Designing Effective Assessments

Adapted from "Heuristic for Designing Writing Assignments" by Ericka Lindemann, Content Area Writing by Jim Burke, and the work of Write Boston Coach Kelly Knopf-Goldner

To counterbalance the weight of standardized testing placed on students in the twenty-first century, we need to design summative projects that engage students in the dynamic integration of content with real-word literacies – reading, writing, and numeracy in a variety of modes, frequent oral processing, academic conversation, questioning, non-routine problem solving,  viewing, producing, presenting, and reflection.

To guide the design of these projects, we are asking five questions and looking for some of the answers in the Core standards:

Task: WHAT do I want students to do?

  • Will the assignment tell me about what they’ve learned?
  • Does the assignment assess not only what my students know but what they can do?
  • Is it connected to the “real world”?
  • Does it appeal to the interests and experiences of my students?
  • Does it require specialized knowledge?
  • What genre is most appropriate? (See “Writing Is…”)

Purpose: WHY are my students doing this?

  • Does the assignment challenge students to explore authentic and essential questions and issues in the discipline?
  • Does the assignment challenge students to grow as critical thinkers, communicators, and creative problem solvers?
  • Does the assignment address some of the core standards for literacy and/or numeracy in my subject?

Audience: WHO is the intended audience?

  • Beyond the teacher and their peers, for what “real world” audience will the students be writing?
  • What do students need to know about their audience?
  • Will students have an opportunity to receive feedback from their audience before submitting a final draft?

Process: HOW will students do this work? HOW will I assess it?

  • Are students working alone or together?
  • To what extent will I guide the students’ work?
  • In what ways will they practice prewriting, writing, and rewriting?
  • Will the assignment challenge students to read, discuss, revise, and/or publish their work?
  • Do students have enough information from me to make effective choices (of subject, genre, strategies, etc.)?
  • How will I evaluate the work?
  • What is the criteria for success? What constitutes a “successful / strong / distinguished” response to the assignment?
  • Will other students, or the writer, have a say in evaluating the work?
  • How can I improve the assignment next time?

Timeline: WHEN will students do the assignment?

  • How does the assignment relate to what comes before or after it in the course?
  • How much time in and outside of class will students need?
  • What deadlines do I want or need to set for various stages of the assignment or for collecting student work?


Click here for a user-friendly handout, Designing Effective Assignments. 

Activate the following links for current examples of performance-based assessments designed by RPS teachers. Each one draws from a rich sequence of activities and resources performed over a period of time.

Advertising a 19th Century Reform Movement

Andrew Jackson: Deserving of the $20 Bill?

Civil Rights Protest Songs

Digital Storytelling

From Novel to News Account: The Branding of Isabel Finch

Proposing a Solution to a Problem

The Red Sox, Jerry Remy, and Media Responsibility

The Shakespeare Conspiracy Theory

Should Massachusetts Reinstate the Death Penalty?