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Implementing Performance-Based-Assessment in the EFL Classroom
by Irit Ferman

Published in ETAI Forum, English Teachers' Association of Israel, Vol. XVI No. 4, Fall 2005

The purpose of this article is to suggest the basic steps that you, the EFL teacher, can take to design and implement effective performance-based assessments in the EFL classroom.

What Is Performance-Based-Assessment?

What is performance-based assessment and what do language educators mean when they advocate the use of this type of assessment in the EFL classroom? Performance-based assessment "represents a set of strategies for the...application of knowledge, skills, and work habits through the performance of tasks that are meaningful and engaging to students" (Hibbard and others, 1996, p. 5). This type of assessment provides the teacher with information about how a pupil understands and applies knowledge. Moreover, performance-based assessments can be integrated into the instructional process thus providing additional learning experiences for students (Brualdi, 2002).

The benefit of performance-based assessments, have been well documented. However, some teachers are hesitant to implement them in their classrooms. One reason for that might be that these teachers feel they don't know enough about how to fairly assess a student's performance (Airasian, 1991). Another reason for reluctance in using performance-based assessments may be previous experiences with them when the execution was unsuccessful or the results were inconclusive (Stiggins, 1994).

You must beware that not all hands-on activities can be used as performance-based-assessments (Wiggins, 1993). Performance-based-assessments require pupils to apply their knowledge and skills in context, not merely complete a task on cue.

Designing and Implementing Performance-Based Assessment

Effective assessment requires a clearly defined purpose. Thus, you must ask yourself several important questions:

  • What am I trying to assess?
  • What do my pupils need to know?
  • What prerequisite skills do my pupils need to have?
  • At what level do my pupils need to perform?
  • Will it the same level of performance be required of all my pupils?
  • What type of knowledge is being assessed: reasoning, memory, or process (Stiggins, 1994)?
By considering the above issues, you can decide what type of activity best suits your assessment needs. After you have defined the purpose of the assessment, you can decide what activity will serve your purpose and what tasks should be included in it. There are some things that you must take into account before you choose the activity: time constraints, availability of resources in the classroom, and how much data is necessary in order to make an informed decision about the quality of a student's performance (Brualdi, 2002).

Assessment researchers distinguish between two types of performance-based assessment activities that can be implemented in the classroom: informal and formal (Airasian, 1991; Popham, 1995; Stiggins, 1994). When a student is being informally assessed, the student does not know that the assessment is taking place. As an EFL teacher, you probably use informal performance assessments quite frequently. Besides assessing the linguistic aspects of your pupils' learning you may use informal assessment to assess extra-linguistic aspects of your pupils' learning as well. One example of is assessing in this manner how pupils interact and cooperate (Stiggins, 1994). Another example is assessing a pupil's typical behavior or work habits.

When a student's performance is formally assessed, you may either have the student perform a task or complete a project. You can either observe the student as he/she performs specific tasks (formative assessment) or assess the quality of end products (summative assessment). A student who is being formally assessed should be appropriately informed about it.

Assessment Criteria

Assessment criteria reflect the elements of the project/task that will be employed to determine the success of the pupil's performance. You may find these criteria in the English Curriculum. The benchmarks for each domain are followed by assessment criteria on a performance continuum between foundation and proficiency levels. In the following example the success of pupils in meeting the standards for the domain of presentation can be determined by using the criteria specified below the benchmarks:

Domain of Presentation

Pupils present information and ideas in an organized, planned manner in a variety of formats in spoken and written English on a wide range of topics.

Levels of Progression

Foundation LevelIntermediate LevelProficiency Level
Pupils present information about personal topics, orally and in writing, using basic organizational skills.

Pupils use basic vocabulary and simple syntax.

Pupils present information and ideas about general topics fluently, orally and in writing, using basic organizational skills.

Pupils use a broad range of vocabulary and simple syntactic structures accurately, appropriate to the format

Pupils present information and ideas fluently on a wide range of topics, orally and in writing, using more advanced organizational skills.

Pupils use rich vocabulary, complex syntactic structures, discourse markers and varied registers to match audience and purpose accurately and appropriately.


Pupils will meet the standards for the domain of presentation when they:

Foundation LevelIntermediate LevelProficiency Level
present information on limited content, supported by visual aids present information taken from different sources present information in-depth, synthesizing information from various sources
describe people, places, things and events react to the content of something read, seen or heard present an argument for or against a particular point of view
produce a short piece of coherent writing and/or speech that conveys personal experiences express ideas and opinions about general topics and experiences using main and supporting ideas
design a means for collecting information, such as a questionnaire and list the results design different means for collecting information, such as surveys and interviews and report on the results present conclusions based on the integration of the results of information obtained through different means
use given criteria, such as a checklist, to prepare and improve presentations review and edit presentations based on feedback from peers and/or teacher redraft a presentation, using a variety of tools such as a spell checker

CriteriaC o n t i n u u m

Foundation Level
Proficiency Level

You may of course, use additional resources to access assessment criteria. These ready made criteria may prove to be very useful to you. However, you need to be aware of the fact that some lists of criteria may include too many or two few aspects to be assessed or may not fit the needs of your pupil population. With this in mind, you must be certain to review criteria lists before applying any of them to your performance-based-assessment.

You will probably need to come up with your own criteria most of the time. Airasian (1991, p. 244) suggests that you take the following steps when you do so:

  1. Identify the overall performance or task to be assessed, and perform it yourself or imagine yourself performing it.
  2. List the important aspects of the performance or product.
  3. Try to limit the number of performance criteria, so they can all be observed during a pupil's performance.
  4. If possible, have groups of teachers think through the important behaviors included in a task.
  5. Express the performance criteria in terms of observable pupil behaviors or product characteristics.
  6. Don't use ambiguous words that cloud the meaning of the performance criteria.
  7. Arrange the performance criteria in the order in which they are likely to be observed.
Allowing your pupils to participate in this process is a good idea. You could do this by asking the pupils to name the elements of the project/task that they would use to determine how successfully it has been completed (Stix, 1997).

Having clearly defined criteria will make it easier for you to remain objective during the assessment. The reason for this is the fact that you will know exactly which skills and/or concepts that you are supposed to be assessing. If your pupils were not already involved in the process of determining the criteria, you will usually want to share them with your pupils. This will facilitate them in knowing exactly what is expected of them.

The clearly defined assessment criteria will serve as the basis for constructing appropriate performance assessment tools, which is the subject of my next article.


Airasian, P.W. (1991). Classroom assessment. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Brualdi, Amy. (2002). ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, Washington, DC. ERIC/AE Digest.

English Curriculum: Principles and Standards for Learning English as a Foreign Language for all grades. State of Israel Pedagogical Secretariat, English Inspectorate, Jerusalem 2001

Hibbard, K. M. and others. (1996). A teacher's guide to performance-based learning and assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Popham, W. J. (1995). Classroom assessment: What teachers need to know. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Stiggins, R. J. (1994). Student-centered classroom assessment. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Stix, A. (1997). Empowering students through negotiable contracting. (Paper presented at the National Middle School Initiative Conference (Long Island, NY, January 25, 1997)) (ED 411 274)

Wiggins, G. (1993). Assessment, authenticity, context, and validity. Phi Delta Kappan, November, 200-214.

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