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Performance-Based Assessments: 4 Tips on How to Use Them in Your Classroom

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Student delivering a performance-based piece in class.


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There are so many ways to evaluate where your students are and how well they are retaining lessons. You may use exit tickets, traditional quizzes, or some other type of assessment

Performance-based learning is an active, hands-on approach to student learning at any grade level.  This type of learning shifts away from worksheets and traditional testing models and leans into assessments that offer insight into a student’s understanding. 

It asks questions that don’t have a right and a wrong answer. The questions emphasize the student’s skills and encourage reflection. Student achievement is about producing a product, like a group project, or placing more emphasis on the process. 

This article will provide an overview of performance-based learning and the benefits of this approach. There will also be some tips for implementing performance-based assessments in your classroom.

What are performance-based assessments?

Performance-based learning and performance-based assessments are a system of learning and assessing a student’s knowledge through a display of skills. 

In this system, student performance is not measured by a multiple-choice test or quiz. Instead, students are given assignments that mimic real-world situations. To successfully complete the assessment they must use content knowledge, higher-order thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Assessment tasks could include creating a newspaper, acting in a play, or planning a sustainable neighborhood community. Students demonstrate critical thinking as they work through the challenges of these tasks. They are given the opportunity to show what they know rather than simply writing down facts.

Performance-based learning requires more collaboration between students and teachers than other teaching methods. Throughout this ongoing learning process, both teacher and student are able to work together and monitor progress. You will be able to see more clearly where the student is at and make adjustments to assist their learning. 

The foundation of performance-based assessments

There is no one way to make the perfect performance-based assessments. What your students need and are learning is unique to your classroom. You can always tweak your lessons as needed.

However, there are a few key elements that make these types of assessments what they are.

Overall, performance-based assessments should be:

  • Authentic – The projects should be reflective of tasks that would be encountered in the real world or a workplace environment. 
  • Time bound – There is a set time limit for when the project needs to be done. This is similar to deadlines that learners will experience in the real world.
  • Open-ended – Students have flexibility in how the task can be completed. There is not just one right answer. 
  • Process/Product orientated - The end goal is ideally not just a typed paper. It is something tangible that students can see. There is also more focus on the steps taken to achieve the end goal. 

Performance-based assessments should reflect real life by being complex with the possibility of multiple correct answers. They should also have an urgency to solve the issue within a set period of time. 

For example, check out this example of a performance-based assessment used in a high school classroom below. In this assessment, students were asked to role play as air traffic controllers and use their math skills to assess a dangerous situation.

Ready to implement this method in your classroom but aren’t sure where to start? We’ve got 4 great tips to get you started creating an authentic assessment process.

4 Tips for creating performance-based assessments

Implementing a new assessment or teaching style is not easy. There will be bumps in the road, but these tips will help you successfully start using performance-based assessments. 

1. Set clear expectations

Performance-based assessments are more open-ended than traditional assignments and can be challenging for students to finish.

Because of this, it is important teachers make their expectations clear and outline how students will be graded. Share a scoring rubric with the criteria outlined. Previous examples are also helpful for students to use as inspiration. They provide a concrete example of what an ideal submission is or how others that missed the mark could be improved.

2. Start at the end

When planning an assessment, identify the learning objective of the lesson first and then work backward. Think about what is most important for a student to take away from the performance task. Then consider the clearest way that they can show they’ve learned that concept.

3. Practice, practice, practice

Despite the trending popularity of performance-based assessments, it should not be assumed all students will be comfortable with this method.

Use warm-up activities in other lesson plans that are similar to what will be required in the final. Know that students may need multiple attempts at understanding the task before they are able to complete it. Offer practice sessions whenever possible.

4. Leave room to show mistakes

It is important to create a space where students can show their process and where they feel okay with making mistakes.

Similar to the real world, students will not be perfect on the first try. But they should have multiple chances at success. Students need to feel comfortable enough to show their level of understanding and see where adjustments can be made.

Equipped with these tips, you’re ready to get started! Now, on to a few of our favorite types of performance-based assessments. 

Examples of performance-based assessments to spark inspiration

Another perk to performance-based assessments is how creative teachers can be when creating lessons. There are many ways that teachers can fit performance-based assessments in their school district requirements to adhere to common core standards 

Performance-based assessments are versatile; they can be adjusted to fit more traditional summative testing like final projects or just average daily lesson plans. 

Here are 3 examples of performance-based assessments to give you some ideas about ways to incorporate them into your next lesson plan.


Four middle school students raising their hands to answer their teacher's question.

Debates are a popular choice in high school and middle school because they allow students to demonstrate many skills. A debating student will need to be competent in researching, reading comprehension, evidence evaluation, public speaking and civic skills.

There are so many topics that students can debate and different ways that a debate can be set up. Regardless of what subject you teach or what your lesson is about, you are sure to find a way to incorporate this activity into your classroom.


A teacher helping a student create a portfolio.

Portfolios are a collection of a student’s work throughout the school year. This work could include artwork, written papers or project summaries. You could also choose to include a summary of their grades or completed projects at the end of each quarter. 

This folder will help students and teachers alike in seeing the progress made along the way. Students feel encouraged by the growth that they are able to easily see and reflect on. 

In art or writing classes, a portfolio can also be a useful professional development tool outside the classroom. It can be used to apply to continuing education programs. It will continue to serve the student for years to come.


A student delivering a speech in class.

Performances may seem like they only have a place in drama class, but that isn’t the case. They can be used in your classroom no matter what subject you teach. 

For example, students can create a song about the parts of a plant or the process of evaporation. They could also write a play about important historical events. 

When using performances in your classroom, it’s essential to outline clear benchmarks, so that students know what elements are needed for success. Write out expectations when possible so that they can be easily referenced.

How performance-based learning benefits your learners

Utilizing performance-based learning as a teaching strategy will encourage student ownership of the subject matter. Students are involved in every step of the process. They are more engaged and motivated because they feel connected to their learning and take pride in their work.

Performance-based learning is also highly customizable. You can tweak projects and expectations for individual students to assist or challenge them. You can collaborate with students to create learning that is applicable to the student as well as the real world.

Performance-based assessments nurture students’ higher-order thinking skills, which are critical for developing an understanding beyond the memorization of basic facts. It sets students up for success outside the classroom.

Making assessments work for your students

Performance-based assessments can be a great option to better see the depth of understanding your students have of the material. There are many ways to use performance-based assessments in every grade level and subject area. Students will likely be more engaged and motivated in the learning process. 

Prodigy can be a great solution for teachers looking to offer diverse, differentiated assessments in math and English. Here's how it works:

  1. Students play Prodigy Math or Prodigy English in class or at home
  2. They practice and answer skills differentiated to their curriculum progress and individual performance
  3. Teachers review student performance in their teacher portal, helping them spot learning gaps and set up targeted practice!

And the best bit? It's free for teachers and schools!

Simply set up an account, get your class and watch as your students see practicing math and English from a fun, engaging approach.

See what other teachers say about how Prodigy has helped them save time, meet curriculum goals and engage students!

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