Writing Performance Objectives

Performance objectives contain three key elements: the student performance; the conditions; and the criterion (accuracy). The following is meant to be a quick overview of how to write acceptable performance objectives. For more detailed instruction on writing performance objectives, many books are available including Robert F. Mager's Preparing Instructional Objectives.

The Student Performance:

This portion is the heart of the performance objective. This indicates the observable behavior that a student (not teacher) will do to demonstrate that the lesson has been learned. The verb used must be an action verb that is measurable (observable). As a result of training, the student may "define terms," or "list procedures," or "install a network card." All such behaviors are measurable. Other students may "apply a hair coloring agent," or "set the ignition timing of an engine," or "calculate the resistance of a circuit" depending upon the curriculum content.

Poorly written performance objectives indicate that the student will "learn" or "understand" or "become familiar with" the content of the curriculum. A teacher cannot observe a student "understanding" content. If a school has difficulty translating this into performance terms, we suggest that the school consider just what it is the teacher "sees" the student doing in order to know that the student understands. Additionally, we do not allow schools to indicate that "the student will score 15 out of 20 correct answers on a test." Although this is certainly observable, the test is merely a tool to measure the actual performance. If the test is a written one, the school should determine what is asked on the test. If the student needs to "explain the difference between…," then that is the performance that should be listed and not a reference to the test. If the test is a practical examination, the student performance that is observed during the testing is what should be placed in the performance objective. As noted above, there are many good resources available in libraries and bookstores offering additional examples of proper performance objectives.

The Conditions:

Any equipment or material required in order for the student to be able to demonstrate the performance is listed here. If a mannequin is required in order for the student to demonstrate a particular haircut, the condition would be, "Given a mannequin,…" Other conditions might be "Given a sound card and a Pentium III computer motherboard…," or "Given a diagram of the circulatory system of a human…," etc. In some instances, there are no conditions for a specific performance. It is always assumed that the student performance follows instruction of the content (otherwise, why would the student need the instruction?) so a school does not need to write, "Given 30 clock hours of instruction on x …."

The Criterion (Accuracy):

The minimum level of acceptable accuracy for the performance is listed in this area. Many times this represents the minimum percentage of knowledge that needs to be demonstrated in order to pass the unit. However, it may also contain restrictions such as time frame, maximum errors, etc. Examples of the criterions are "to a 70% level of accuracy," or "within a 30 minute period," or "with no more than five misspellings." If this is omitted, the performance is assumed to be 100%. In such cases, the performance is pass/ fail. In other words, if the student does not complete the performance perfectly, the student has not acceptably mastered the content. This is a perfectly valid criterion for many objectives.

An important note regarding criterion (accuracy) is that schools often list that all of their objectives have 70% accuracy standard or some similar statement. That accuracy level is often found inappropriate for performance such as installing network cards, doing permanent waves, drawing blood, etc. Additionally, schools may not indicate that the criterion/accuracy is "to the satisfaction of the instructor" as that is too subjective. Again, the school needs to decide just what proficiency the instructor is looking for and list that as objectively as possible. Schools are urged to consider each objective and make certain that the criterion (accuracy) is appropriate and objective to the student performance prior to sending the application for review.

Examples of Acceptable Performance Objectives

Condition Student Performance


Given a computer with word processing software the student will key text at 45 words per minute for three minutes with no more than two errors per line.
Given a list of computer operating systems, the student will identify the best system to use for a wide area network with 100% accuracy.
Given a handwritten medical file, the student will transcribe the information into electronic text with 100% accuracy and within 20 minutes.