What Is A Performance-Based Assessment?

Performance-based assessment was first seen in classrooms in a big way in the 1990s. It was a new way of testing students’ learning, but it fell out of favor when legislatures turned back to emphasizing standardized testing. Now,performance-based assessments are back as school districts and higher-learning institutions are looking for easier ways for teachers ways to gauge student learning.

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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Performance-based assessment

Performance-based assessment was first seen in classrooms in a big way in the 1990s. It was a new way of testing students’ learning, but it fell out of favor when legislatures turned back to emphasizing standardized testing. Now,performance-based assessments are back as school districts and higher-learning institutions are looking for easier ways for teachers ways to gauge student learning.

WHAT IS PERFORMANCE-BASED ASSESSMENT?

Performance-based assessment is not a fill-in-the-blank or choose-the-best-answer way of testing. While the definition of performance-based assessment can vary greatly based on who is offering the definition, generally speaking, this way of testing is a measurement of how students apply the knowledge and skills they learned from a unit of study. It is a way to challenge students to use their higher-level thinking skills in order to complete a task, assignment, test, or even all three together.

In a performance-based assessment, these tasks could be as simple as a short answer or as complex as an open-ended response exercise. It could be completed as an individual or even in a group setting, depending on the intended goal. To get a true measured assessment, the project/test should virtually mirror professional responsibilities. By that, we mean taking real-life responsibilities from artists or financial analysts or engineers and base students’ performance on those.

The student’s creation then gets its grade based on a set of criteria that was discussed prior to the project/test. This could include a checklist that students need to follow. This is where the “performance” is graded and it is also what sets performance-based assessment apart from the everyday, ho-hum, standardized testing model.

THE BENEFITS

Higher-order thinking skills combined with problem-solving are a great challenge for students. With performance-based assessment students could also learn how to manage time much better, as a time factor is typically incorporated in these assessments. They also learn to communicate much better.

While standardized testing will show whether a student knows enough about a specific subject, performance-based assessments can show if a student can apply gained knowledge appropriately to the project/test at hand. By that same thought, if project/test goals are first created, then applied properly, these assessments would allow students to self-monitor. This aspect is quite beneficial to a student’s higher-level learning.

As far as modern teaching strategies go, performance-based assessments go, teachers claim they go virtually hand in hand with teaching strategies such as critical thinking and active learning. The combination of these strategies when taught and then used by students could have a positive reaction regarding students’ performances in the classroom.

THE DEBATE OVER PERFORMANCE-BASED ASSESSMENT

So, why is performance-based assessment making a strong comeback? Why now? What has changed in the educational landscape that sees standardized testing wane while performance-based assessment has risen? Well, according to a joint report published by the Center for Collaborative Education and the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment, standardized testing in grades K-12 is simply becoming outdated. Why? Mostly, teachers just don’t like it.

Although standardized testing probably won’t be completely banished from public schools, the traditional way of testing students is coming under a lot of fire from many directions. Teachers claim it doesn’t adjust for the socio-economic differences seen in many school districts across the nation. They further claim standardized testing is also failing to assess properly the skills of students’ pre-higher education. Standardized testing is like a one-size-fits-all, they say, whereas performance-based assessment takes in the complete picture.

Supporters of standardized testing say that teachers are simply looking for a way to hide their own poor performance. By making testing subjective, results can be skewed to hide teachers who aren’t doing a good job of educating their students. Without an objective and standardized means of testing, it’s easier for failing schools to get away with continuing to fail.

THE KEY CHARACTERISTICS

Not all performance-based assessments are built the same. They do, though, have a number of key characteristics that they share. The main thing they all share is that they measure accurately one or more course standards. These assessments also are complex, process and product-oriented, bound to time, and they can be open-ended… meaning there is no one correct answer.

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Typically, students who are being held to a performance-based assessment are given an open-ended question. This question may have several correct answers, but none of them are specific to being the only correct answer. This is the ultimate beauty of this type of testing, there can be a number of different correct answers, but the process in which the students go by to obtain their answer is the key. The ability to use higher thinking to learn about a subject makes for better results.

FINALLY

We are not saying that public education should do away with standardized testing completely and either is public education itself. This way of assessing students’ knowledge still has its place in schools. But incorporating more and more performance-based assessments can go a long way in truly helping students learn in a way that will benefit them in the long run. They will see there is more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak, and it will allow them to flourish in a way standardized testing doesn’t.