What’s all the fuss about performance assessment?

Performance assessment is not just a passing fad – it is an essential part of a complete and balanced assessment plan.

Let’s be honest – some outcomes simply can’t be measured by a test or quiz. And just because students need to complete some multiple choice tests during their schooling doesn’t mean that we have to use tests as the default assessment format within our classrooms. We have the opportunity – and responsibility – to help prepare our students for the real world. After all, when was the last time you had to do a multiple choice test within your world of work? For me it was decades ago, but that’s a topic for another day!

Performance assessment provides a way for students to demonstrate skills, processes, and competencies, such as critical thinking and creativity, through open-ended tasks that focus on big ideas from the curriculum.

Chances are you are already using performance tasks, but they may exist within your unit plans as projects. With a bit of planning, you can take your projects to the next level. Here are some tips to make it easier for you and your students!

  1. Start small.
    • Start with something that can be completed in one class period or two. Don’t spend too long crafting the perfect task. Instead, put a prototype in action as quickly as possible, and use the lessons you learn on your next attempt.
  2. Collaborate with your colleagues.
    • Work together to create a good question or prompt for the task, then collaborate at the end to examine student work together and reflect on what you’ve learned.
  3. Clarify the learning destination for yourself.
    • What is the learning that really matters here? Will the task you have in mind actually provide the opportunity to demonstrate that learning? Remember that the details of the mode of presentation may not be the most important part of the task. This may be a shift for the students – and their parents! And be sure to check that the rubric is also measuring those same things that really matter.
  4. Clarify the learning destination for your students.
    • How will you build a shared understanding of the learning goals of the activity? Are students clear on the qualities of excellent work?
  5. Consider the needs of all your students.
    • Does the task have entry points for every student in your class? Will students have opportunities to take the learning further if they’re able?
  6. Provide opportunities for practice and feedback.
    • Students need opportunities to practice, receive feedback, and use the feedback to improve, before you assign a mark to their work. Feedback is a checkup, not an autopsy!
  7. Provide choice whenever possible.
    • This might be choice in the question or topic students are responding to, the way in which they demonstrate their learning, or the types of scaffolding available.
  8. Involve students in the assessment process
    • This might include providing time for students to review exemplars, examine their work in relation to the exemplars, engage in peer feedback and self-reflection on work in progress, and set goals for next steps.
  9. Look for ways to include an authentic audience.
    • Students from another class or grade? Presentation to an outside audience? Work displayed inside or outside of school? Digital sharing of the work? A performance task should connect to, or at least mirror, something within the real world.
  10. Don’t panic!
    • The open-ended nature of performance tasks requires a level of independence and risk-taking that might be unfamiliar to your students. Be patient with them, and with yourself!


And here’s one last bonus tip – not everything students do needs to be included in their report card mark. That’s right! When an assessment format is new for students (and perhaps also for their teachers), everyone needs time to learn, reflect, and try again.


What opportunities exist for including a performance task within your current unit plan? Give it a try! The results may astound you!

Looking for some ideas? Check out https://aac.ab.ca/materials/.

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