Curriculum transformation was examined at seven higher education institutions in the USA that were developing 'performance-based' teacher-education programmes. A heuristic was created to differentiate the contemporary performance standards-based assessment movement from its historical predecessor, competency- or performance-based teacher education. This heuristic provides the basis for a comparative analysis of curriculum change at these seven institutions, focusing on four questions: (1) Do the standards and performance assessments convey an image of a teacher as a professional who is engaged in intellectual work that requires careful deliberation? (2) Do they reflect the complex, integrated nature of teaching knowledge? (3) Do they evoke an image of teaching that is learner-centred and context-dependent?; and (4) Do they call for shared responsibility for assessing the quality of teaching in authentic settings? The paper concludes with lessons and dilemmas for teacher educators and policy makers involved in performance-based reform efforts.