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21st Century Performance-Based Assessment

Performance-based assessments measure not only students’ understanding of concepts and skills but their capacity to apply them. Whereas in traditional assessments, we determine students’ abilities to recall, identify, list, and match information, in performance-based assessments, we are determining students’ abilities to classify, compare, analyze, and evaluate information. That is, the intention of the performance-based assessments is to determine not only what students know but whether or not they can use what they know.

However, transitioning to performance-based assessments is not a simple process, especially when educators must additionally incorporate the use of 21st Century skills into their assessment systems. This is because with performance-based assessments, we are assessing not only discipline-based competencies but interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies as well. These may include the students’ abilities with collaboration, communication, and self-discipline. Additionally, we want our students to apply information, technology, and media skills as they demonstrate their mastery of subjects.

My vision for a 21st Century performance-based assessment system entails a balanced approach to literacy, content knowledge, and process skills. Teachers must prepare units of study that are driven by authentic tasks rooted in curriculum so that the learning is more meaningful for students. As such, performance tasks for assessment may be built on the content knowledge acquired, the process skills developed, and the work habits that have been inculcated through the units of study. This way, the assessment tasks are not perceived by students as additive in nature (i.e. they are an integral part of the learning itself).

Take a look at how two 9th graders in San Diego County demonstrated their understanding of physics and black holes below. This entire video was created and produced by students.

To support principals and teachers alike in moving toward performance-based assessments, I work with other stakeholders to develop professional learning opportunities that focuses on:

  • An understanding of the deep integration and coordination of curricula and assessments.

  • The investment of time necessary for administering performance-based assessments.

  • How to provide feedback to students that is more appropriate for performance-based assessment processes (i.e. grades vs. task lists).

  • Ideas for the use of technologies in the assessment (and learning) process such as the use of video production as a project-based learning tool, the use of survey tools to gather information, or the use of advanced search skills to identify resources and information required.

  • A process for developing a school-wide (or grade/subject-wide) common framework of assessment lists so students encounter similar assessment processes from subject to subject, thereby improving their performance thanks to the consistent application of the performance-based assessment system.

Lastly, the professional learning program discussed above is sustained and ongoing through a clear process that begins with an explanation and demonstration of the theories and processes involved with creating and administering performance-based assessments. Next, I work with individual teachers directly as they practice the processes demonstrated and with site leaders to support their monitoring of the use of performance-based assessments by the educators. Moreover, I support the establishment of ongoing professional learning communities of practice focused on improving school-wide use of performance-based assessments.

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