While there doesn’t seem to be a shared definition or criteria for performance tasks, it has certainly reached buzz worthy status over the past several years. In the US, the 2001 law called No Child Left Behind seem to usher in the era of multiple choice. Thankfully, most school districts are making efforts to move away from or at least expand simpler tasks to more complex ones. Most people agree that performance tasks require students to do something with their knowledge rather than just remember it. Here are two definitions:

From Teacher’s Guide to Performance Based Learning and AssessmentASCD:

“Performance tasks build on earlier content knowledge, process skills, and work habits and are strategically placed in the lesson or unit to enhance learning as the student “pulls it all together.” Such performance tasks are not “add-ons” at the end of instruction. They are both an integral part of the learning and anopportunity to assess the quality of student performance. When the goal of teaching and learning is knowing and using, the performance-based classroom emerges.”

From Smarter Balanced:

“Performance tasks are extended activities that measure a student’s ability to integrate knowledge and skills across multiple standards—a key component of college and career readiness. Performance tasks will be used to better measure capacities such as depth of understanding, research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with selected- or constructed-response items. Some performance tasks can be scored automatically; many will be hand-scored by professionally trained readers.”

In my experience, there are pros and cons to performance tasks:



Much more closely aligned to what students will face in college and life than simpler tasks


Usually require more time to create, administer and evaluate or score


Usually more engaging for students Require skill in creating and can be done poorly


How many of us are guilty of spending several days or weeks of instruction on a task that didn’t actually build or measure depth of understanding or complex analysis?

A synthesis of research shows two essential criteria for building or measuring deep understanding:

1. Write clear goals of deep understanding

2. Students must transfer this depth of understanding to a completely new situation. 

Read more about how and why to do that here. We must be vigilant in ensuring we do not mother robin students through performance tasks.

Let us know: What is your criteria for creating, administering and evaluating performance tasks?


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