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Back To Basics: What Is Performance Based Assessment (PBA)?

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: June 13, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: June 13, 2020


There are a variety of ways to test a student’s knowledge. For some, multiple choice exams and short response questions work well. Yet, these methods may cause test anxiety and fail to showcase how a student solves a problem. For this reason, performance-based assessments may be able to offer better insight as to how much a student understands. Here, we’ll answer “what is performance-based assessment (PBA)?” and break down how to implement performance-based testing in practice.

What Is Performance-Based Assessment?

Serving as an alternative to traditional testing methods, performance-based assessment includes the problem-solving process. These assessments require a student to create a product or answer a question that will demonstrate the student’s skills and understanding.

For this reason, there tends to be no single right or wrong answer. Instead, PBAs require students to actively participate in a task to assess their process. The questions or tasks are designed to be practical and interdisciplinary.

Not only do performance-based assessments provide deeper insight into how well students have learned, they also give them insight into what they understand themselves. With this knowledge, teachers are better able to understand where a student needs extra assistance and can modify their lessons accordingly.

Student writing in a notebook
Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

What Essential Components Does PBA Include?

Depending on subject matter and goals, there are different ways to facilitate PBA. Yet, there are certain elements that make PBA what it is.

Performance-based assessments meet this criteria:

  • Complex
  • Authentic
  • Process/product-oriented
  • Open-ended
  • Time-bound

By this manner, PBA can have several different right answers because the tasks and tests are open-ended. Like most real-world situations, they are bound by time and consist of a level of complexity such that problem-solving skills are really tested.

A Guide To Performance-Based Testing

Performance-based learning relies on the acquisition of skills and development of work habits. Together, these are paired to be applied to real-world situations.

1. Balance In Literacy

In PBA, rather than asking a student solely if they know something, you may also question how they can use their knowledge. This balances the two to provide the ability to recall knowledge and then classify it for practical usage.

2. Content Knowledge

It’s up to the teacher to pull subject matter directly from the curriculum or to pull ideas from the school or department itself.

3. Work Habits

For success in PBA and overall life, students must master skills like time management, intrapersonal communication, and individual responsibility.

4. Performance Tasks

Tasks are designed to pull everything together. These tasks take work habits, content knowledge, and balance in literacy to create. They become ingrained as a part of learning rather than an after effect.

Examples Of PBA

In theory, PBA makes a lot of sense. But how can you incorporate it into your teaching?

Here are some examples of performance-based testing:

  • Elementary School: Pose a question like, “Should our school upgrade our water fountain systems?” Now, that’s a pretty open-ended question with no single correct answer. One way to make it practical is to ask students to record how many kids are using the water fountain per hour. In this way, they can determine need and learn about decision-making.
  • Middle School: Create a scenario in which someone commits a crime. Then, run a mock trial in your classroom. This can test a student’s communication skills and reasoning.

Advantages Of PBA

Performance-based assessment is advantageous for both teachers and students. For students, it helps to apply in-class learning to situations outside of the classroom. For teachers, it offers deeper insight into the learning needs of students.

At the same time, they offer a way for students to better measure their own understanding and success. While completing a task or project, a student can see where they are struggling. Then, they can ask specific questions or work harder on enhancing their knowledge.

Students in a classroom and girl holding a green notebook
Photo by javier trueba on Unsplash

How Teachers Can Create PBAs: 6 Tips

If you’re a teacher or facilitator designing performance-based assessments, here’s an easy step-by-step guide for doing so.

1. Identify Goals

The first step is designing a test that will challenge a student’s problem-solving and critical thinking abilities. The teacher will want the students to work without direct aid so that they can evaluate where a student’s strengths and weaknesses reside.

2. Course Standards

Most schools and districts have core standards that must be taught within the school year. Take the goal identified above and relate it back to a common core standard.

3. Review Assessments

Look at how students are currently understanding the core standard. This may be from previous test results.

4. Address Learning Gaps

By reviewing assessments, it becomes clear where a student is lacking understanding. So, you can design a performance-based assessment that addresses the learning gap in practice.

5. Design A Scenario

Design a situation that addresses core standards and main ideas that students may be struggling with. You can design a scenario by defining key characteristics, including: setting, role, time frame, product, and audience.

6. Develop A Plan

You’ll have to balance both content and task preparation. Depending on a student’s needs, you may have to be more or less hands-on in describing the problem at hand.

The Bottom Line

Education and learning is as diverse as the student population. The best type of education is one that becomes applicable to real-world situations. That’s why at the University of the People, we design our curriculum to prepare students to enter a career upon graduation and be prepared. Students may have standard tests, but they also get to apply their knowledge to solving complex problems.

In the setting of primary to secondary education, performance-based assessments can play this same crucial role. Instead of relying solely on tests that tend to be multiple choice and fail to show how a student arrives at their answer, PBA offers deeper insight into their thinking process.

The best way to implement PBA is to first have a general understanding of your student’s abilities and areas in which they need improvement. Then, you can creatively design a scenario that puts them to the test.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.