What is a Performance Task?

By Jay McTighe

A performance task is any learning activity or assessment that asks students to perform to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and proficiency. Performance tasks yield a tangible product and/or performance that serve as evidence of learning. Unlike a selected-response item (e.g., multiple-choice or matching) that asks students to select from given alternatives, a performance task presents a situation that calls for learners to apply their learning in context.

Performance tasks are routinely used in certain disciplines, such as visual and performing arts, physical education, and career-technology where performance is the natural focus of instruction. However, such tasks can (and should) be used in every subject area and at all grade levels.

 Performance tasks can be used to engage students in meaningful learning. Since rich performance tasks establish authentic contexts that reflect genuine applications of knowledge, students are often motivated and engaged by such “real world” challenges.

When used as assessments, performance tasks enable teachers to gauge student understanding and proficiency with complex processes (e.g., research, problem solving, and writing), not just measure discrete knowledge. They are well suited to integrating subject areas and linking content knowledge with the 21st Century Skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, and technology use.  New research shows that such performance tasks lead to deeper understanding and can improve student achievement up +39%.

Learn more about performance tasks in this FREE ebook:


Jay McTighe is a nationally recognized educator and author of the award-winning and best-selling Understanding by Design series with Grant Wiggins.




Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally posted 4.15.  It has been updated to reflect new research and resources. 

©2017 Defined Learning

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