Authentic Assessment


What is Authentic Assessment?

Good question! Authentic assessment is a method of evaluation in which students perform real-life tasks to demonstrate their ability to apply relevant knowledge and skills. An authentic assessment typically includes a task for students to complete and a rubric which indicates how the task will be graded. Criterion-reference , a term typically associated with authentic assessment, stresses the ability of authentic assessment to evaluate a specific test or specific area of content material. In other words, authentic assessment directly assesses a student's mastery of certain knowledge and skills. Authentic assessment is unique to the individual experience of each student.

Authentic assessment is also known by other names:
  • performance-based assessment-this is this is a popular term when referring to authentic assessments. However, some feel that this is not an appropriate term as there is not reference to the authentic nature of the assessment, as it is possible to have the student perform a task that has no authentic connection to the real world.
  • direct assessment-this refers to the direct nature of the assessment and the student shows directly how to apply the knowledge. In contract, a student would indirectly show knowledge in a multiple-choice type test.
  • alternative assessment- as it is an alternative to traditional assessment

Why do We Need Authentic Assessment? Preparing Students for the Real World

While multiple-choice tests can be valid indicators or predictors of academic performance, too often our tests mislead students and teachers about the kinds of work that should be mastered. Norms are not standards; items are not real problems; right answers are not rationales. Multiple-choice tests also encourage memorization of facts, rather than acquiring specific skills standards are designed to enforce.

What most defenders of traditional tests fail to see is that it is the form, not the content of the test that is harmful to learning; demonstrations of the technical validity of standardized tests should not be the issue in the assessment reform debate. Students come to believe that learning is cramming; teachers come to believe that tests are after-the-fact, imposed nuisances composed of contrived questions--irrelevant to their intent and success. Both parties are led to believe that right answers matter more than habits of mind and the justification of one's approach and results. This type of assessment also sends a message to students that information is learned for a test, and as soon as the test is completed, students often do not see the importance of retaining this information.

A move toward more authentic tasks and outcomes thus improves teaching and learning: students have greater clarity about their obligations (and are asked to master more engaging tasks), and teachers can come to believe that assessment results are both meaningful and useful for improving instruction.

When students leave high school or even college they are expected to be able to function in our world based on a certain standard set of skills. Those life skills often do not include knowledge on ancient civilizations or chemical composition. It is great for students to have a well rounded education and a plethora of content knowledge, but if they cannot apply their skills to any content or task, teachers or schools have not prepared them for the real world.

Click on the video below to learn more about authentic assessment in "Assessment Overview: Beyond Standardized Testing"

Basic Elements of Authentic Assessment:
  • Students are asked to develop responses rather than choose from a list of possibly correct answers authentic_assessment.gif
  • Fosters higher order thinking
  • Takes a direct approach to evaluate projects and the process of creating the final product
  • Aligns with classroom instruction
  • Uses student work which has been collected over time
  • Based on clear criteria given to students
  • Allows for multiple interpretations
  • Students learn to evaluate own work
  • Relates more to classroom learning

Ten Features of Authentic Assessments

  1. Authentic activities have real-world relevance: Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than decontextualized or classroom-based tasks
  2. Authentic activities are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity: Problems inherent in the activities are ill-defined and open to multiple interpretations rather than easily solved by the application of existing algorithms. Learners must identify their own unique tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the major task.
  3. Authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time: Activities are completed in days, weeks and months rather than minutes or hours. They require significant investment of time and intellectual resources.
  4. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources: The task affords learners the opportunity to examine the problem from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, rather than allowing a single perspective that learners must imitate to be successful. The use of a variety of resources rather than a limited number of preselected references requires students to detect relevant from irrelevant information.
  5. Authentic activities provide the opportunity to collaborate: Collaboration is integral to the task, both within the course and the real world, rather than achievable by the individual learner.
  6. Authentic activities provide the opportunity to reflect: Activities need to enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning both individuall and socially.
  7. Authentic activities can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes: Activities encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable students to play diverse roles thus building robust expertise rather than knowledge limited to a single well-defined field or domain.
  8. Authentic activities are seamlessly integrated with assessment: Assessment of activities is seamlessly integrated with the major task in a manner that reflects real-world assessment, rather than separate artificial assessment removed from the nature of the task.
  9. Authentic activities create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else: Activities culminate in the creation of a whole product rather than an exercise or sub-step in preparation for something else.
  10. Authentic activities allow competing solutions and diversity of outcomes: Activities allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by the application of rules and procedures.

How Does Authentic Assessment Compare to Traditional Assessment?

With traditional assessment students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge of subject matter based on multiple choice or true/false questions and matching. Unlike authentic assessment, traditional assessment does not show the thought process which led students to arrive at the answer they selected. In contrast to traditional assessment, authentic assessment is much less structured and provides a more in-depth method of evaluating understanding in a subject area. The process is valued just as much as the product when the assessment is complete. The chart below compares and contrasts some characteristic of authentic and traditional assessment.

Authentic Assessment ..................................................Traditional Assessment

perform a a response
real-life task...................................................................simulated and contrived
application and original construction.................................recall or recognition
direct evidence...............................................................indirect evidence
ongoing over a long period of time....................................completed once for a specific amount of time
integrated seamlessly within learning...............................completed once learning is "finished"

Though there are differences in the two, it does not mean they cannot be used together. Sometimes, these two types of assessments make great partners. An widely used example is how to choose a chauffeur if there was a choice between one that has only passed the writing portion of the test and one that has only passed the driving portion. Most would choose the chauffeur that has passed the driving portion (the authentic assessment), however most would prefer their chauffeur has past both parts, the authentic assessment and the traditional assessment. This would insure that the chauffeur had basic knowledge of driving and road laws, as well as the skill to drive.

Types of Authentic Assessment: assessment.gif
  • Scoring Guides/Rubric: A scoring scale is used to assess student performance along a task-specific set of criteria. A list of required elements are grouped together to make the scoring guide with point specific designations.
  • Portfolio/E-Portfolio: A collection of a student's work specifically selected to highlight achievements or demonstrate improvement over time (e-portfolio is electronic and usually accessible on the Internet).
  • Authentic Task: An assignment given to students designed to assess their ability to apply standard-driven knowledge and skills to real-world challenges.
  • Self-Assessment: Evaluating one's own performance to determine strengths and weaknesses, as well as reflecting on what improvements can be made to enhance product
  • Oral Interviews: The teacher asks the student questions about the subject matter
  • Story or Text Retelling: Student retells main ideas or selected details of text experienced through listening or reading.
  • Writing Samples: Student generates narrative, expository, persuasive, or reference paper.
  • Projects/Exhibitions: Student works with other students as a team to create a project that often involves multimedia production, oral and written presentations, and a display.
  • Experiments/Demonstrations: Student documents a series of experiments, illustrates a procedure, performs the necessary steps to complete a task, and documents the results of the actions.
  • Constructed-Response Items: Student responds in writing to open-ended questions.
  • Teacher Observations: Teacher observes and documents the students attention and interaction in class, response to instructional materials, and cooperative work with other students.

Why Use Authentic Assessment?

  1. Highlights constructive nature of learning and education
  2. Allows students to choose own path for demonstrating skill set
  3. Evaluates how effectively students can directly apply knowledge to a variety of task
  4. Legitimizes learning by completing it in a real-world context
  5. Allows for collaboration among students and across curriculum

Authentic Assessment: Advantages and Disadvantages
Focuses on analytical skills and the integration of knowledge
Time-intensive to manage, monitor, and coordinate
Promotes creativity
Difficult to coordinate with mandatory educational standards
Reflection of real-world skills and knowledge
Challenging to provide consistent grading scheme
Encourages collaborative work
Subjective nature of grading may lead to bias
Enhances written and oral presentation skills
Unique nature may be unfamiliar to students
Direct match of assessment, instructional activities, and learning objectives
May not be practical for large enrollment courses
Emphasizes integration of learning over time
Challenging to develop for various types of courses and ranges of objectives

How to Use Authentic Assessment
Follow these helpful steps to create your own authentic assessment:
  1. Identify which standards you want your students to meet through this assessment.
  2. Choose a relevant task for this standard, or set of standards, so that students can demonstrate how they have or have not met the standards.
  3. Define the characteristics of good performance on this task. This will provide useful information regarding how well students have met the standards.
  4. Create a rubric, or set of guidelines, for students to follow so that they are able to assess their work as they perform the assigned task.


Creating Rubrics for Authentic Assessment
Before making a rubric teachers need to identify what they want to assess. Rubrics should be created before the unit to ensure the students are taught the main components. In addition, it can assess criteria from previous units. Assessments should usually evaluate no more than five elements for each task. If too much is being assessed it is difficult to truly identify the strengths and weaknesses of a student
Once the criteria for the assessment is identified, a rubric can be created. Making a rubric is simplified with the aid of online rubric-makers. Before teachers create a rubric it is best to do a search for the specific rubric to save time. For example, input letter writing rubrics into a search address box and numerous letter writing sample rubrics will be displayed.
Making rubrics are time consuming in the initial stages but are worth the investment. Rubrics are a wonderful tool to ensure a more authentic assessment of student work. The assessment tool gives students a framework on expectations and teachers a framework on what is being graded.
  • A rubric provides a teacher with a scale of where the student's current knowledge and performance are currently at as well as what they may need to improve upon.
  • A rubric provides a student with their own guidelines while they are working on an assessment. They are able to guide themselves, as well as assess their own work or the work of their classmates using the rubric provided to them.
  • A teacher can work with his or her students to develop assessment criteria for a rubric. This way, students are taking part in the evaluation process and feel more of an attachment to what they are working on. They need to live up to their own standards (criteria) as well as that of the teacher.

Examples of Authentic Assessment Rubrics:
Web Project Rubric
Classroom Web Page Rubric
WebQuest Rubric
Middle School Research Project Rubric
*Rubric Template for creating your own rubric**

Challenges of Authentic Assessment:
  • Usually takes longer to plan, complete, and evaluate than other methods of assessment
  • Difficult to ensure assessment accurately aligns with curriculum and standards
  • Allows for greater margin of evaluator bias/judgments of assessment

Examples of Authentic Assessment

Funderstanding-Authentic Assessment
Authentic Assessment Toolbox
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory
Wik ED--Authentic Assessment
Park University-Incorporating Authentic Assessment