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Traditional assessments of student performance have relied heavily on standardized testing methods. Performance-based testing is an alternative that is designed to encompass a better overall representation of student progress including the effectiveness of teacher lesson plans, worksheets and study skills. The idea with performance-based testing is to gather a demonstration of the scope of knowledge a student has on a subject rather than simply testing the accuracy of their response on a selection of questions.
The outcome of performance-based testing has largely been reviewed as a technique that has the potential to encompass a wider base of learning levels. A success criterion is established for students being graded with a performance-based method rather than attempting to align with a normal distribution curve.
How Performance-Based Testing Works
With typical standardized testing, a student is provided multiple choice options or some other form of question and answer format where they choose the best response from a list. Performance-based testing methods utilize a variety of techniques depending on the subject being examined. For example, oral discussions of the subject matter may be a testing method utilized. This is very similar to how an academic doctoral candidate would perform a thesis defense. The idea is to challenge not only the student's depth of knowledge on a subject, but how they correlate multiple concepts taught within the curriculum.
Examining aspects of more expressive subjects such as art, writing and composition may benefit from a performance-based assessment involving a portfolio assessment. A portfolio provides a view of a student's progress for an entire course length rather than attempting to summarize all curriculum components into one final examination, worksheet or project. The progress and study skills of a student is generally very apparent but more so, the portfolio can represent many types of techniques and topics learned.
For academic subjects that are more fact based such as science or mathematics, an oral defense technique is commonly used. The format for the defense can vary, with the required topics formalized with pre-defined criteria based on lesson plan topics or the defense being more of an informal discussion. Another option is known as the problem solving method. This technique can be applicable to both artistic and principle based subjects and utilized a problem example that must be solved utilizing techniques discussed throughout the curriculum.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Performance-Based Testing
One of the primary difficulties with multiple choice selections is the inability to test the volume of information a student has absorbed and the correlations the student is able to make between concepts taught throughout the class. With performance-based testing, a student is enabled and more responsible for the demonstration of their learning. In contrast to a multiple choice test that a student might do poorly on and consequently blame the format of the questions or answers, performance-based testing forces the students to put their knowledge into context that can be understood and explained.
Performance-based testing can be difficult to implement in a large class setting compared to utilizing a standard multiple question type of format for assessment. Large student populations and limited teacher resources would make the timing and cost of performance-based testing more difficult, but conversely, the overall benefit to students can outweigh those concerns in many cases.