IntelAssessing Projects : Demonstrating Understanding
Performance Assessment


Products and Performances
Products and performance assessments emphasize what learners can do or create, not just what they know. This type of assessment provides information about how learners understand and apply knowledge, as well as their thinking and reasoning. Use performance-based assessments to make observations on a learner’s performance within a specific time frame and setting. Checklists, scoring guides and rubrics are created before the observation takes place and are then shared with learners so that they know the requirements or necessary skills in advance and can prepare for them. This allows learners the freedom to work on those skills or areas where they feel they might be weak.

When learners create products, such as models, presentations, and publications, their work is authentic, resembling the kind of work that people do in real life. A carefully designed product assessment will require critical thinking and problem solving, the deep understanding of relevant concepts and the proficient use of appropriate skills. Product-based assessments also allow learners to make some choices about format and topic so they can use their strengths and interests to support their learning.

Effective product and performance-based assessments must address several factors. Determining the purpose of the assessment is paramount to a successful assessment. To help focus on important aspects, ask the following questions:
  • What concept, skill, strategy, or knowledge am I trying to assess?
  • What should my learners know?
  • At what level should my learners be performing?
  • What type of knowledge is being assessed: reasoning, memory, or process? (Stiggins, 1994)
After establishing the purpose, define the criteria to use to determine the success of the learner’s product or performance. The Assessing Projects application provides many examples that may prove to be very useful, but it is important to note that some of the criteria may include too many skills or concepts, or they may not fit the needs exactly. We recommend a review of the traits and descriptors and an adaptation for the purposes before applying any of them to performance-based assessments.

Airasian (1991, p.244) suggests completing the following steps when determining or adapting the criteria for a specific purpose:
  • Identify the overall performance or task to be assessed, and perform it.
  • List the important aspects of the performance or product.
  • Try to limit the number of performance criteria, so they can all be observed during a learner's performance.
  • If possible, have groups of teachers think through the important behaviours included in a task.
  • Express the performance criteria in terms of observable learner behaviours or product characteristics.
  • Don't use ambiguous words that cloud the meaning of the performance criteria.
  • Arrange the performance criteria in the order in which they are likely to be observed.
Valuable information is gained about how to help learners improve when utilizing these performance-based assessment strategies. Using the criteria determined in advance and observing the process as well as the product, provides for a careful analysis of learner performance as well as opportunities to look for patterns related to teaching and learning goals. This allows for the modification or development of teaching and learning practices to facilitate growth among all learners. When analyzing collected data, questions to consider include:
  • Did successful learners use a different approach than less successful learners?
  • Were the less successful performers hindered by misconceptions and how might they have developed these misconceptions?
  • Where in the process did learners run into difficulty?
  • What kinds of errors did they make?
  • Are there certain traits that learners have difficulty with?
  • Are there consistent misconceptions across the class that need addressing?