Breaking Down Performance-Based Assessment

Multiracial students using laptop computer for project research while studying together at school

Educators are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage students in their learning and to assess students throughout the process. Doing this in an authentic manner, without adding a ton of extra work to an already busy teacher’s lesson plan, is the goal. This is where performance-based assessment becomes so valuable. 

In traditional methods of assessment, students may be tested on rote memorization skills and demonstrating these skills out of context. While this may be an easy way for students to show what they know and for teachers to gather quick data, it is not always the most meaningful method of assessment. With performance-based assessments, students show their knowledge by using it in a real-world context, making these assessments valuable both as a learning tool and an assessment tool. 

What is Performance-based Assessment? 

Performance-based assessment (PBA) is a type of assessment that asks students to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it in a real-world scenario by creating a product or solution to a complex problem that exists in real life. With PBA, students have the autonomy to choose how they solve the problem or how they interact with the materials. 

PBA shares many of the principles of Universal Design, including providing multiple opportunities for success and giving students choices in their learning, which will increase student engagement and agency in the classroom. This is why the performance-based assessment is a valuable tool, it develops 21st-century skills, allows for authentic skill assessment, and boosts student engagement. 

For a teacher, these assessments also provide a unique insight into a student’s learning by offering a glimpse at how students process and use knowledge after they have learned a concept in class. This means that teachers can find any gaps in understanding quickly as they observe students engage in a performance-based assessment. 


Performance-based assessments can be extremely varied as educators typically design these assessments to fit specific learning targets from their class. However, most performance-based assessments have the following in common

  • They are authentic and based in the real world rather than existing only in theory
  • Assessments are open-ended to allow students to make decisions
  • They are process driven
  • They involve complex thinking rather than memorization
  • They have a time limit for completion

There are a wide variety of assessments that fit into the performance-based assessment realm including: 

    • Debates – students need to think on their feet and use their knowledge to craft an argument. A debate can be used in almost any classroom, the key is to have a debate topic that is truly open-ended with no decided right or wrong answer. 
    • Experiments – student-designed experiments can be used to answer complex questions or prove a claim while demonstrating a student’s understanding of scientific or social science principles. 
    • Portfolios – by collecting samples over time, a portfolio allows students to demonstrate their growth and performance in a class over time. Portfolios are best utilized in classes such as art or creative writing where it is difficult to assess using traditional methods. 
    •  Short story – giving students the freedom to write a fictional short story can engage students in language arts materials in a way that a traditional exam simply cannot. Teachers can see how students are grasping elements such as plot, theme, and character development authentically while students create their pieces. 
  • Problem-based learning or PBLs – in a PBL students are asked to solve a local or worldwide problem that truly hasn’t been solved yet. PBLs can be used in almost any content to allow students to use their skills to solve the problem. 

Tips for Implementing Performance-based Assessments 

Performance-based assessments may seem daunting at first because they require a higher level of planning and they require more flexibility and trust from teachers. However, there are a few tips for educators to remember when implementing successful performance-based assessments. 

  • Be flexible  – it can be challenging to allow students to have the freedom required to complete a performance-based assessment, most students’ work will not fit neatly into a box and that is ok. 
  • Know what you are assessing – not all performance-based assessments are good assessments, teachers need to have a clear understanding of what they are looking for as students complete their work. 
  • Be interdisciplinary – PBAs are interdisciplinary, students will be pulling from many different content and skill areas. It is a good idea to even make some of these connections for students as they are progressing through their performance-based assessment. 
  • Redefine success – due to their spontaneous and student-driven nature, performance-based assessments don’t always show success in the same ways that a traditional assessment does. The teacher may need to redefine what success means when doing a PBA. 

Effective educators need a many different assessment methods in their toolbox. One of the most engaging and effective methods of assessing students is through performance-based assessments where students can utilize 21st-century skills while meaningfully demonstrating their learning. Although developing performance-based assessments is challenging, there are tools available to help teachers through the process. 

Open Assessment Technologies provides teachers with a digital platform and framework to design, implement, and measure student growth through the entire PBA process. If you are interested in learning more about how Open Assessment Technologies can make performance-based assessments more engaging for your students and easier to access for your teachers click here to reach a customer service representative.