Performance-Based Education in Aurora: Making A Difference

Dorothy Mebane

Ed.D. Candidate in Educational Leadership, UNC-Chapel Hill



After a six year effort in implementing an educational plan known as PBE (performance-based education), the fifth largest school district in Colorado is observing an increase in student achievement. Student scores on new reading and mathematics standardized performance assessments increased in performance across the board. Scores in integrated language arts reached the 70th percentile for elementary and the 60th percentile in middle school students. These scores are 20-30 points higher than scores received on the Iowa Basic Test of Basic Skills.

PBE in Aurora is widely supported by staff, parents, and community stakeholders. Stakeholders worked together to set standards and develop a system in which students demonstrate what they know and can do as they meet those standards.

The district adopted five learner outcomes requiring students to be; self-directed learners, collaborative workers, complex thinkers, community contributors, and quality producers. From these outcomes, content standards (what students should know and be able to do) are developed with benchmarks to guide students and teachers along the way.

Parents and staff collaboratively designed graduation standards that incorporated specified outcomes such as specified performances, products, and other exhibitions based on curriculum content and processes.

The PBE model requires that content standards be assessed by bodies of evidence and secured assessments. Bodies of evidence could include (a) a performance assessment that demonstrates students' ability to apply learning to a real-world situation or (b) a traditional form of assessment such as a criterion referenced content test. Developing a framework for a body of evidence includes four steps: (1) clarify the benchmark: the reference point for a particular level of performance (2) brainstorm possible assessments for each focus point: particular set of skills, concepts, knowledge bits and processes for a particular aspect of the content (3) prioritize all possible assessments and choose which assessments which must be part of the body of evidence (4) outline the scoring process. Frameworks include both performance and traditional assessments. Scoring rubrics are developed by teachers and students, making criteria for performance known to all stakeholders and allowing the criteria to guide the instruction. Secured assessments include standardized tests and district- and school-developed assessments to measure individual student performance against expected achievement in basic subject area content. These assessments determine how well students are doing in reference to the standards.


1. Students perform at high levels on integrated performance assessments that are aligned with instruction and specified performance standards. This shows that performance assessments allow students to better demonstrate their skills and knowledge than do basic skills tests.

2. To implement a district-wide performance-based assessment plan will require changes in the way curriculum and assessments are designed and in the way in which instruction is practiced by teachers.

Implementing performance-based measures requires a huge effort (commitment, time, money, professional development) on the part of staff, parents, and community in terms of designing the system and designing the new structure in which it resides.

3. Performance-based education is not a quick fix. It requires time to conduct an evaluation of student achievement (in this case six years).

Hartenbach, David L., Ott, Joan, Cark, Sue. (1997). Performance-Based Education in Aurora. Educational Leadership. Vol. 54, No. 4, p. 51-54.