Dr. Susan Brookhart: What Performance Assessment Is… and What It Isn’t

Performance assessment doesn’t talk about how to teach… but how to assess learning

Dr. Susan Brookhart’s book, Performance Assessment: Showing What Students Know and Can Do, is available at the Learning Sciences bookstore. Dr. Brookhart, a former elementary school teacher, also taught at Duquesne University from 1989 to 2003. She was a keynote speaker at the 2015 Building Expertise Conference, discussing the characteristics of (and uses for) effective classroom questioning.

Drawing from her experiences in the classroom, Performance Assessment includes techniques to help teachers assess students and design lesson plans focused on performance assessment. On June 1, we had the opportunity to sit down with the renowned author and discuss her enlightening new book.

What is Performance Assessment?

The phrase performance assessment tends to automatically bring formative assessment to mind—and for good reason. The two go hand-in-hand, but they’re not the same. Performance assessment is about evaluating student performance on a given formative assessment task.

“Performance assessment doesn’t talk about how to teach… but how to assess learning,” explains Dr. Brookhart, adding that educators can only improve students’ ability to retrieve and store information by assessing their level of competency and then deciding how to move forward to foster increased higher-order thinking and problem solving.

Because performance assessment is comprised of a task and a rubric, people often wonder:

  • What should the rubric be based upon?
  • How is student performance evaluated?

Brookhart addresses these and many other critical questions about performance assessment in her book.

Aligning With the Standards

Dr. Brookhart believes that competency in students involves more than just reciting back the content—learners must also be able to apply the knowledge authentically in real-world tasks, a skill widely required by rigorous new standards such as Common Core.

“There are math standards where students need to be able to do certain math thinking, not just reciting an answer. In reading or language arts, students are asked to do things like compare two texts or figure out the author’s purpose for saying something in a text. These all require higher-order thinking. The next-generation standards are pushing for application and use of knowledge and skills.”

Having Vs. Doing

What makes performance assessment so applicable is that it gives the students a chance to show their peers and educators what they know, and it can be used in conjunction with other assessments and tests. While some may balk at the idea of attempting to get a class of 30 students to fully engage in a hands-on task, Brookhart presents tools that can help a teacher maintain control of the classroom. Fear of losing that control, she says, is “certainly not a reason not to do performance assessment.”

Some worry that schools with severely limited resources might not be able to implement performance assessment successfully, but Dr. Brookhart disagrees. “There are lots of performance assessments that you can do with no more resources than a piece of paper and a pencil, or a gym mat. There is no reason socioeconomic status should keep anybody from doing performance assessment.”

Being able to design a well-thought-out performance assessment task, she says, is more important than the resources on hand. In short, teachers shouldn’t be looking at what they don’t have, but instead looking at what they do.

Dr. Brookhart’s genuine classroom experience makes her particularly relatable for teachers, and this conversational, engaging book tackles many common problems teachers face. This is a terrific read for anyone striving to strengthen instruction and prepare students to meet the demands of today’s challenging educational landscape, and we hope you’ll check it out and let us know what you think!

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