In simple terms performance management is a process by which an organization engages employees in improving overall system effectiveness. By some accounts performance management includes; (1) planning and setting targets for performance, (2) ongoing monitoring of performance, and (3) developing capacity to improve performance. The idea is that the organization develops a structure for comparing "actual results" to "desired results" and uses the gap between "desired" and "actual" to focus improvement efforts. Before I discuss performance management in school systems let me introduce a metaphor.
Imagine you wanted to lose weight so that you look good for the upcoming college reunion (you've added 15 pounds since graduation and the reunion provides ample incentive for a change). For most people a weight loss strategy includes burning more calories and consuming fewer calories (this is a well trod path to weight loss). A dieter might adopt a performance management approach to increase the likelihood of reaching their goal. In a performance management system the dieter would set a target of calories to burn and calories to consume. These are the "desired results". Ongoing tracking of these two categories would tell the dieter whether they implementing their strategy for weight loss. Any deviation from "desired results" (e.g. too many days over the target calorie consumption target) would signal an improvement problem. For example, if after two weeks the dieter noticed that they rarely met their calorie burn goal (e.g. 50% of days below a target level) they would take time to analyze why and determine what you can do differently to reach the goal. Keep in mind that performance management is a process of improvement, but does not include built in answers to why you are falling short or what you can do to improve. Effective performance management systems focus on drivers of change (i.e. burn more calories and eat fewer calories) because we can intervene with the drivers to reach the ultimate goal of weight loss.
Yes, the dieter would measure weight throughout the process as well to determine if their improvement efforts were working. If the dieter was reaching their performance management targets in burning calories and consuming calories, but falling short in terms of their weight loss targets then it is likely they have a problem with their theory of action (that burning more calories and consuming fewer calories will result in weight loss) or their performance management targets are not high enough to reach their goal.
Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the NCLB-era accountability system that required schools to meet achievement targets and annual growth targets (toward 100% proficiency), is often cited as an example of performance management in education. However, AYP only measured end of year student assessment results. If our dieter deployed this approach they would only weigh themselves the Monday after the college reunion. It doesn't make sense for someone trying to lose weight for a big event to wait until after the event to see if they made it. In education we often check-in on how our students are doing throughout the year using interim (or benchmark) assessments. Interim assessments allow us to see if we are on target to meet our end of year goals (in terms of performance). However, what is often lacking is a clear theory of improvement. A dieter knows they need to burn more calories and consume fewer calories if they are off track to reach weight goals and they can track this. However, school systems rarely have a clear theory of how they will improve outcomes for students if the system is off track to meet their goal and rarely measure whether they are actually implementing a given theory. Schools that effectively deploy Response to Intervention (RTI) are tracking individual students and may target individual students for additional reading or math time if they are not meeting benchmark. However, school systems that deploy RTI rarely monitor whether the interventions being used are delivered in a high quality way. What RTI ignores is overall systemic performance. There is not a theory built-in for how to improve the system itself, just how to put a band aid on the incredibly obvious problems that individual students have. Unfortunately, this approach ignores the opportunity to address improving the entire system.
By adopting a performance management approach to school system improvement we will have a better chance of having a long-term impact on the systems we work in.