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This is a re-post of Dr. Canda Mueller’s popular “Performance Assessments – Part 2” originally posted April 2, 2015

In Performance Assessments – Part 1, we discussed what is meant by the term “performance assessment,” as well as some of its pros and cons. In this post, we consider the seemingly simple question of why. Why choose performance assessment items? What is the educator trying to learn about the students by including them?

The answers to these questions depend on local needs. For example:

  • Does the local or state education agency require a record of student growth between fall and spring?
  • Is the educator more focused on the student’s thought processes rather than the final responses?
  • Are students receiving individualized instruction requiring assessment at different times based on different expectations within the classroom?

In any of these instances, performance assessment items are a good choice. These items require students to partake in multiple steps, some of which require short one- or two-word answers, and some that require extensive writing or calculations. Having students respond to multiple steps allows the educator to obtain a better understanding of where a student is struggling. Regardless of whether this is a classroom assessment scored by the teacher or a large-scale assessment scored by an assessment vendor, the subparts of the item provide rich detail on what a student can and cannot do. This is a main advantage of a performance assessment item over a traditional multiple-choice item.

For example, consider an item in which a student must read a passage about a historical event, create a timeline of events, and then respond to a writing prompt relating that event to a modern-day occurrence. The scoring for this item can take into account comprehension, grammar, and the student’s ability to synthesize and relate the material in a clear manner, as well as the student’s understanding of history.

Additionally, performance assessment item should be set in a real context. Otherwise, it can become difficult to defend answers as correct or incorrect, and it can create substantial issues in scoring. (Scoring these items will be discussed in a later blog post.) For example, consider a mathematics item that refers to a person carrying an object weighing well over a ton, which is clearly an unrealistic situation.  Questions about scoring can arise simply because the context is so outrageous that perhaps nothing else in the item should be believed as true or appropriate.

Instances in which performance assessment items may not be a good choice include any time a multiple-choice item would yield the same result. Performance assessment items are expensive, and if the purposes of the assessment can be met with multiple-choice items, one must either change the purpose to make performance assessment items a viable choice or use a simpler item type.

Once the decision to include performance assessment items has been made, the next step is to develop the items. Developing strong performance items can be an arduous task, and our next blog post will focus on how Questar Assessment conducts this work.