Here’s an oldie-but-goodie from the Ed2Save archives, published in 2013: 

So you want to create a performance task that measures conceptual understanding? Try these three steps.

1.  Determine what conceptual relationship you want to assess.

For example:  You want to assess the relationship between power and systems.

Maybe the exact generalization you have time mind is: People in power create systems to keep themselves in power.

 Note:  Although it’s important for the teacher to have a specific generalization in your curriculum, remember that as students uncover the relationship between concepts in your class, they may come up with a slightly different generalization.  That’s fine (for the humanities), but make sure students can support their generalizations with evidence and push them make sure it is sophistication.  (e.g. Power affects systems is not an acceptable generalization.   Ask students why or how power affects systems to help them get to a more complex understanding).

2. Figure out how students will transfer and use that conceptual understanding. 

Will they use their conceptual understanding to make a prediction?
What would happen if people challenge the system set-up by those in power?

Will they use their conceptual understanding to argue?
What should people do challenge those in power? What is the best solution to this issue?

Will they use their conceptual understanding to interpret or analyze the  situation?
How is power affecting systems in this situation?

In interpretation tasks you are looking for students to a more complex and in-depth understanding of the situation than they would have without the conceptual understanding they have been developing in class. The concepts should be a lens that helps them see the issue in a more sophisticated way.

3. Find a real life situation that matches the design you created.  

This is the fun part!  Search your mind and newspapers to figure out what situation will best fit the outline you created.

Remember real life is messy so the situations you find might not be a perfect match for what you had in mind.  That’s okay – it’s part of what makes performance tasks authentic.  Don’t throw away the parts of the situation that don’t fit.  Let students work through the complexity.
Try it out and let us know what you think!