This article, the first in a two-part series on Performance Assessment,
takes an in-depth look at what performance assessment actually is, and
what performance activities allow teachers to observe. In Part Two, we
will provide details about creating and implementing performance tasks
in the classroom.
Part One: Defining Performance Assessment
Performance assessment is a method of teaching and learning that involves
both process and product. It is not just a testing strategy.
Performance assessment tasks involve students in constructing various
types of products for diverse audiences. Students also are involved in
developing the process that leads to the finished product.
Performance assessment measures what students can do with what they know, rather than
how much they know. Performance assessment tasks are based on what is most
essential in the curriculum and what is interesting to a student.
Performance Assessment Is More Like Playing Baseball than Just Playing Catch
Many concepts, skills, and attitudes are important if an athlete is to
develop into an accomplished baseball player. A coach teaches and drills
players and promotes appropriate attitudes. However, if the training stopped
there, the players would never learn the game. They must play baseball.
Similarly, teachers can present the information and skills of the discipline
and quiz the students on the details, but students also must "play
the game." Students need the opportunity to put the concepts, skills,
and attitudes together. Performance assessment allows students to demonstrate
how effectively they can put the pieces together in ways similar to how
information is used in the larger world.
Performance Assessment Looks at Authentic Use of Information
A common model of assessment is to teach a chapter in a text, then stop
and test the students. Performance assessment changes this pattern. Performance
assessment is an approach to learning that changes what the teacher and
students do in class. With performance assessment, textbooks become a
resource for learning; they become a means to an end rather than an end
When students leave school they will need to use books and other sources
to find information on specific subjects. Perhaps they will need to make
an oral presentation to a specific audience, design a display, produce
a video, or research a consumer question and write a persuasive letter.
These kinds of tasks all use information in an authentic way. With performance
assessment, students are engaged in tasks in which they are crafting products.
The teacher is the coach who is guiding the students' work, providing
models of excellent work, and giving feedback all along the way. Performance
assessment tasks get students highly involved in constructing all types
of products, and this involvement results in meaningful learning.
The word authentic used with performance assessment means that
the performance uses information, concepts, and skills in ways that people
use them in the larger world. Schoolwork becomes a valid preparation for
life outside the classroom.
All performance tasks require that the students follow an information problem solving process before the product is made or a performance is given.
A flowchart for information problem solving in PDF format is linked and
ready for you to download free.
Performance Assessment Tasks Require Thinking Skills
Thinking skills provide the "verb" that directs the action in performance
assessment tasks includ[ng getting information, processing it, and
using it to make a product. Thinking skills include those activities related
to understanding the audience and creating a product that fulfills a certain
purpose for that audience. The assessment of the student's work should
not only look at the final product but should also assess the processes
that led to it.
A performance task can be broken down into a process that requires the
following thinking skills:
- Getting information (finding, completing, counting, collecting, reading,
listening, defining, describing, identifying, listing, matching, naming,
observing, recording, reciting, selecting, scanning)
- Working with the information (comparing, contrasting, classifying,
sorting, distinguishing, explaining why, inferring, sequencing, analyzing,
synthesizing, generalizing, evaluating, making analogies, making models,
- Using information for a purpose (informing, persuading, motivating)
- Using information to craft a product/presentation (speaking, debating,
singing, writing, surveying, designing, drawing, computing, constructing,
demonstrating, acting out)
- Using information to communicate with specific audiences (such as
peers, younger, older, informed, uninformed, friendly, hostile, apathetic,
homogeneous, or diverse groups)
Performance Assessment Tasks Make Use of Different Learning Styles and Preferences
Some learners prefer to understand the connections between ideas and
excel in critical analysis. These students are good at predicting,
comparing and contrasting, and analyzing. Other learners enjoy organizing
information and excel at remembering details. A third group of learners
engages in creative problem solving and uses productive, divergent thinking
skills. A fourth group is best at tasks that require good interpersonal
skills. This group is good at interviewing and working in teams. They
focus on attitudes, motivations, feelings, and opinions and are more self
aware than most. Some students prefer to write while others like oral
presentations; still others enjoy constructing things. All learning styles
are important. Students should not use only the style in which they
excel, but also work on tasks that require other styles so that they can
expand their competency. The student who prefers to write detailed, factual
informational pamphlets for peers should also be given the opportunity
to become better at making persuasive posters for adult groups. Some performance
tasks will dictate what the product is to be like. Other performance tasks
will allow them to choose the format, purpose, and audience for their
Performance Assessment Involves Cooperative Learning
Cooperative learning is an authentic skill that is highly valued in the
larger world. Businesses assess employees on interpersonal skills defined
as the ability to:
- establish and maintain positive working relationships within/outside
the employees' group.
- work toward departmental goals.
- work well in a team environment.
- display an ability/willingness to understand viewpoints of others.
Cooperative learning simulates how teamwork is used in a business environment.
Effectively managed cooperative learning not only develops essential
lifelong interpersonal skills, it also gets the students to spend more
time actively thinking. For example, if the group's task is to is to write
a booklet for elementary school children on the topic of European exploration,
each person in the group should have a chapter to create. The whole group
can work together to plan the sequence of chapters, the cover, an author's
page, and other elements, while each individual is responsible for a specific
chapter. The individual's assessment is for the chapter. There is no group
grade for the entire book. If the entire book is well done, then the booklet will be sent to an elementary school. Individuals
are accountable for their work and the group has a goal of overall quality.
Performance Assessment Deals with Attitudes and Mental Habits
A student's success will depend as much on his or her attitudes and mental
habits as on the use of information and appropriate thinking skills. Performance
tasks allow both students and teachers the opportunity to observe what
attitudes and habits are operating as work on task progresses. Examples
of these are:
- Showing individual responsibility
- Valuing teamwork
- Having initiative and being diligent
- Having integrity and behaving ethically
- Being an intellectual risk taker
- Planning actions rather than being impulsive
- Being persistent
- Showing concern for accuracy, precision, and quality of thought and
- Demonstrating a questioning and problem-posing view of learning
- Showing respect for the democratic process
- Showing empathy, tolerance, and caring for others
- Demonstrating respect for diverse human endeavors, including academic
arts and technical skills
- Promoting the total health of self and others
- Showing concern for the global community
- Being flexible and adaptable
- Showing self-confidence
- Valuing self-assessment as a way of improving strengths and weaknesses
Don't miss Part-Two of this series:
Crafting a Successful Performance Assessment
About Performance Assessment on the Web
Department of Education's Consumer Guide
This short article gives a definition and examples of performance assessment
in action. It also gives an extensive list of of resources to obtain more
Center for Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST)
CRESST conducts research on important topics related to K-12 educational
testing and is funded by the Department of Education. Here you can access
numerous reports on performance assessment. Simply do a keyword search
for performance assessment to see what resources they offer.
Transition to a Performance-Based Classroom
This article, written by educational consultant Barry Sweeny, outlines
steps to making the transition to performance -based classrooms.
Issues Series Performance Assessment
Prepared by Russ Allen, research consultant in the Wisconsin Education
Association Council, this article contains an in-depth discussion of performance
The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) Clearinghouse on Assessment
and Evaluation is a clearinghouse for assessment, evaluation, and research
information online. Like the other ERIC databases, you have access to
hundreds of resources produced by teachers and researchers and published
on the Web.
Long Overview On Alternative Assessment
Prepared by Lawrence Rudner, ERIC/AE and Carol Boston of ACCESS ERIC,
this article is another good primer on performance assessment.