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Literature Review - Domain B

Using Performance Assessment in the Social Studies Classroom
Katelynn Estrada
National University


A major challenge in social studies instruction is balancing best practices with state-mandated

pressure. In particular, a challenge in social studies is in finding meaningful assessments. The

following review explores the benefits of performance assessments in the social studies


Literature Review-Domain B

Current best practices in education advocate for the active over passive learning in the

classroom. Social studies teachers face immense pressure to cover the required curriculum at

each grade level. According to author Tonya Moon, the implications of this are significant. “If

teachers come to regard standards as checklists of content, then the structure and

interconnectedness of a discipline is lost, and students will likely fail to see the meaning of their

learning, and the usefulness of standards.” (Moon, 2002,p. 54). A useful strategy to avoid this

problem is through the use of performance assessment.

Performance assessment is a form of authentic assessment that requires students to

complete a task using their knowledge, skills and abilities to create a product. This type of

assessment requires students to use “real-world” skills that have value beyond the classroom.

Performance-based assessment requires students to generate a product such as an essay, debate,

presentation or other product. Performance based tests allow students to demonstrate their

understanding of content and their ability to think critically. Performance assessment requires

students to produce something that is scored against a criteria. According to Moon, “Common to

all performance assessments is the fundamental notion that students are engaged in

conceptualized academic exercises where they are comparing contrasting, summarizing and

predicting; in other words, they engage in the types of thinking that characterizes what

professionals do in the “real world”. Moon, 2002, p. 54). Key attributes of performance

assessments are: tasks that ask for demonstrations of understanding, tasks that represent “real-

life” challenges rather than busywork and tasks that involve higher level thinking. Performance

assessments also must be guided by a rubric that expresses to students what exceptional work

versus poor work looks like.


The essential components are a performance-based assessment are that they must

measure course standards, they must be complex, authentic, process oriented, open-ended and

bound by a timeframe. To create meaningful performance-based assessments, teachers must

identify goals, select standards and review assessments to identify gaps in learning. As described

by author Patricia Hillard, the most genuine assessment requires students to complete tasks that

closely mirrors the responsibilities of a professional in a specific field.

Author Tonya Moon provides a sample social studies performance assessment in her

article. As described by Moon, the best type of performance assessments make an impact on

students beyond simply evaluating their competence level in certain subject matters. An example

of an impactful performance assessment would be to have students create a special edition of a

local newspaper. Students analyze five wars of the 20th century and analyze information to

determine commonalities amongst these conflicts.

Differentiation is important within performance assessment. One way this can be done is

through providing students with choice. In regards to the sample activity described above,

differentiation might be in providing students with a role within the newspaper activity that is

best aligned with their abilities. To differentiate between advanced and non-advanced learners,

project prompts can be adjusted. Additionally, differentiation can be furthered by adjusting the

resources provided to students.

Addressing the academic diversity amongst students can be challenging in the social

studies classroom. Performance based assessments is a way to address this diversity while also

addressing the state-mandates content standards. Performance assessments are also the ideal

assessment for differentiation. Tasking students with completing projects is a powerful learning

tool for students that is both student-driven and has application for the real world.


Moon, Tonya (2002). Using Performance Assessment in the Social Studies Classroom. Gifted
Child Today. Pages 53-58.

Hillard, Patricia(2015). Performance-Based Assessment: Reviewing the Basics. Retrieved from: