Should You Use Performance-Based Assessments Instead of Traditional?

According to ASCD, “In the act of learning, people obtain content knowledge, acquire skills, and develop work habits—and practice the application of all three to “real world” situations.” The goal of performance-based assessments is the application of skills, strategies, and concepts to the problems institutions and businesses wrestle with in real life. Moving from head knowledge to problem-solving benefits students in higher education and eventual career choices.

Portfolios with grading rubrics, synthesized assessments that combine multiple subject areas, and other methodologies are designed to evaluate the mental process of learning, not the production of right answers to pre-made tests.

This type of analysis has some very clear advantages over traditional multiple choice and even short answer. Performance-based evaluation goals are:

  • Gives students an opportunity to explain, choose perspectives, and apply to real life situations.
  • Students improve proficiency in utilizing primary and secondary sources.
  • Students must demonstrate understanding instead of just finding the “right” answers.

As any adult knows, the regurgitation of knowledge does not extend beyond Kindergarten-12 grade. A strong argument in favor of performance assessment is that it more accurately reflects post high school life, whether in college or in the work environment.

The Virginia Department of Education provides an example of what this type of appraisal of Social Studies knowledge applied in a project might look like:

“CONCEPTUAL UNIT QUESTION: Did the transformation of the United States from an agricultural to an industrial nation ruin the country?

SCENARIO: It is 1910 and three industrialists– Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller, have received national attention. Each of these industrialists is a candidate in their states to be honored with a statue at the U.S. Capitol. As a citizen of the United States, you have an opinion on whether they should receive this honor. Choose one of the industrialists and write a speech providing your opinion on whether the honor is deserved. Provide specific evidence to support your opinion.”

The project must include a persuasive speech either for or against an industrialist using at least 3 supporting documents.

The same strategy can apply to any academic subject and at any grade level, with the objective being to move from recall, matching, listing, identifying to comparing, classifying, evaluating, and analyzing.

The Thoughtco. suggests six methods of evaluation:

Portfolios: A portfolio would comprise written work, projects, and reflections on what was learned over a course of time.

Projects: Representing creativity, analysis and synthesis, a project might be a research paper, a lengthy speech, a physical project or a journal.

Debates: Designed to express an argument or opinion, the debate can apply to any subject. Because debates can take many forms, they can represent many student viewpoints simultaneously.

Performance: While we typically think of drama as a performance, students can recite a dramatic poem, reenact a historical speech, or perform a dance.

Presentations: Presentations can individual or collaborative.

Exhibits: Geared well to science and math, exhibits can also be an excellent tool for Language assessment and history.

While performance-based assessments will likely never take the place of traditional assessments, teachers should give serious thought to using at least one performance-based evaluation during the academic year.

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