Performance assessments require that students perform or produce work using what they know and can do. They vary in terms of quality, depth, and complexity. Some can be discipline-focused tasks such as a literary essay or a science lab. Others can be authentic experiences in which students investigate a substantive problem or issue in their community or beyond. Examples of these tasks include developing a campaign to address pollution in a local watershed or learning to serve as museum docents. These assessments are used in K-12 education within the United States and in various countries, including Singapore, Finland, Australia, and England. They can be designed to prepare students for the intellectual rigor, critical and creative thinking, and self-directedness that are required to succeed in college and careers.

Schools benefit from a wide range of performance assessment since such a range is akin to what we experience in life.

High-quality performance assessments have the following attributes:

center on authentic and interdisciplinary problems;

involve inquiry, complex thinking, and reflection;

demand elaborate communication and collaboration;

have explicit and meaningful scoring criteria and models;

and provide student choice.

Performance assessments benefit teachers and students. Teachers can use them as diagnostic, formative, and summative tasks to inform their understanding of student needs. Students benefit from them through opportunities to engage with real-life tasks and issues, by developing their higher thinking and meta-cognitive skills, and by tapping prior knowledge and transferring learning from one context to another.

There is significant research on the validity of performance assessment in the classroom and on its role in measuring cognitively complex skills. Much more research is needed regarding the use of performance assessment for large-scale accountability purposes.

Negotiating the use of performance assessment in the classroom requires a partnership between teachers and students and a re-definition of the teachers’ role within a learner-centered pedagogy. Unless teachers re-think their curriculum goals along with their assessment purposes and understand how authentic assessment can be valuable, they may have a difficult time rationalizing its use in their classrooms. The organization and structure of schools creates additional challenges for the design, use, and scoring of performance tasks. These assessments require more classroom time, place greater administrative burdens on staff, and are more difficult to score than multiple-choice tests. On the other hand, there is growing consensus on the value of these assessments in promoting knowledge transfer, higher order thinking skills, and dispositional outcomes needed for college and work. When these assessments are authentic, they engage students in meaningful work that helps them appreciate the relationship between what they are learning in school and the world beyond school. They are not a luxury, but a necessary component of a diversified and balanced assessment repertoire.