Performance, in the broadest terms, makes up part of many subjects and degree courses:
- music, dance and theatre in Arts
- laboratory / workshop skills in Science / Engineering
- moots and re-enactments in Law
- role play and case studies in Business, Marketing ++
- clinical skills in Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Sciences
- critique in Architecture / design
- oral presentations in almost all subjects.
Assessing some of these types of performance are discussed in other sections of this resource and some disciplines have developed specific ways to assess performance [Objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs) in the medical / dental sciences]. We are focused in this section on the difficult task of assessing live performance typically within music, dance and theatre; the performing arts.
We say difficult as creative / artistic performance, almost be definition, means that no two performances will be alike and whilst we can have criteria that help give us some objectivity we know that judges frequently disagree. Just thinking about gymnastic competitions for example, even at national and international level, we often see multiple judges disagree about the marks they award; similarly for diving, dancing, and ice-skating. Objectivity, often equated to fairness, is very difficult especially when a performance steps outside the ‘expected’ framework; and we would hope that some of the ‘best’ students will do just this.
Complexity is added when students work collaboratively in order to meet the assessment brief and so achieve the intended learning outcomes. As we discussed in the section on oral presentations, do we give a group mark or attempt, by some combination of staff and peer marking, gain some measure of individual contribution? Pickford and Brown (2006, p93) summarise this neatly “When casting students for a performance, inevitably the biggest roles will be given to the most able students who then have maximum opportunity to shine by comparison with their peers (who are then face d with the challenge of making a walk-on part memorable).”
What can we assess through performance?
Generally speaking, when using a performance as a method of assessment you are most likely aiming to assess a product rather than a process. However, depending on the disciplinary context, intended learning outcomes and professional requirements you might also be interested in assessing the process undertaken to produce the performance. In some cases your students might be required to submit a reflective journal or account as well as the actual performance; the weight allocated to such reflection will depend on their weighting against the learning outcomes.
The performance itself can offer evidence of:
- research undertaken on a specific topic or period
- knowledge and understanding
- technical skills
- ideas development
- creativity and originality
- planning and budgeting skills
- presentation and communication skills
- rehearsal and refinement
- ability to effectively allocate and carry out roles and responsibilities as part of an ensemble
- ability to meet the demands of the brief
- specific skills and techniques applied / demonstrated during the performance
- team building.
Here are some questions to consider when planning to assess performance:
- How clear are the learning outcomes and how will you ensure that the students understand them?
- Is the brief constructively aligned to the outcomes?
- Can the stakes be lowered?
- is it possible to observe performance on several occasions both to ensure consistency of performance and to make the assessment more fair?
- if multiple, low-stake assessments can be made, how will you keep records for externals?
- If you have to use ‘standard’ university of departmental criteria, are there ways in which you can re-interpret these in order to give clearer guidance to the students?
- Are the criteria that you plan to use objective enough?
- how will you assess learning outcomes relating to experiential categories such as imagination and creativity?
- will you be responsible for designing the assessment criteria and the marking scheme or will you negotiate these with the students?
- how are you going to ensure that all those assessing and being assessed have understood the assessment criteria and the marking scheme?
- What opportunities for formative feedback leading up to the performance are you going to provide?
- could a process of formative discussion help resolve issues of originality?
- Will students have the opportunity to watch/listen to their own performance to evaluate themselves and learn from it?
- what guidance and support will you offer to ensure students are not over-critical of themselves?
- Who will be assessing the performance?
- if there is a panel of assessors how will you inform the students of the make-up of the panel?
- in a performance it is (almost) impossible to conduct blind marking, or anonymous marking; it is therefore particularly important to be vigilant about potential bias. How will you do this?
- if as a tutor you are also one of the assessors, how are you going to reduce the halo effect by which judgement (positive or negative) is influenced by previous knowledge of the student?
- could an audience contribute to the assessment, if so, how and when?
- What technical support, if any, is needed?
- What health and safety precautions are necessary?
- do you (or the students) need to carry out a risk assessment?
Lastly when thinking about designing assignments, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on how we define creativity [an essential component of this type of assessment] and how our expectations might vary across the years of the degree programme. We do not claim that the ideas given here are ideal; they are merely used to start discussion and thinking and we recognise that definition will vary across disciplines. The underpinning point is that if we cannot define it, then how can we recognise it / assess it? Anderson et al (2001) say “putting elements together to form a novel, coherent whole or make an original product” Which raises the question about original, which we will consider again in the section on integrity.
In terms of development over time, Shaw and Stoney (1995) suggest:
- level 4 - identify and appreciate novel / original aspects of and perspectives on the subject
- level 5 - ability to begin to express personal view / perspectives in relation to knowledge, issues and solutions within the subject, that are founded in / stemming from authoritative sources
- level 6 - begin to identify new perspectives in, and modifications to, existing knowledge structures, new areas for investigation, new problems for solution, transfer of knowledge / solutions into new contexts.
Whilst Higher Education Credit Initiative Wales (1996) talk about synthesis / creativity as:
- level4 - can collect / collate and categorise ideas and information in a predictable and standard format:
- level 5 - can reformat a range of ideas / information towards a given purpose
- level 6 - within minimum guidance can transform abstract data and concepts towards a given purpose and can design novel solutions
- level 7 - can autonomously synthesise information / ideas and create responses to problems that expand or redefine existing knowledge and/or to develop new approaches in new situations.
The important point here is: what is your expectation?
Diversity & inclusion
Providing all students with equivalent rather than identical opportunities to demonstrate their learning and competences through the medium of a performance can be very difficult. It is worth reflecting on how you can address this in the design and management of the assessment.
Assessing originality can be complicated as Pickford & Brown (2006) note, “it can be problematic to differentiate between homage and plagiarism”. Specific guidelines on plagiarism in the context of the type of performance that is being assessed will have to be provided to students. (Click here for further guidance on plagiarism.)
Student and staff experience
Students can find this type of assessment motivating because it requires their agency and physical involvement in the task. However, these types of tasks can also cause performance anxiety for some students and it is important to ensure that during their course of study they have the opportunity to build their confidence in a safe, inclusive and supportive environment. To alleviate feelings of anxiety it might also be useful to combine such tasks with some element of reflection (either written or oral) during which the student gets the opportunity to examine their learning from the experience of preparing for the performance.
Because in these cases the assessed "product" is transient, for purposes of moderation and external validation it is often necessary to record the event (audio or video). These recordings can also be very useful in providing feedback to students. Pickford and Brown (2006, p91) also point to issues of fairness and reliability in the assessment of performances due mostly to the tensions between accuracy of interpretation versus creativity. Given all the potential variables in assessing performances it is critical to develop clear assessment criteria that relate to the learning outcomes; however, it is worth noting that in the field of creative arts there is often a need to recognise unintended outcomes which are not reflected in the assessment framework.
Depending on the type of performance there might be a cost linked to its production and / or presentation; it is therefore important for departments to ensure there are sufficient resources available and that these are equally accessible and made available to all students.
If you are assessing group work it is also challenging to assess individual performance in a group or integrated production; role allocation can sometimes be helpful in establishing individual input, especially if multiple assessments can be made over time and roles can be rotated.
The assessment of performances can be time consuming both for staff and students.
As a member of staff you will most likely need to retain evidence of achievement for quality assurance and moderation purposes; consider how to best record, store and retrieve evidence before you start. If you are using a panel of assessors you will also need to work with fellow assessors to clarify and articulate benchmarks and standards for achievement.
Students will need to commit sufficient time to prepare for and perform the assessment as appropriate for the percentage of marks associated with it and the number of credits for module.
AQA Level 1/2 Technical Award Performing Arts 3745. Level 1/2 Technical Award exams June 2018 onwards. Version 1.1 03 November 2017 aqa.org.uk/3745
Davies, Allan (2000) Effective Assessment in Art and Design: writing learning outcomes and assessment criteria in art and design. Project Report. CLTAD, University of the Arts London.
Stecher, B. M., Rahn, M. L., Ruby, A., Alt, M. N., Robyn, A., & Ward, B. (1997). Using alternative assessments in vocational education. National Center for Research in Vocational Education. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.
Rajan, Rekha S., Ivonne Chand O'Neal, editors (2018). Arts evaluation and assessment: measuring impact in schools and communities. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Creative / artistic performance