Performance Assessment Activities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Performance assessment is a great way to understand what your students know and understand on an authentic level. This lesson offers some activities for doing performance assessments.

Why Performance Assessment?

Have you ever noticed that the tests you give your students seem taken out of context or irrelevant to how they might use the material in their daily lives? If you are worried about this, you might consider using performance assessment. The idea behind performance assessment is that rather than simply testing students' ability to regurgitate knowledge, it evaluates students' capacity to make use of knowledge in a particular context. In other words, to do well on a performance assessment, students actually need to perform.

Performance assessments can be especially useful for students who get anxious about taking tests or whose strengths are not adequately expressed via isolated and out-of-context tests. Many of these students know more than they are sometimes given the opportunity to show. As teachers, we get valuable information from performance assessments; they let us judge whether our students will actually be able to make use of the knowledge they are gaining.

The performance assessment activities in this lesson are meant to function as examples of how performance assessment can look in different subject areas. Obviously, you can modify these activities to meet the needs of your students as well as to be relevant to the content you are teaching.

Performance Assessment Activities


Ask your students to read a grade-level nonfiction passage. Introduce the passage to them and then give them the opportunity to read it independently. Then, give students the following two tasks:

  • Choose two words from the passage that are likely to be unfamiliar to many students. Ask students to write explanations of the two words including what they mean and how they relate to the content of the passage.
  • Ask your students to highlight one or two sentences in the second half of the passage they have read. Then, ask them to write an explanation about how these sentences connect to the parts of the passage that came before them, and what they add on to what the passage communicates.


After studying a particular genre of writing with your students, ask them to spend one week writing the best piece they can from that genre. Students should go through all of the stages of the writing process, and you will assess not only the product they come up with but the extent to which their work shows their understanding of writing as a process.


At the end of a unit of study in mathematics, explain to your students that their job is to develop a set of three to five story problems that reflect the topic you have been studying. The problems they develop should be realistic and relevant to their own daily lives. They should also embed the different elements of math your students have been studying.

Students should provide solutions to their problems as well as written explanations for how they came up with their solutions and what they did to check their own work.

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