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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

School Of The Future

Grades 6-8 | New York City, NY

What is "Authentic" Assessment?

Educators at New York's School of the Future have enjoyed great success at teaching and assessing their students. Both efforts are squarely focused on student understanding of fundamental concepts and real-life learning. Making these efforts relevant and authentic has been the cornerstone of their success. See how, below.
Transcript

What is "Authentic" Assessment? (Transcript)

Whitney: The School of the Future is a six through twelve public school in District Two in New York City. It's located on the corner of 22nd Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

John: I have to usually answer why it's called "School of the Future." Half the people think we beam people up to the Star Trek Enterprise. But actually what I say is that School of the Future, although originally was named for Macintosh computers, my partner and I feel that School of the Future now is a spearhead of progressive education that is rigorous and accountable.

Stacy: And we're continuing to be a progressive school, but also to figure out how we are folding in assessment and folding in accountability. I think what makes authentic assessment authentic is that it's actually the kind of work that a person in that discipline would do. A science authentic assessment would challenge the kids to do the same kind of task that a scientist would actually do.

Esther: We're trying to give work that either mirrors what they might be doing later in life, or will prepare them for those kind of tasks, or is simply meaningful to them.

Andy: In terms of authentic work within the school, it needs to be something that the student really cares about, and that the teacher really cares about. So if we want a school where it's just really making real change and really addressing students in their hearts, then we can't have curriculum that is just going through the motions.

Whitney: And then the other piece is that making sure the task is a synthesis type of task. That will ensure the critical thinking necessary to feel that rigor is happening.

Mike: I think of authentic assessment as a window into the true understanding of the student.

Whitney: It makes teaching much more efficient. You think that it takes all this time, but in fact it's far more targeted and efficient, and it really speeds things up.

Mike: I think first about what are the big ideas I want them to come away with. Some may argue that's curriculum, but I think it's even more fundamental than curriculum. What are the big things I want the students to be able to walk away with?

Whitney: The key is asking yourself, "How will I know?" And ask that upfront as you're doing backwards planning. What does that learning look like? What does it sound like? What would I be hearing? What would I be seeing on paper? And then based on that, creating whatever assessment tool works best for you.

Mike: When you're starting to plan your curriculum, start with-- all right. What are the three assessments then? The three big ones that I'm going to see whether or not they got these skills, and then you can start think of smaller assessments on their way. They're little check-ins. And then designing the activities that go along with does this activity that I normally do, does it address what I really want them to understand?

Andy: I've been teaching now for about 13 years, and a lot of educational fads have come and gone. But one that I believe is hopefully here with us to stay is precisely this question of how do we know they got it? Before, sometimes it felt like if we taught a great lesson and the students were nodding a lot, and maybe writing in their notebooks, we felt good. But now we have to find out did they actually understand the material we were teaching them? Are they connecting this to their own intellectual interests? Is it authentic for them? Was there real learning that happened there? And I think we're getting better at doing that as teachers. I think we're getting better at doing that.

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Credits

This installment of Schools That Work was produced in collaboration with The Digital Learning Group.

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Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price
Founder, Improve-Education.org

This seems very vacuous to me. What if anything do these kids know?
It mainly seems to be administrators and planners bragging, as if by calling something authentic it automatically becomes so. But does it?

Shawn Beard's picture
Shawn Beard
Virtual School Coordinator

The point this school is trying to make is that assessments of the past only require kids to regurgitate information they have memorized. Are they really learning? What do they know? Instruction from a teacher should be meaningful and should address real-world issues. Learning should be presented in a fashion so that it pulls students in. The more meaningful the learning process, the more a student is pulled into the topic, then the more likely they are to "learn" it. Think about the most memorable moments in your life. You remember them because they either elicit some emotion or they were meaningful to you. Now think about your Senior paper you wrote for English class in high school or the state tests you took as a sophomore. Remember that? Probably not.

Andy S's picture

Good points. Bruce notes the lack of evidence of student knowledge and Shawn explains why authenticity matters to student learning.

Of course, underlying both posts hide the complex questions of "What is most important for students to learn?" and "What if we think something is crucial but the students think its not nearly as relevant to their lives as 'Call of Duty'?" In other words, to what extent can all curriculum be "engaging" and "authentic" curriculum?

Andrea W's picture

I have a child in School of the Future and also am a professor at a distinguished university. My child already has stronger writing and critical thinking skills than many of my freshman and sophomore college students, and I'm convinced that this is primarily because of the all-too-uncommon educational approach of School of the Future.

Robbi S's picture

This school is what it is all about. I would think that a rate of 97% college bound graduates would be proof enough that what they are doing is definitely working. I say hooray for the School of the Future!

Eric Boberg's picture
Eric Boberg
HS English, Curriculum Committee Chair

Bruce Price, you want to improve education, but you seem stuck in a worn-out paradigm based on the acquistion of knowlege. Learning is about much more than knowing. It's about transferability. It's about doing, demonstrating, and realizing what you don't know.

I just visited your website. What is your experience? You clearly wouldn't understand "authentic" assessment, because you make statements like the following when you discuss learning "Real History":
"You learn names, dates, places and events. You understand why things happened the way they did. Everybody loves a good story. History is a million good stories."

No credible historian would agree with that characterization of history, and your view of historical facts is about as naive as they come.

I hope no one is paying anything for any of your remarks. So sad.

I just read more of your . . . stuff. No one can be listening to you . . . for long, I hope.

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price
Founder, Improve-Education.org

Yes, when students study French, they should learn French, when they study Biology, they should learn biology, and when they study History, they should learn history. This is the traditional and common-sense approach. My concern is with making it more effective.

Meanwhile, Eric Boberg says to skip facts; instead the kids will learn transferability. What does this mean in practice?

Julie Thomas's picture
Julie Thomas
7th Grade Language Arts Teacher from Minneapolis, Minnesota

My district is in the process of adopting Learning Targets. When we learned about the ways to incorporate Learning Targets, we were encouraged to work from a formative assessment backwards when planning our lessons. We learned, similar to the video, to create smaller assessments along the way and to plan activities that would tie directly to teaching students what they would need to know in order to meet the learning target. The great thing about Learning Targets, or Authentic Learning, is that students are able to communicate what they are learning. They are assessed based on what they should know, but they can also explain to you what they are struggling with. This happens because an assessment is given and then evaluated by the students for missed learning and teachers can reinforce the content. This allows for authentic learning because a student has greater control of their learning and the teacher acts as a guide in the process. It is interesting how similar the "Authentic Learning" program and "Learning Targets" program seem to be. Very similar ideas, but with different titles. Regardless, the learning is the same. Students take greater control and teachers assess to make sure that students have learned all concepts based on state standards.

Andy S's picture

[quote]... we were encouraged to work from a formative assessment backwards when planning our lessons. We learned, similar to the video, to create smaller assessments along the way and to plan activities that would tie directly to teaching students what they would need to know in order to meet the learning target.... This happens because an assessment is given and then evaluated by the students for missed learning and teachers can reinforce the content. This allows for authentic learning because a student has greater control of their learning and the teacher acts as a guide in the process. [/quote]

Encouraging changes! Thanks for sharing this.

Could you explain further what you mean by the students evaluating their own learning? How does that look, exactly? How does the teacher guide that process, provide relevant evidence & context, etc?

I think the setting up of learning paths so that students feel agency, that they learn rather than just getting taught, could be the most important aspect of school reform. But setting up the paths so that they work well, they can be meaningfully assessed for progress, and that they lead somewhere important - that's hard rethinking work.

fatena's picture

project based learning is a dream that is not far from being accomplished if all teachers believe in their goals

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