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15.9: Performance assessments

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    Typically, in performance assessments, students complete a specific task while teachers observe the process or procedure (e.g. data collection in an experiment) as well as the product (e.g. completed report) (Popham, 2005; Stiggens, 2005). The tasks that students complete in performance assessments are not simple—in contrast to selected response items—and include the following:

    • playing a musical instrument
    • athletic skills
    • artistic creation
    • conversing in a foreign language
    • engaging in a debate about political issues
    • conducting an experiment in science
    • repairing a machine
    • writing a term paper
    • using interaction skills to play together

    These examples all involve complex skills but illustrate that the term performance assessment is used in a variety of ways. For example, the teacher may not observe all of the process (e.g. she sees a draft paper but the final product is written during out-of-school hours) and essay tests are typically classified as performance assessments (Airasian, 2000). In addition, in some performance assessments there may be no clear product (e.g. the performance may be group interaction skills).

    Two related terms, alternative assessment and authentic assessment are sometimes used instead of performance assessment but they have different meanings (Linn & Miller, 2005).

    Alternative assessment refers to tasks that are not pencil-and-paper and while many performance assessments are not pencil-and paper tasks some are (e.g. writing a term paper, essay test).

    • Alternative assessment also refers an assessment system that is used to assess students with the most significant cognitive disability or multiple disabilities that significantly impact intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior.

    Click here to watch the video on Dynamic Learning Maps assessment system (DLM) (8:50 minutes)

    Authentic assessment is used to describe tasks that students do that are similar to those in the “real world”. Classroom tasks vary in level of authenticity (Popham, 2005). For example, a Japanese language class taught in a high school in Chicago conversing in Japanese in Tokyo is highly authentic— but only possible in a study abroad program or trip to Japan. Conversing in Japanese with native Japanese speakers in Chicago is also highly authentic, and conversing with the teacher in Japanese during class is moderately authentic. Much less authentic is a matching test on English and Japanese words. In a language arts class, writing a letter (to an editor) or a memo to the principal is highly authentic as letters and memos are common work products.

    • However, writing a five-paragraph paper is not as authentic as such papers are not used in the world of work.
    • However, a five-paragraph paper is a complex task and would typically be classified as a performance assessment.

    Internet Resource on Performance Assessment

    The Inside Mathematics website has Performance Assessments Tasks for grades 2 through 8 and high school math (algebra, functions, geometry, statistics and probability, and number and quantity). The assessments are aligned to the Common Core Standards for Mathematics: You may download and use these tasks for professional development purposes without modifying the tasks.

    Jay McTighe and Associates have a Performance Tasks Blog Series- What is a Performance Task? Seven characteristics of Performance Tasks and a few examples are included.

    Advantages and disadvantages

    There are several advantages of performance assessments (Linn & Miller 2005). First, the focus is on complex learning outcomes that often cannot be measured by other methods. Second, performance assessments typically assess process or procedure as well as the product. For example, the teacher can observe if the students are repairing the machine using the appropriate tools and procedures as well as whether the machine functions properly after the repairs. Third, well designed performance assessments communicate the instructional goals and meaningful learning clearly to students. For example, if the topic in a fifth-grade art class is one-point perspective the performance assessment could be drawing a city scene that illustrates one-point perspective. This assessment is meaningful and clearly communicates the learning goal. This performance assessment is a good instructional activity and has good content validity—common with well-designed performance assessments (Linn & Miller 2005).

    • One major disadvantage with performance assessments is that they are typically very time consuming for students and teachers. This means that fewer assessments can be gathered so if they are not carefully devised fewer learning goals will be assessed—which can reduce content validity.

    State curriculum guidelines can be helpful in determining what should be included in a performance assessment. For example, Eric, a dance teacher in a high school in Tennessee learns that the state standards indicate that dance students at the highest level should be able to do demonstrate consistency and clarity in performing technical skills by:

    • performing complex movement combinations to music in a
    • variety of meters and styles
    • performing combinations and variations in a broad dynamic range
    • demonstrating improvement in performing movement combinations through self-evaluation
    • critiquing a live or taped dance production based on given criteria

    Eric devises the following performance task for his eleventh-grade modern dance class.

    In groups of 4-6 students will perform a dance at least 5 minutes in length. The dance selected should be multifaceted so that all the dancers can demonstrate technical skills, complex movements, and a dynamic range (Items 1-2). Students will videotape their rehearsals and document how they improved through self-evaluation (Item 3). Each group will view and critique the final performance of one other group in class (Item 4). Eric would need to scaffold most steps in this performance assessment. The groups probably would need guidance in selecting a dance that allowed all the dancers to demonstrate the appropriate skills; critiquing their own performances constructively; working effectively as a team, and applying criteria to evaluate a dance.

    • Another disadvantage of performance assessments is they are hard to assess reliably which can lead to inaccuracy and unfair evaluation. As with any constructed response assessment, scoring rubrics are very important.

    Table \(\PageIndex{7}\): : Example of group interaction rubric

    Score Time management Participation and performance in roles Shared involvement
    0 Group did not stay on task and so task was not completed. Group did not assign or share roles. Single individual did the task.
    1 Group was off-task the majority of the time but task was completed. Groups assigned roles but members did not use these roles. Group totally disregarded comments and ideas from some members.
    2 Group stayed on task most of the time. Groups accepted and used some but not all roles. Group accepted some ideas but did not give others adequate consideration
    3 Group stayed on task throughout the activity and managed time well. Group accepted and used roles and actively participated. Groups gave equal consideration to all ideas
    4 Group defined their own approach in a way that more effectively managed the activity. Group defined and used roles not mentioned to them. Role changes took place that maximized individuals’ expertise. Groups made specific efforts to involve all group members including the reticent members.
    Source: Adapted from Group Interaction (GI) SETUP (2003). Issues, Evidence and You. Ronkonkomo, NY Lab-Aids, (

    This rubric was devised for middle grade science ,but could be used in other subject areas when assessing group process. In some performance assessments, several scoring rubrics should be used. In the dance performance example above Eric should have scoring rubrics for the performance skills, the improvement based on self-evaluation, the team work, and the critique of the other group.

    Obviously, devising a good performance assessment is complex and Linn and Miller (2005) recommend that teachers should:

    • Create performance assessments that require students to use complex cognitive skills. Sometimes teachers devise assessments that are interesting and that the students enjoy but do not require students to use higher level cognitive skills that lead to significant learning. Focusing on high level skills and learning outcomes is particularly important because performance assessments are typically so time consuming.
    • Ensure that the task is clear to the students. Performance assessments typically require multiple steps so students need to have the necessary prerequisite skills and knowledge as well as clear directions. Careful scaffolding is important for successful performance assessments.
    • Specify expectations of the performance clearly by providing students scoring rubrics during the instruction. This not only helps students understand what it expected but it also guarantees that teachers are clear about what they expect. Thinking this through while planning the performance assessment can be difficult for teachers, but is crucial as it typically leads to revisions of the actual assessment and directions provided to students.
    • Reduce the importance of unessential skills in completing the task. What skills are essential depends on the purpose of the task. For example, for a science report, is the use of publishing software essential? If the purpose of the assessment is for students to demonstrate the process of the scientific method including writing a report, then the format of the report may not be significant. However, if the purpose includes integrating two subject areas, science and technology, then the use of publishing software is important. Because performance assessments take time it is tempting to include multiple skills without carefully considering if all the skills are essential to the learning goals.

    15.9: Performance assessments is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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