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Of Pig Pens and Performance Assessments: Finding Student Voice at Lincoln Elementary

Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Revere, MA has been working diligently to bring performance assessments to students school-wide. The school, a member of the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA), fit performance assessment design time into their bi-weekly PLG meetings, and as the staff started to see results, MCIEA and performance assessments became a greater priority in the team’s professional learning time. Now, after a year of attending institute days and engaging in school-based coaching, Lincoln Elementary is the first MCIEA school to implement performance assessments in every classroom.  

Both teachers and students at Lincoln have taken to performance assessments. Teachers are collaborating across disciplines more than ever before, and students are surprised to find that they now have a voice in the classroom, and they’re inspired by the assessments’ real-world applications.  

Jennafir Enck, third-grade teacher, created one such interdisciplinary performance assessment that followed a reading of Charlotte’s Web. Students read an article about what a pig needs to survive before drafting and measuring out their own pig pen, and recording any necessary resources to kit out their imaginary barns.  

The assessment included a STEM component in which students had to physically map out a pig pen on graph paper and show that the pig could happily move around its enclosure. This proved to be a mathematical challenge, as well. Students were given an $800 dollar budget to work with as well, requiring students to think very carefully about how they would build their ideal pens.  
 
“I specifically put fencing on there that would go over the $800 mark, just to see if they could realize they were making a mistake with their math,” Enck says. “Because I wanted them to know that sometimes things are just out of your price range in life, and you can't get it if that's how much money you have to spend.”  

The assessment’s real life implications may seem strict, but they engage students and give them a strong sense of voice. They feel as though their work makes a true impact. Lindsey Gallagher, a fifth grade teacher at the school, hopes to grant these real life skills to her own students. She created an assessment that gauges her students’ knowledge of fractions by filming a cooking show. Perhaps the most eye-opening for Gallagher, though, was how quickly students embraced team work.  

The students worked with Gallagher on a collaborative rubric, where they were asked to grade their team and themselves. Gallagher said students were more inclined to take a step back and regard their team members’ work with care and respect because they knew they would be graded on collaboration.  
 
“I really think we’re giving them those skills to be team members when they’re working on these projects,” Gallagher says.  

It’s a testament to the types of real world skills performance assessments instill in students organically. They help students become powerful collaborators, but performance assessments also have huge potential to strengthen students’ confidence. Take Linda Allwood, for example, whose English language arts performance assessment helps second grade students voice their opinions.  

The second grade teachers wanted to create a huge, ambitious unit, but ultimately decided to narrow their focus given their target audience. “We decided for our little seven year olds, who we have to tie their shoes and tell them to wipe their noses, we wanted to start smaller,” Allwood explains.  

So instead, the teacher team honed their focus and decided on an opinion writing assessment, a writing piece that was also a standard often missed by the second grade classes. For the assessment, the teachers told their second grade students a publishing company wanted to publish a story anthology written by the class. However, the company wants to cut one of the stories from the book. It’s up to the students, then, to draft an opinion piece convincing the publisher to keep the story in the anthology.  

“What was really funny was, [the children] were very into the fact that the publishing company was going to take their information,” Allwood recalls. “They were very serious about making sure that whatever we got done actually was going to be heard by a publishing company.”  

The students lit up at the chance to be heard, and felt empowered to solve a problem based in real life. “Even though they’re young, they have voice and their opinion matters,” Allwood notes. She hopes to actually send the opinion articles to a publishing company next year to take the assessment a step further.  

The spark generated by performance assessments is catching at every grade level at Lincoln Elementary. If you want to see the true power of innovative assessments, simply talk to the folks who are in the thick of it, our students and teachers.  

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