When I first began using literature to teach reading in my fourth-grade classroom, I encouraged my students to choose their own books, read them independently, and periodically write and talk to me about what they were reading. In time we developed portfolios of their best work for reading and writing. Yet I had a nagging feeling that some key element was missing from the assessment process. I searched for a way to measure comprehension that would support the natural act of reading and responding to a story and allow for diverse interpretations. By reading professional literature, I discovered performance assessments. Here's the process I use now.

Select a Text

The performance assessment I use for reading comprehension two or three times a year requires a common reading and writing task for the entire class. The first step is to select a text that your students have not read — a good story with a significant theme appropriate for your grade level, a clearly identifiable problem and resolution, well-developed characters, and high interest for your students. 

Provide Writing Prompts

Once you have selected a text, think about designing a prompt — or writing task — to which students can respond in writing. If you teach primary children, encourage the use of invented spellings or approximations to help them freely express their ideas. Create a task that gets students to really think about the story. Then, along with sheets of lined paper on which they will write their final ideas, provide students with prewriting organizers such as webs, maps, and Venn diagrams, or lists of questions so students can make notes about their ideas. It's also a good idea to allow plenty of time — perhaps two class periods — for students to complete the performance assessment. Here are some sample writing prompts.

For primary students: Think about how you would tell a friend this story. Use a story map outline to help you remember all the important parts of a story. Then write about the story on lined paper.

For middle and upper elementary students: Characters, like people in real life, often change as a result of events. First use your planning sheets to make notes about:

  • what the character was like at the beginning of the story
  • what the character was like at the end of the story
  • the events and people that led the character to change
  • use lined paper to write about how the character changed.

For students in any grade: Write about an important problem in the story. Tell why it is important and how it was solved. First, make notes on the planning sheet. Then, once you've organized your thoughts, write about the story on lined paper.