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     June 2006

Education Up Close

Performance Assessment-
It's What You Do with What You Know

In Part One of this series, we defined some of the characteristics of performance assessment. This month, we examine ways for you to successfully implement performance assessments into your classroom.


Crafting a Successful Performance Assessment

The Performance Task
The validity of a performance task is essential to create an assessment that is meaningful. Use the following criteria to evaluate each performance task prior to using it. (Click here to download these criteria as a checklist)

The task should be:
  • Essential
  • Integrative
  • Engaging
  • Activating
  • Feasible
  • Safe
  • Equitable
The task should incorporate:
  • Balance of Group and Individual Work
  • Appropriate Structure
  • Authentic Product
  • Authentic Process
  • Criteria to Assess Quality
  • Models of Excellent Work Available
  • Self-Assessment
  • Outside Assessment
  • Feedback and Revision Loops
  • Connection to the Context of the Curriculum

Format of a Task

There are five basic steps to follow when formating a performance assessment task.

Step 1
Identify the main concepts and thinking skills you want to be the targets of the assessment. The task title may not be created until later. In a few works, state the background of the concept or topic being addressed.
Step 2
Identify the type of product you want the students to make. You may decide to give students options or let them select the format for the product.
Step 3
State what purpose the product is intended to have. For example, is it meant to inform, persuade, and/or motivate?
Step 4
Write the procedures the students will use. First, you may want to set the scene by giving students some background. The directions can be very specific or very open depending on the amount of structure the students need. A sample form follows these steps.
Step 5
Give the students some guidelines about the assessment. Explain that they will use classroom assessment lists and that they will be given models of excellent work.


Example of STEP 4

TITLE OF TASK__________________






Task-Related Help for Students
The teacher will keep the grades and other official information; the student should keep a log of the tasks that she or he completes.

Individual Log
If the student is given the freedom to choose the task product format and/or purpose, he or she should keep these records so that a variety of tasks are accomplished. The students should mark the tasks that they choose to save in the working folder in preparation for the final selection. The log should be an ongoing record of a student's involvement in pursuit of skills and literacy in the subject area.

The following is an example of the information that should be included in the student's log.






Individual Task Management Plan

Students may not have much experience with projects like performance assessment tasks. The individual task management plan will provide structure to the student so that he or she approaches the task in an organized, thoughtful manner. Students are asked to state the purpose of the task in their own words. Then they list the steps to accomplish the plan. The teacher may insert checkpoints with due dates to help ensure that the plan is carried out according to schedule.

The last task is for the student to identify problems or barriers to the completion of the task and consider solutions. When the plan is well done and complete, the student and teacher sign it. For some projects, parents may be asked to review the plan and sign it also. Students may not be specific enough in their action plans at first. Give them feedback about the quality of their plans and show them examples of well-done management plans.



(To accomplish task well and on time):






Using a Mix of Assessment Strategies

Use quizzes, open-book exams, traditional test, and performance assessment tasks in a combination that will allow you to assess how students are progressing.

Start Slowly and Go One Step at a Time

The teacher may begin by choosing one task to start with. After some experience, more tasks may be used. Another strategy is for the teacher to give the students a menu of performance tasks early in the course, and let the students each select one or two to do as major projects for the course. At set times in the course, each student would present hos or her product or performance to the class. If the student's task called for the product or performance to be given to an audience outside of the class, then allow that experience to occur first. When the student reports to his or her peers in class, the experience with the outside audience could be part of the report. Attentions should be focused on how the performance tasks are helping to build subject area literacy in the students.

Use Classroom Lists and Models of Excellent Work
At the beginning of a performance task show students the classroom list relevant to their project. Also show them examples of excellent work similar to, but not identical to their current project. You may not have models of excellent work at first.

Models of excellent work should come from your students. You and your colleagues could define what excellent work is in your course, For a poster talk, for example, you might collect excellent posters on different topics. If two or more teachers are teaching the same course, each one can collect a set of excellent posters. When the collection is finished, review the posters and select a final set that includes a variety of topics and styles created for different audiences. You can choose to have students participate in the final selection.

Require Self-Assessment
Especially in the beginning, students will have the tendency to complete their work and turn it in to you without assessing it themselves. Require that they use the classroom lists and assess their work using each element in the appropriate lists.

Helping Students Become Better at Self-Assessment

If students are not experienced in writing self-assessments, they will need training during the course so that they can write an self-assessment narrative. After students complete tasks, ask them to respond to the following questions so that they will gain experience with self-assessment.
  1. What do you like the most about your project? Why?
  2. What was the most difficult part about making the project? Why?
  3. If you were to do this project again, what would you do differently? Why?
  4. If you were to revise this project one more time, how would you change it and why?
  5. How did you craft your project so that it would be just right the specific audience?
  6. What helps you be creative?
  7. What are three words that describe you as a student? Explain how those three words best describe you.
  8. If a candid camera were to take pictures of you working on this project, what would it see?
  9. Who was the biggest help to you on this project? How did they help you?
  10. How does this project show that you understand the important concepts we have studied so far?

Assessing Tasks

Attention should be focused on how the performance tasks are helping build an understanding of course concepts. Rubrics and classroom assessment lists can be the main criteria used to assess performance tasks.


A rubric is a set of descriptions of the quality of a process and/or a product. The set of descriptions includes a continuum of quality from excellent to poor. There are many varieties of rubrics. The one that follows is a six-level rubric called a "Two-Decision Rubric."

Using the Rubric

To use the rubric, the assessor studies the product and makes the first of two decisions. The assessor decides if the product is more like the one that is excellent (T) or more like the one that is poor (W). If the first decision is that the product is more like a T, then you are ready to make the second and final decision. Is the product unusually excellent (S), is it evenly excellent (T), or is it mostly excellent (U)?

Superb, eloquent, unusually excellent
Evenly excellent
Mostly excellent, unevenly excellent, one or two important elements that are not excellent
Better than poor, one or two important elements that are better than poor
Evenly poor
Not done or very poor

If the first decision is that the product is more like a W, you must rate the porject based on the following questions.. Is the product evenly poor (W), mostly poor but with some better elements (V), or is it not completed or very poorly done (X)? In only two decisions, the product is placed on a six-point scale.

Rubrics presented here use letters instead of numerals. There is good reason for this. If numerals were used, for example, and a student were to make, on a scale of 1 to 4, a 2 on one presentation and a 4 on another, someone might be tempted to report that the student made an average of 3 on the product. The score of 1, 2, 3 and 4 are in a continuum of quality, but the distances between each of the levels of quality are probably the same. Rubrics are more like the Continuum B than Continuum A, shown below, so the values should not be added together and a "mean" score should not be calculated.

Continuum A:

Equal intervals between values:


Continuum B:

Unequal intervals between values:


Consider the ratings made by the student on seven posters made throughout the course:

W     U     T     U     U     T     T

It would be correct to describe the student's long-term performance by reporting that he or she made three T's, three U's, and a W. Another observation, however, would be that the rating of T was earned during the later part of the course, which showed that the student improved with time and practice.

A rubric is designed to lay out a continuum of quality from very excellent to very poor. It is a tool that puts this continuum into words and that can be used to place students' work on a continuum of quality. If two or more teachers are assessing the same type of performance, such as a poster, then using the same rubric for the posters will help them both view posters in the same way. Once a rubric has been created, it can be used unaltered by many teachers. (Even teachers at different grade levels and/or teaching different subjects can use the same rubric. Use of a common rubric can provide continuity of teaching and learning from grade to grade and from subject to subject.)

Click here to view a sample rubric for a poster.

Classroom Assessment Lists

The rubric is not a tool for students. Each teacher who uses the rubric makes his or her own classroom assessment list. That classroom assessment list uses terms the students can easily understand. Classroom lists are guidelines. If a student meets every guideline of a classroom list in an excellent manner, the product would probably be assessed as a T.

While the rubric remains unchanged from teacher to teacher, the classroom assessment lists will likely differ from teacher to teacher. The teacher decides how best to translate the rubric into a useful list of guidelines for a particular class of students. It should be noted that after a few experiences using the classroom assessment lists, the students working either alone or in cooperative groups can make their own lists of guidelines; thus, further engaging them in active learning. Click here to see a sample classroom list that was developed from the sample rubric viewable above.

Students' Self-Assessment

An important life skill is the ability to self-assess and plan for improvement. Students often complete their assignments expecting the teacher to grade and return them. Students should learn to thoughtfully study their own work and identify what they have done well and where they need improvement. When students are taught to use the instructions in the performance task, the classroom assessment list, and the models of excellence to assess their own projects, their self-assessment will be more effective.

One successful strategy for teaching students how to use these tools is to show them posters from a previous year or another class that were rated as V or U. Without telling the class what ratings the posters were given, organize the students into small cooperative groups to assess the posters, using the classroom assessment lists and models of excellent posters. Involve the class in a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of each sample poster. Then, when students make their own posters, use cooperative groups for peer-assessment. Require that the student assess his or her own work on each element of the classroom assessment list before it is submitted to the teacher. This process can be used with any other type of product.


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