The Promise of Performance Assessments

As states, districts, and schools are expanding instruction to include the competencies associated with college, career, and civic readiness, they are also developing ways to measure mastery of these deeper learning and higher-order thinking skills. These measures include performance assessments, such as portfolios, capstone projects, and senior defenses, alongside classroom performance.

Meanwhile, more than 900 colleges have made standardized tests optional in their admissions processes and are looking for more effective ways to recognize an array of student accomplishments. As a result of these converging trends, a growing number of colleges are seeking more ways to include these broader portfolios of student work in their admission processes.

A new report by Learning Policy Institute titled, The Promise of Performance Assessments: Innovations in High School Learning and Higher Education Admissions, looks at how these assessments, which focus on the kind of learning students will need to be successful in our innovation economy, are being used to inform college admission, placement, and advising decisions, as well as how they’re being used to leverage deeper forms of learning at all levels. The report describes a number of highly effective k-12 performance assessment systems in the United States and abroad and includes an appendix on current state policies supporting performance assessment. The report also discusses how college curricula and assessments are changing to foster deeper learning, and describes innovative college admission systems using these assessments.

If designed and used appropriately, such performance assessments could be a key component of k–12 systems and could, along with rigorous curriculum and high-quality instruction, drive improvements in teaching and learning. If organized in an easily reviewable form, results from rigorous, validated, high-quality performance assessments could be used for college admission as well as for placement or advising decisions, as an additional source of information about students’ achievements and potential for postsecondary success.


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