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Authentic Assessment Overview


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How well do multiple-choice tests really evaluate student understanding and achievement? Many
educators believe that there is a more effective assessment alternative. These teachers use testing
strategies that do not focus entirely on recalling facts. Instead, they ask students to demonstrate skills
and concepts they have learned. This strategy is called authentic assessment.

What is authentic assessment?

How can you
Authentic assessment aims to evaluate students' abilities in 'real-world' contexts.
students to apply
In other words, students learn how to apply their skills to authentic tasks and
their knowledge
projects. Authentic assessment does not encourage rote learning and passive test-
and skills to
taking. Instead, it focuses on students' analytical skills; ability to integrate what
real-world tasks?
they learn; creativity; ability to work collaboratively; and written and oral
expression skills. It values the learning process as much as the finished product.

In authentic assessment, students:

• do science experiments
• conduct social-science research
• write stories and reports
• read and interpret literature
• solve math problems that have real-world applications

Why might I use authentic assessment methods in my classroom?

Many teachers are dissatisfied with only using traditional testing methods. They believe these methods
do not test many skills and abilities students need to be successful. These educators assert that students
must be prepared to do more than memorize information and use algorithms to solve simple problems.
They believe students should practice higher-order thinking skills, and criticize tests they feel do not
measure these skills.

Authentic Assessment Overview

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How can I use authentic assessment in my classroom?

Authentic assessment utilizes performance samples – learning activities that encourage students to use
higher-order thinking skills. There are five major types of performance samples:

1. Performance Assessment
Performance assessments test students' ability to use skills in a variety of authentic contexts. They
frequently require students to work collaboratively and to apply skills and concepts to solve complex
problems. Short- and long-term tasks include such activities as:

• writing, revising, and presenting a report to the class

• conducting a week-long science experiment and analyzing the results
• working with a team to prepare a position in a classroom debate

2. Short Investigations

Many teachers use short investigations to assess how well students have mastered basic concepts and
skills. Most short investigations begin with a stimulus, like a math problem, political cartoon, map, or
excerpt from a primary source. The teacher may ask students to interpret, describe, calculate, explain,
or predict. These investigations may use enhanced multiple-choice questions. Or they may use concept
mapping, a technique that assesses how well students understand relationships among concepts.
(Concept map printable)

3. Open-Response Questions

Open-response questions, like short investigations, present students with a stimulus and ask them to
respond. Responses include:

• a brief written or oral answer

• a mathematical solution
• a drawing
• a diagram, chart, or graph

4. Portfolios

A portfolio documents learning over time. This long-term perspective accounts for student
improvement and teaches students the value of self-assessment, editing, and revision. A student
portfolio can include:

• journal entries and reflective writing

• peer reviews
• artwork, diagrams, charts, and graphs
• group reports
• student notes and outlines
• rough drafts and polished writing

5. Self-Assessment

Self-assessment requires students to evaluate their own participation, process, and products. Evaluative
questions are the basic tools of self-assessment. Students give written or oral responses to questions

• What was the most difficult part of this project for you?
• What do you think you should do next?
• If you could do this task again, what would you do differently?
• What did you learn from this project?
Many teachers find that authentic assessment is most successful when students know what teachers
expect. For this reason, teachers should always clearly define standards and expectations. Educators
often use rubrics, or established sets of criteria, to assess student work.

Because authentic assessment emphasizes process and performance, it encourages students to practice
critical-thinking skills and to get excited about the things they are learning. Try it in your classroom!

Approaches to Authentic Assessment


Authentic assessment is any type of assessment that requires students to demonstrate skills and
competencies that realistically represent problems and situations likely to be encountered in daily life.
Students are required to produce ideas, to integrate knowledge, and to complete tasks that have real-
world applications. Such approaches require the person making the assessment to use human judgment
in the application of criterion-referenced standards (Archbald, 1991). Authentic assessment is a
contrast to traditional educational testing and evaluation, which focuses on reproducing information
such as memorized dates, terms, or formulas.

In authentic assessment, students use remembered information in order to produce an original product,
participate in a performance, or complete a process. Students are assessed according to specific criteria
that are known to them in advance. These criteria are called rubrics. Rubrics give students a clearer
picture of the strengths and weaknesses of their work than do letter grades alone. For a sample student
assessment that utilizes rubrics, refer to the Student Information Sheet.

The essential nature of the school-to-work curriculum calls for authentic assessment. Rogers, Hubbard,
Charner, Fraser, and Horne (1996) note:

"The measurement of learning that occurs in settings so unlike the traditional classroom
requires assessment practices that are correspondingly different. Many school-to-work
programs have drawn up comprehensive sets of competencies, often in consultation with
business partners, which students in that program are expected to acquire, at certain minimum
levels. Others have established comprehensive standards toward which all the programs within
a school or district are expected to strive. Others have experimented with portfolio assessment
as the most accurate way to document a student's education."

Besides portfolios and demonstrations of competencies and achievement standards, authentic

assessments can include exhibitions, oral presentations, and other projects. For further information
about these assessments, refer to the Critical Issue "Ensuring Equity with Alternative Assessments."
Authentic Assessment



Simply testing an isolated skill or a retained fact does not effectively measure a student’s capabilities.
To accurately evaluate what a person has learned, an assessment method must examine his or her
collective abilities.This is what is meant by authentic assessment. Authentic assessment presents
students with real-world challenges that require them to apply their relevant skills and knowledge.

Basic Elements

Authentic assessment accomplishes each of the following goals:

Requires students to develop responses rather than select from predetermined options

Elicits higher order thinking in addition to basic skills

Directly evaluates holistic projects

Synthesizes with classroom instruction

Uses samples of student work (portfolios) collected over an extended time period

Stems from clear criteria made known to students

Allows for the possibility of multiple human judgments

Relates more closely to classroom learning

Teaches students to evaluate their own work

“Fairness” does not exist when assessment is uniform, standardized, impersonal, and absolute. Rather,
it exists when assessment is appropriate–in other words, when it’s personalized, natural, and flexible;
when it can be modified to pinpoint specific abilities and function at the relevant level of difficulty;
and when it promotes a rapport between examiner and student.

Authentic assessment is designed to be criterion-referenced rather than norm-referenced. Such

evaluation identifies strengths and weaknesses, but does not compare or rank students.

Authentic assessment is often based on performance: Students are asked to demonstrate their
knowledge, skills, or competencies in whatever way they find appropriate.

There are several challenges to using authentic assessment methods. They include managing its time-
intensive nature, ensuring curricular validity, and minimizing evaluator bias.

Recommended Reading

Fourth Generation Evaluation, by Egon G. Guba and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Newberry Park, CA: Sage
Bloom's Taxonomy: An Overview

Asking students to think at higher levels, beyond simple recall, is an excellent way to stimulate
students' thought processes. Different types of questions require us to use different kinds or levels of

See a list of verbs for use in lesson plans and discussion questions that correlates to Bloom's levels of

According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, human thinking skills can be broken down into the following six

1. Knowledge: remembering or recalling appropriate, previously learned information to draw out

factual (usually right or wrong) answers. Use words and phrases such as: how many, when,
where, list, define, tell, describe, identify, etc., to draw out factual answers, testing students'
recall and recognition.
2. Comprehension: grasping or understanding the meaning of informational materials. Use
words such as: describe, explain, estimate, predict, identify, differentiate, etc., to encourage
students to translate, interpret, and extrapolate.
3. Application: applying previously learned information (or knowledge) to new and unfamiliar
situations. Use words such as: demonstrate, apply, illustrate, show, solve, examine, classify,
experiment, etc., to encourage students to apply knowledge to situations that are new and
4. Analysis: breaking down information into parts, or examining (and trying to understand the
organizational structure of) information. Use words and phrases such as: what are the
differences, analyze, explain, compare, separate, classify, arrange, etc., to encourage students to
break information down into parts.
5. Synthesis: applying prior knowledge and skills to combine elements into a pattern not clearly
there before. Use words and phrases such as: combine, rearrange, substitute, create, design,
invent, what if, etc., to encourage students to combine elements into a pattern that's new.
6. Evaluation: judging or deciding according to some set of criteria, without real right or wrong
answers. Use words such as: assess, decide, measure, select, explain, conclude, compare,
summarize, etc., to encourage students to make judgements according to a set of criteria.