Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Performance and Exhibitions: The Demonstration of Mastery

Cushman, K. (1990). Performance and exhibitions: The demonstration of mastery. Retrieved from

Kathleen Cushman writes about the need for a more authentic assessment of what high school students know than your traditional multiple choice test. According to Cushman, this multiple choice version of assessment comes from an era when it seemed possible to teach an entire body of information within a given time frame. It was also thought that it was best to teach concepts by breaking them down into their smaller components. We now know that both of these beliefs are not accurate, yet we still continue to assess students the same way.
Cushman asserts that a performance based assessment is a much better indicator of what a student does or does not know. These assessments should require students to how to find facts, evaluate them and apply them in appropriate situations. She offers performances and exhibition as a way of doing this.

According to the article, Cushman defines a performance as something that “engages the student in real intellectual work”. It could be in the form of an essay, a class project or a portfolio. An exhibition, on the other hand, is a chance for students to stand in front of a review panel and defend their knowledge. The student is also expected to accurately answer probing questions from the panel.

One of the most difficult things about incorporating performances and exhibitions into the classroom is grading because they can often only be graded subjectively and they are usually more time consuming to grade. Cushman explains that it is essential to be clear about expectations and grade requirements ahead of time. She also states that it is helpful to have students self-evaluate during the grading process because it helps them to internalize the criteria.

Another aspect of performances and exhibitions is that, technically, students can not fail. If a performance does not meet standards, it is seen as a learning experience and students continue to refine their work until they achieve mastery.


Finally, schools must provide new proving grounds where they can show off that mastery in positive, public, and personal ways.”

"To ask about validity is to ask if the task represents the real thing we want to assess. Does it really present the student's abilities, traits, capacity for longterm work?”

Because they can be practiced for, performances take on a teaching function at least as important as their evaluative function. And because they represent developing skills, a student's progress is emphasized rather than a scorecard of his errors.”

If a school believes its chief task is to help students master thoughtful habits of mind, then the demonstration of that mastery not the accumulation of credits, or the passing of timemust be the sole criterion by which students qualify for graduation.”


This article re-affirmed why it is so important to define the key terms you use in your action research. At High Tech High, we use the words “Presentation of Learning” to describe what Cushman refers to as exhibitions, “projects” to describe what Cushman calls performances and exhibitions are an entirely different entity. Although the article did not apply to my research, I did find her work on exit exhibitions interesting because they support the work my grade level team has been doing to refine our exhibition process over the past two years. I appreciate the addition of the “probing question” by the review panel as a means to assess student knowledge, because at the sixth grade level I find our students are simply regurgitating information in their POL's instead of really demonstrating knowledge. This article makes me curious how we could better prepare them to truly demonstrate their understanding of different content.

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