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Authentic Assessment: A Key Part of Instruction

Related Tags: Assessment, All Grades
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Over the course of my eighteen years as a teacher, one of my biggest challenges was assessing whether students had really mastered the content or whether they had simply memorized the information. It wasn't until I started teaching in a health-careers academy that I was able to determine whether students understood the subject matter. Students who could take the knowledge and skills and apply that knowledge to the medical field had mastered the content. Authentic assessment, or performance assessment, became key in my instruction.

What is authentic assessment? It shows what the student is learning, how the student is learning it, and the quality of the understanding over time. No pen-and-paper test can match this. Giving students a multiple-choice test is like assessing New York Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon's baseball skills by asking him to complete one about the sport. We might find out about his knowledge of the facts of baseball, but we would not be able to measure his level of playing skill.

Authentic assessment helped me develop clear goals about what students know, understand, and do as a result of the instruction versus textbook knowledge. It required me to redirect my teaching from what to how and to involve students in real work. Authentic assessment resulted in a tangible product with a verified purpose. For example, my teaching was more focused on showing students how to research a medical procedure than on diagramming sentences. I had to integrate the curriculum, because real-world issues or activities are seldom limited to one content area.

I also used authentic assessment as a motivational strategy, as students view relevant activities in more positive manner. There is rarely one correct answer with authentic assessment, so I emphasized standards and criteria.

Authentic assessment is much more difficult to create than more traditional methods. The following questions were my guidelines:

  • Does it measure what it says it measures?
  • Are the standards clear?
  • Are the criteria explicit?
  • Does it relate to local, state, or national goals?
  • Is the scoring system based on identified standards and criteria?
  • Does the assessment show degrees of excellence?

Here are some tips for developing authentic assessments:

  • Design the curriculum backward from the assessment.
  • Evaluate along the way using benchmarks.
  • Give students time to revise after self-assessment and peer assessment.
  • Continually adjust your assessment tools.
  • Be innovative to improve assessment.

Authentic assessment promotes content mastery and high-quality performance. Authentic assessment is more difficult and less efficient than conventional testing, but I think it's worth the time and effort required for careful and thoughtful development, because it evaluates what students can do with knowledge in context.

Comments (21)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Bobbie's picture

I am a professor who would like my graduate students to read and respond to your blog in an effort to begin a communication with teachers outside our region. I found your blog on authentic assessment to be very user-friendly.

Sheri's picture
Special Education Teacher, Middle School

I am a special education teacher that is interested in sharing with the regular education teacher more assessments that are authentic. I think the idea of using the assessment to guide the instruction is key. How do I portray this importance to my teachers? Any suggestions on good pre assessments?

Ashley W's picture
Ashley W
1st Grade Teacher, Murfreesboro, TN

I like the baseball analogy. I feel like a lot of the assessments we're required to give are like this. They don't really tell us any useful information. Thank you for the questions and tips. They will be helpful. One question, in what ways do you relay your assessment results to your students, parents, and any other stakeholders?

Ashley Johnson's picture

I am a graduate student trying to obtain my first teaching position. I think the message that most stuck out to me from this article was that it's not necessarily what we are teaching our kiddso, it's how we are teaching them. How we are assessing them is just as important. I totally agree that no pen and paper test can tell us how the student is learning and the quality of their understanding. These are two things a teacher must fully understand to really connect learning to her students. This was a great example for me to see how instruction and assessment are a continuous cycle.

B. Mimms's picture
B. Mimms
Graduate Student - Murfreesboro, TN

Teachers do not have to choose between traditional methods of assessments and authentic methods of assessment. In order to get an accurate picture of a student's achievement, teachers should use a variety of assessment techniques, mixing both traditional assessment methods (quizzes and tests) with authentic assessment methods. If you had to choose between a pilot who passed a written test and a pilot who passed an actual flying exercise, which would you choose? One might choose the latter, but I personally would feel more comfortable knowing that my pilot had a good training knowledge about flying (measured by traditional methods) and was also able to apply his knowledge to his actual flying skills (demonstrated through authentic assessment). I believe that it could be argued that both are important. I agree that authentic assessment is a key part of curriculum instruction. Simply memorizing information does not guarantee that a student has mastered the subject and is able to use it in a real life situation.

Mark's picture

Do you feel that authentic assessment is the most efficient way to assess students? If so, does it teach problem solving and other strategies as much or more as some teacher written assessments? Also, what subjects do you see authentic assessment working more effectively in compared to the others.

Carrie Bryant's picture
Carrie Bryant
Middle School Visual Art Teacher, Nashville, TN

I am enjoying reading comments by fellow educators about assessing their students. In the artroom, I have always relied on self-evaluation and some peer feedback (peer critiques can be tricky in middle school). Backward design is a challenge for me but I see the benefits for myself and my students. It forces me to create the rubric before I begin teaching the lesson. For parents and students, the expectation is a given from day one. I have started attaching my rubrics to my website, post them in my room and each student has a copy in their art folder. I refer to the rubric daily so students are fully aware of the expectations, standards and skills. I have a place on each rubric for self-evaluation, teacher evaluation and comments.
I need to improve in the area of benchmarks. Occasionally, I will use post-it-notes to write notes during a project (attach to their artwork). I let them know what they are doing well and areas that need attention. What types of benchmarks work well for you?

Carrie Bryant's picture
Carrie Bryant
Middle School Visual Art Teacher, Nashville, TN

As I just posted, authentic assessment works very well in visual art. If I only graded their final project I would not have a "full picture" of where my students were. By incorporating a variety of assessments like writing, discussions, sketchbooks, rubrics, etc. I feel as though I have attained a good idea of where they are. Is it the most efficient? No, I do not know many art educators who use varied forms of assessment. Most art teachers I know use a generic rubric for all projects.

Bartond's picture
Sixth grade Read/LA

I, too, like planning backward from the assessment. You know where the students need to go, so designing lessons in reverse makes sense.

Tameka's picture
Graduate Student

I really liked the scenario that Sandy used with Yankees baseball player, it was a great way of helping others understand exactly what authentic assessment was about! I totally agree with the statement about teachers going through the difficulty of having to be creative when it comes to teaching their students. The traditional method of teaching is not for every student! I have come to find it very boring and repetitive in the classrooms I have taught. Students are more interested learners when they understand the concept of what you are trying to get them to learn. For those educators that love to teach, it shouldn't matter how much time and effort it takes. I believe a degree of excellence should be shown through how we teach. What is also important is how we adjust assessment for students to improve. We must remember that all students should be viewed as individuals and each child may learn different ways. We want to have a purpose for learning and allow the students to be able to problem solve and show that they understand what is being taught. "The quality of understanding over time" should be placed on a wall in every classroom as a focus point for teachers.

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