Smarter Balanced is a consortium of states collaborating on next generation assessments designed to measure the skills students need to be college and career ready when they leave high school. The assessments provide useful information to teachers and other stakeholders, and provide unprecedented accessibility for all students. Smarter Balanced has 20 member states and territories across the United States from Nevada, to Michigan, to the US Virgin Islands.

In previous assessments, the evidence that was being collected about student thinking was narrow and the assessment writing lacked teacher involvement, the professionals most closely connected to students.

Callahan Consulting was hired by Smarter Balanced to lead a project with two specific goals:

  • Design and write high-quality mathematics performance tasks

  • Work with educators from member states to build knowledge of and expertise in the writing of Performance Tasks.


Callahan Consulting recognized that including educators in the process of assessment writing was crucial so we approached this project with this as a priority. Callahan Consulting partnered with 10 Smarter Balanced member states to build a team reflective of the diversity of students and teachers from across the country. We created a nationwide network comprised of classroom teachers and other educational leaders from Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Delaware, Vermont, US Virgin Islands, and the Bureau of Indian Education.  

The writing teams worked directly with a facilitator from the Callahan Consulting staff to develop performance tasks and to implement small scale pilots of tasks with students in a variety of states and school settings. The evidence collected from the pilot sessions informed revisions to the performance tasks, as well as strengthened the participant’s understanding of the structure and design of these new assessments. Participants came to understand the value of the performance task as part of an assessment system designed to collect evidence about student thinking and problem solving rather than simply procedural proficiency.

Smarter Balanced and Callahan Consulting hosted four meetings over the course of the project in cities across the United States to strengthen the network and build a deeper understanding of the purpose of the performance tasks. At these meetings, members of the writing teams came together to analyze student work, revise and finalize drafts of performance tasks, and plan professional development sessions that could be delivered to colleagues in their home states and school districts and beyond.

  • Writing teams from the 10 member states delivered 82 high-quality performance tasks over the course of the nine month project.

  • Participants in the project came away with a deeper, more coherent understanding of the value of using performance tasks as part of their assessment to elicit evidence of student performance that cannot be measured using more traditional item types. 

  • Since Callahan Consulting included current teachers and educational leaders in the process, the performance tasks are grounded in real student experiences and have authentic applications.


I had the pleasure of working with the Callahan Consulting team over a period of 18 months. Not only did they exceed expectations in terms of the contracted work, specifically developing high quality performance tasks for the consortium, and building expertise amongst educators in our member states, but they also provided me with support and advice on related projects on a continuous basis, freely offering their mathematical expertise when needed.
— Judy Hickman / Director of Mathematics
During my tenure with Smarter Balanced, one of the greatest challenges was finding highly qualified people to lead the development of mathematics performance tasks. Callahan Consulting provided us with leadership in establishing a development process that upheld our principles of creating tasks that measure important mathematics, that engage students, and that include educators in the development and implementation processes.
— Shelbi Cole / Deputy Director of Content