like gems when it comes to traveling.” The Amistad Travelers promised, “Your mind will sail away on a Connecticut Adventure.” They made up addresses, phone numbers, and web addresses for their ‘published’ business cards.
Each newly-formed travel agency decided how to map out its three Connecticut towns for potential tourists. They used technology to produce tri-fold brochures. They collaborated on the creative elements of their display and practiced their sales-pitch presentations together, planning their speeches for their captive audiences. (The audience was not only their parents and grandparents, but upper-class students who needed to collect a business card from at least one agency to fulfill their obligation. They had to listen to the entire presentation
to receive a card.)
The project is aligned with more than a few state standards. The students research and consolidate information through note-taking and analysis. They make maps. They read informational and non-fiction texts and write persuasively. They also write narratives and letters. They use technology. And they practice their public speaking and ultimately get a chance to demonstrate their presentation skills.
I realize Yankee Doodle Travel Agency isn’t a new performance assessment in Orange, but it was new to me! And I really enjoyed listening to the kids and asking them questions at the ten or so ‘travel agencies’ I had a chance to visit. I had to smile at their grown-up, professional use of laser pointers and enticing sales pitches. I took in their serious voices and heartfelt recommendations for sights most of them had actually been to visit.
And I learned something in the process: I want to go to the Sportsplex in North Branford, Eisenhower Park (in my own new town of Milford), and the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium. My youngest grand-daughter would love the Carousel Museum in Bristol. The best omelets in North Haven, according to one young tourism guide, can be found at State Street Café. This summer, I’ve
resolved, I need to make more of an effort to “Experience Connecticut like a nutmegger!”