Performance Assessment Task Development:
Steps in Task Design


The following contains materials designed to make the process used for developing performance assessment tasks visible. The materials identify the key elements of effective performance assessment tasks, describe the task development process, and present a set of design templates corresponding to each of the elements. The templates are framed around a series of key questions and are intended to serve as "thought stimulators" for task designers.

It is also important to note that while we refer to these as "steps," they should not necessarily be addressed sequentially. It may be advantageous given particular circumstances to begin with a good activity, and work toward aligning it with standards and benchmark indicators as well as to develop a rigorous scoring process. Rather than considering the "steps" to be a required, linear process, simply keep in mind that a well-constructed, comprehensive assessment task will have addressed each of elements raised in the prescribed design process.

An example of a task developed using the design packet are included in the Design Workbook, an accompanying document used by teachers to record their notes as they design their task. As a part of the Workbook, a self-assessment worksheet is included which can be used by the designer to evaluate their own task for completeness using a well-grounded set of design standards or quality characteristics.

Many of the ideas for this document come from a publication developed by the Maryland Assessment Consortium entitled, "Developing Performance Assessment Tasks." An accompanying videotape created as a training aide is available as well, although the workbook has been designed as a stand-alone resource for both novice and experienced task designers.


The process of designing performance assessment tasks is recursive in nature and rarely follows a purely linear sequence. However, it is recommended that each of the following elements be included as part of task development to ensure completeness and effectiveness.


  1. Identify standard(s) and benchmark indicator(s)
  2. Create a meaningful context for the task
  3. Identify thinking skills/processes to build into task
  4. Identify the products and/or performance
  5. Identify criteria for evaluating performance
  6. Generate exemplary responses
  7. Construct scoring tool(s)
  8. Describe task options and parameters
  9. Try out the task
  10. Revise where necessary


What important part of learning will be assessed through this performance task? What MMSD standard is your focus?

What are the observable and measurable indicators for each essential learning standard? In other words, how will we know it when we see it?

When selecting a benchmark indicator, pay attention for those which involve action verbs, such as solve, design, write, compare, decide, draw, persuade, and investigate, as these will require a student to produce or perform their assessment "response."

Review the MMSD standards for each subject area to decide which area you will be concentrating on. You may wish to select more than one, possible integrating across subject areas to obtain an even richer learning experience.

Within the Standards selected, review the list of developmentally appropriate benchmark indicators described for each and select those you will focus on.

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What is the meaningful context for engaging students in a performance assessment task through which the identified standards and benchmarks indicators might be assessed?

Consider all ideas for context in terms of real issues or problems, themes and/or student interests.

Select a context for the task. Possible suggestions include:
Arts & AestheticsEnvironmentPhysical Health
Basic NeedsFood & NutritionPollution
CommunicationGovernment & PoliticsPopulation
Crime/CorrectionsHuman RightsSports
DefenseLaw & JusticeTechnology
EducationMoneyWorld of Work

Think broadly about context. Remember, ideas for context can come from many sources including:
magazinestrade journalslife experiences
almanacscataloguesrandom thoughts
divine inspiration 

Select real issue/problem, theme and/or student interest to provide additional context descriptors for your task. Examples are:
Real Issues/Problems - examples include:
citizen apathydrug use/abusepoor health habitscrime
illiteracypoor nutritiondebtlittering
racial/ethnic tensionsdiseasenatural disasterssecond-hand smoke
drinking & drivingpollutionstudent motivationunsafe practices
(bicycling, driving, etc.)

Themes - examples include:

Student Interests - examples include:
Primary Grades (pre K-2)
animals/petsfive sensesseasonscartoons
holidayssharkscharacters (books, TV)planets/space
weather/snowcommunity helpersplantszoo
Intermediate Grades (3-5)
gamesouter spacecomputers/gamesgeography
sportsdisastersmoviestelevision shows
famous people 
Middle School (6-8)
amusement parksgamesscience fictionclothing/fashion
jobs/earning $shoppingcomputersmusic/groups
sportsdisastersmoviestelevision shows
High School (9-12)
friendsstudent governmentclothing/fashionjobs/earning $

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What aspects of the task will encourage the thoughtful application of knowledge and skills, and not merely recall of facts and algorithms? If you are familiar with the Dimensions of Learning instructional organizer, this question refers specifically to Dimensions 3 and 4.
Make sure the task description you write for the students, and the associated scoring criteria and tool that is used to evaluate their performance, includes as an "action verb" one or more of the following thinking skills and processes:
Thinking SkillsQuestion "Starters" for the Assessment Task
ComparingHow are ________ and ________ similar and different?
ClassifyingHow might ________ be organized into groups? What are the rules or characteristics that have been used to form groups?
InductionWhat conclusions could be drawn from the data?
DeductionAre there specific rules operating? Are there things that must happen because of the rules?
Error analysisAre there errors in reasoning or in a process that can be described?
Constructing supportIs there a position you want to defend on a particular issue?
AbstractingWhat is the relationship that exists in ________? What is the abstract pattern or theme that lies at the heart of the relationship?
Analyzing perspectivesWhat are the different perspectives or points of view on an issue?
Thinking ProcessesQuestion "Starters" for the Assessment Task
Decision makingIs there an important decision that should be studied or made?
Problem solvingIs there some obstacle that needs to be overcome?
Experimental inquiryIs there a prediction about ________ that can be made and then tested?
InventionIs there something you want to create or improve upon?
Is there something that happened in the past that could be studied?
Is there a possible or hypothetical event that could be examined?
Is there a new concept of theory that could be described in detail?

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What student product(s) and/or performance(s) will provide evidence of understanding and/or proficiency related to the identified standards and benchmark indicators?

In order to for the student to maintain a focus and to become engaged with the assessment task, the product(s) and/or performance(s) should be guided by a purpose, audience, and student role.

Describe the product(s) and/or performance(s) that will be created by the student to provide evidence that they have attained an acceptable level of understanding and/or proficiency relative to the standard and benchmark indicator the task is focused on. You may wish to select one or more of the following examples:

book report/reviewdiscussioncartoon
crossword puzzleinterviewcollection
editorialnewscastcomputer graphic
essayoral presentationconstruction
experiment recordoral reportdata table
journalpoetry readingdiagram
lab reportrapdisplay
magazine articleteach a lessonfilmstrip
memo graph
newspaper article map
poem model
proposal painting
questionnaire photograph
research report poster
script scrapbook
test sculpture
  slide show

Select a purpose for the task, perhaps from the following list:

Summarize ________ for ________
(Example: Summarize the procedure for a lab experiment for a student who was absent)

Explain _________ to _________
(Example: Explain the justification for a court decision to a newspaper readers.)

Inform ________ about _________
(Example: Inform the PTA garden committee about which plants are best suited to our area.)

Teach ________ about/to ________
(Example: Teach a younger student about the water cycle.) - Declarative (Example: Teach a classmate to read a contour map) - Procedural

Design a ________ to/for _________
(Example: Design a poster to teach classmates about human, capital, and natural resources.)

Create a ________ to/for _________
(Example: Create a museum to document an historical event you've researched.)

Persuade _________ to _________
(Example: Persuade your friend to read a book by your favorite author.)

Defend __________ with/to/for _________
(Example: Defend your position with data.)

Critique _________ to/for _________
(Example: Critique a student's letter to the editor of the local newspaper.)

Identify errors/weaknesses in _________ of/to/for _________
(Example: Identify errors/weaknesses in the mathematical reasoning of a fellow student.)

Correct errors in _________ to/for _________
(Example: Correct errors in a student's persuasive essay to the Board of Education.)

Improve upon _________ of/to/for _________
(Example: Improve upon your first draft of a research report.)

Select an audience for the student's product(s) and/or performance(s). The list below may provide some good examples:

board members (school, community, foundation, ... of directors)
business/corporations - local, regional, national
celebrities - entertainers, musicians, athletes, TV/movie stars
community members/helpers
experts/expert panel
family members (parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.)
fellow/younger/older students
foreign embassy staff
government/elected officials - local, state, federal
historical figures
museum visitors
other school staff (principal, counselor, media specialist, secretary)
pen pal(s)
radio listeners
readers(s) - newspaper, magazine, etc.
television viewers
travel agent
visitors (to school, community, state, nation, etc.)

Select a possible student role for the performance assessment task. Here are a list of possibilities:

police officerbiographerinternproduct designer
boy/girl scoutinterviewerreportercandidate
inventorresearchercartoon characterlawyer
scientistcatererliterary criticship's captain
chairpersonmuseum director/curatorstudentchef
newscastertaxi drivercoachnovelist
teachercomposernutritionisttour guide
detectivepanelisttravel agenteditor
photographerTV/movie characterelected officialpilot
tutorexpert (in ____)park rangerzoo keeper
eye witness 

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Are these the most important criteria for evaluating student products/performances related to this assessment task? Do the criteria reflect the most valued elements of the student performance (or are you emphasizing through the evaluation less important aspects of the learning experience)?

Make sure the criteria can be easily converted into a scoring tool that will allow you to differentiate between levels of performance in terms of understanding of content, proficiency with a skill or process, and/or quality of a product or performance related to this assessment task.

Describe the criteria, specifically related to the identified standard and benchmark indicators for the task, that will be used to evaluate the student products and/or performances. Discard the least important aspects from the evaluation of the student's work, focusing instead on only those elements of the student's work which are most essential.

Example #1: 
Product/PerformanceScaled pictograph
Criteria1) Accurate placement of data
2) Appropriate title
3) Labels at equal intervals
4) Key to symbols
Example #2: 
Product/PerformancePersuasive letter
Criteria1) Position identified and supported
2) Organizational plan maintained
3) Needs of audience addressed
4) Language choices enhance text
Example #3: 
Product/PerformanceOral presentation
Criteria1) topic explained and supported
2) well organized
3) supportive visual display
4) effective volume, rate, inflection, posture

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Students need to know what "good" looks like if we are to expect them to hit the learning target we set (i.e., and accomplished level of performance). Don't make the assessment a guessing game for students.

What would an exemplary response(s) to this assessment task be? What are the key characteristics of such a response(s)?

Does your exemplary response clearly relate to the standard(s) and benchmark indicator(s) that you wish to assess?

Use prior student work if it is available, selecting the outstanding products/performances as a basis for identifying the key characteristics of an exemplary response.

If prior student work is NOT available (e.g., it is a new task), try to develop your own examples based on your expectations and experience.

Review the evaluative criteria you specified in Step #5 to ensure that the characteristics of the exemplary responses clearly relate to those criteria. In other words, does your idea of "good" match with the criteria you said you would be using to measure student performance?

Revise the criteria as necessary.

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What is the purpose of this performance assessment task? Is it to diagnose student learning, measure achievement progress on the way to a final performance, or is it an assessment of the final performance? Certain scoring tools work better with different purposes of assessment.

Who will be involved in using the scoring tool(s) for evaluation (e.g., teachers, externals scorers such as parents or content experts, students as peer scorers, others)?

For purposes of designing performance assessment tasks, a rubric is commonly used as a scoring device. When constructing a scoring rubric, two issues should be initially determined: the scoring method and the level of detail.

Two scoring methods can be considered when creating a scoring rubric for your assessment task: generic and task-specific. In addition, there are two levels of detail that can be followed when designing the scoring tool: holistic and analytic/trait. The table below describes the relationship between scoring methods and levels of detail, giving particular attention to the advantages and disadvantages of each. (See Table 1.)

Examples of each of the scoring rubric formats is provided below. The same performance assessment task is assumed for each example so that you can see the differences between each method.

Table 1
Scoring Methods/
Level of Detail
Generic Advantage: Most useful when scoring large volumes of performances and/or products, very efficient scoring tool

Disadvantage: Little useful information to communicate to students in regard to strengths and weaknesses

Advantage: Most useful when used by a teacher or groups of teachers (e.g., within a school, district) routinely, students learn to internalize traits they are evaluated on

Disadvantage: Scoring process takes more time with an analytic rubric compared to a holistic rubric

Task-Specific Advantage: Requires less time to score than analytic format

Disadvantages: Offers less information on strengths and weaknesses relative to products and/or performances than analytic format; may not be readily re-used in other tasks

Advantage: Provides very specific information about product/performance on the task

Disadvantages: Takes more time to score; may not be easily re-used for other assessment tasks

Elements ->
5All labeling correctCorrect specificationClear and straightforward rationale
4Most or all labeling correctCorrect specificationExplanation provided, but some interpretation required
3Some correct labelingPartially correct specificationReasonable rationale, but not complete
2Minimal correct labelingSpecification provided, but may be incorrectSome rationale provided, but uses faulty reasoning
1Nothing labeledNo attempt at specificationNo rationale given


1 Point: Shows no understanding of the requirements of the problem. Is unable to label the graph or give a reasonable answer about how Graham and Paul travel to school.

2 Points: Labels one or two points correctly. Provides an answer to the type of transportation taken by Graham and/or Paul, although it may be incorrect. Provides some rationale for the answer, although it may include faulty reasoning.

3 Points: Has three points on the graph labeled correctly. Has identified "bicycle" as the means of transportation for either Graham or Paul. Provides a reasonable rationale for the choice of an answer, although it may not be complete.

4 Points: Has all or most of the graph labeled correctly (4 out of 5). Has identified "bicycle" as the means of transportation for Graham and Paul. Has an explanation for the choice of "bicycle" that shows understanding, but requires some interpretation on the part of the rate.

5 Points: Has labeled the graph correctly. Has identified "bicycle" as the means of transportation for Graham and Paul and is able to explain how the answer was determined. Explanation is straightforward and complete, and requires no interpretation.


Elements ->
5All points labeled correctly"Bicycle" correctly associated with both Graham and PaulExcellent explanation provided for "bicycle" mode, interpretation unnecessary
44 out of 5 points labeled correctly"Bicycle" correctly identifiedExplanation provided for selecting "bicycle" mode, some interpretation required
33 points labeled correctly"Bicycle" identified for either Graham or PaulReasonable rationale for specifying a mode of transportation, but not complete
21 or 2 points labeled correctlyProvides transportation selection for Graham or Paul, but may be incorrectProvides some sort of rationale for the transportation mode, but uses faulty reasoning
1Nothing labeledNo attempt at transportation mode selectedNo rationale given

Another possible scoring format is a "checklist." Like a rubric, a checklist also contains performance criteria that provide the basis for evaluating or judging a student's product and/or performance. Rather than describing the criteria in a sentence or narrative format, criteria in a checklist are presented as just that, a list. Below is an example of a checklist:

Key Elements:Possible PointsPoints Earned
Self  Teacher
topic well explained30____  ____
well organized25____  ____
effective visual display25____  ____
effective volume10____  ____
effective rate of speech5____  ____
effective posture5____  ____
TOTALS100____  ____

The example shows a checklist that distinguishes between levels of performance using a designated number of points the student earns on each criteria. Some checklists simply ask the evaluator to indicate whether or not the criteria is met or not, either "yes" or "no."

Regardless of format, the checklist has one limiting feature that rubrics do not. Specifically, the levels of performance, or how well the student performed on a given criterion, is explicit. Even when provided a certain number of points, the student may remain unclear how their product fared in the mind of the "judge" relative to specific product or performance features.

While checklists may lack specificity regarding level of performance, the evaluative information generated using a checklist certainly transfers well into traditional grading practices. For this reason alone, some teachers choose checklists over rubrics for scoring performance assessments.

One more thing to note about the checklist example provided above. Notice the checklist format includes a column titled "self." Many teachers use assessments as an opportunity to build the student's capacity for self-reflection, developing intrinsic motivation focused on the quality of their own work. This is an assessment principle that cannot be overstated.

In addition to determining what method and level of detail you would use as a scoring tool, you must also decide the number of score points that will be used to discriminate among the full range of different degrees of understanding, proficiency, or quality. The examples above use a five point scale. Another commonly used scale contains four (4) points, with labels for each category such as "exceeding," "developing," " accomplished," and "exceeding." More points can be difficult to administer, while fewer points limits clear distinction between performance ranges.

Using the criteria you described for this assessment task in Step #6, describe each criteria by completing one of the following statements for each criterion:

"This response, product, or performance provides evidence of understanding of (concept/principle/generalization)."

"This response, product, or performance provides evidence of proficiency in (skill/process/strategy)."

"This response, product, or performance provides evidence of quality in (skill/process/strategy)."

The following terms describing differences in degree may be useful when constructing evaluation tools (rubrics, task specific keys) for performance assessment tasks.

Degrees of Understanding
* thorough/complete
* substantial
* partial/incomplete
* misunderstanding/serious misconception
Degrees of Proficiency
* expert
* advanced
* intermediate
* novice
Degrees of Frequency
* usually/consistently
* frequently
* sometimes
* rarely
* never
Degrees of Effectiveness
* highly effective
* effective
* moderately effective
* minimally effective
* ineffective

When designing a task using the Performance Assessment Task Design Workbook, place these statements in the spaces provided on either the:

Holistic Scoring Worksheet;
Analytical Trait Scoring Worksheet; or
Checklist Scoring Worksheet.

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What options should be considered for your task?

Your options will be limited by the standards and benchmark indicators you are focusing on, the purpose of the assessment, the availability of resources (i.e., time, supplies, equipment, funds, etc.), and feasibility.

Use the Performance Assessment Task Design Workbook (page ___) to answer each of the following questions for your assessment task:

Student Choice - Which of the following will students have a choice in?

Access to Resources - Will all resources be provided for the students or will they be responsible for gathering information, providing their own supplies/equipment, etc.? Performance Mode - How will students work on the task? Audience(s) - To whom will students present their products and performances? Time Frame - How long will students be involved in this task? Be sure to include time for presentations and/or evaluations. Degree of Scaffolding - To what degree will students be provided with instructional support (scaffolding) as they work on the task? Evaluators - Who will be involved in evaluating student products and/or performances?
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Try to find a peer who can try the task at the same time. Constructive feedback from someone not involved in designing the task will help to determine how well your assessment intent is met.

Feedback from students on how well the task worked for them is critical. If it doesn't engage students, it needs to be re-worked.

Use the Performance Assessment Task Review Sheet included in the Design Book as a guide for self-assessing your task. (See Design Book, page ___.) If a teaching peer is completing the task as well, have them complete an assessment review sheet, too.

Engage the students who tried the assessment in a discussion about their experience with the task. Use the design standards identified in the assessment task review sheet as a basis for the discussion.

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Last Modified: 4/17/97
Author & Publisher: Chris Burch,