Science Performance Assessment

You can use performance assessments to obtain a richer and more complete picture of what your students know.

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science performance assessments

As students become better and better at taking standardized tests, schools that are making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) can give themselves a pat on the back and breathe a sigh of relief once assessments have concluded. For students in those schools, countless hours of drilling, reviewing, and teaching test-taking strategies have paid off! But how do we really know that our students have internalized the information presented to them?

Performance assessments allow teachers to obtain a much richer and more complete picture of what students know and are able to do. These types of assessments can take many forms, but all involve requiring students to create some sort of product that demonstrates their knowledge and skills.  For example, rather than taking a traditional paper-and-pencil test, students can be asked to show understanding of certain concepts through various products, such as those in this example assessment for a unit on animal adaptations in which each student chooses one of the following:

  • Story – Write and illustrate a children’s book about animal adaptations. Your book may be fiction or nonfiction, but fiction books should still be based on facts!
  • Letter – Write a letter to your representative in congress describing what you have learned about habitat depletion in your area. Describe how the destruction of this habitat may lead to problems for the various animals adapted to it, and list ideas you have to help improve the situation. The letter must be typed and contain excellent spelling and grammar.
  • Song – Write and perform a song describing a variety of animal adaptations. You may use an instrument if you choose to do so!
  • Comic Strip – Write a comic strip that illustrates ideas for our animal adaptations unit.  Although your comic will likely contain fictitious elements, remember to provide the reader with facts!
  • Textbook Chapter – You have recently been hired to write a section for a textbook chapter on animal adaptations. Write your section using lots of facts, pictures, and diagrams.
  • Photo Essay – Create a photo essay with captions that illustrates some adaptations of animals in our area. 
  • Diorama – Design and build a diorama that depicts a certain habitat and the animals within it.  Explain how each of the animals in your habitat is specifically adapted to that habitat.
  • Game – Create an educational game that could teach students about animal adaptations.  Include lots of facts and problem-solving activities in your game.

 No matter which project you choose, it should show that you understand the following ideas:

  • What are adaptations?
  • What are some examples of adaptations on land and in water?
  • How are different animal species adapted for different climates?
  • How do organisms become adapted to their environment?

For more examples of alternate ways to assess students in science and other areas, try one of the following lesson plans.

Science Performance Assessments:

Electronic Portfolios  

Teachers can use electronic portfolios to record student progress. While well established in higher education, it's becoming a part of the K-12 classroom as well. This lesson provides suggestions for using electronic portfolios in the classroom.

Photo Essay Semester Project

During this project students practice research and organizational skills. They design a photo essay and interview a person associated with the students's chosen topic. They use digital cameras, magazines and other sources to compile their photos. Students write a paragraph to describe each photo.

Everyday Force and Motion  

This lesson provides an interesting way for students to show what they have learned about force and motion. They design a prototype of a car as part of this project.


Elementary Science Guide