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California Districts Build Performance Assessments for Common Core

In the politically fraught world of the common core, it's interesting to see how some schools and districts tune out the arguments and chug right along with—shock of all shocks—work focused on curriculum and instruction. One recent example is a set of performance assessments created by a breakaway group of California school districts.

You might have read about the CORE (California Office to Reform Education) districts. They're a group of 10 districts that grew impatient with the pace of change their state was setting as it moves toward implementing the common core, and decided to band together to work on a shared approach to schooling. They've gotten some notice, for instance, for advocating a tighter approach to accountability than California envisions for this year. (The state plans to dump most of its current assessment system in favor of Smarter Balanced field tests this spring.) In an unusual twist, the U.S. Department of Education recently granted eight of the CORE districts a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act that essentially allows the group to set up its own accountability system.

Now the CORE districts have created performance assessments that are intended to be complex, nuanced gauges of how students are doing as they're learning, and to serve simultaneously as instructionally valuable exercises in and of themselves. Teachers in the districts worked together to create the 60 performance tasks, according to CORE. They were piloted in classrooms last school year with more than 15,000 students, and now they're posted online for anyone to review or use.

The performance tasks were designed as formative resources to help teachers figure out how their students are progressing. But CORE officials say they can also be used to diagnose students' starting points before instruction or serve as "mini summative" tests at given points along the way.

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