George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

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Comments (21) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Carolyn's picture

The authentic assessment article is very informing. I have to agree with others how the baseball analogy hit home with me too. This can simply mean that students do perform better hands-on than testing. I also like the part in the article where Sandy explains what authentic assessment is and the breakdown of how authtentic assessment is simply about how and what the student learns without the pen and paper test. I am an hands on person and would prefer to learn that way if possible.
After watching the video I learned about backward planning. I have never heard of this technique before and thought how interesting it sounded. Here is my question, why can't we educators get an inservice training something worth learning and something like this that will benefit student progress?

Brandi Garner's picture

I, too, think the baseball analogy is a great way to explain authentic assessment. While I also believe that no paper and pen test can truly measure what our students know, the law makers see that as the ONLY way to measure what students know. That is an unfortunate, for both us and more importantly, our students. I liked the idea of creating the assessment first, and then developing the instruction around that. I do use many forms of authentic assessment in my classroom, but I then sruggle to incorporate enough tests and quizzes to satisfy the people running the show. How do you find a good balance?

AnneLouise's picture

There are many ideas we want our students to take from lessons. I really connected to the idea of real world situations, and how well that was said, "real-world issues or activities are seldom limited to one content area". I agree you do have to "integrate" the curriculum to be able to assess what students can do. I like that what students have learned should be something tangible. It takes the idea way that they have the information memorized, because it means something to them.

Erin Hale's picture
Erin Hale
First Grade teacher in TN

I love the tips that you gave for authentic assessment. I never thought about working backwards to develop an assessment. I agree that authentic assessment allows for teachers to see the "how" aspect of learning, instead of the "what" aspect of learning. An assessment is going to guide our instruction better if we can see how they think and not just whether or not they can tell you the answer. How do you choose what to assess using authentic assessment? (subject, lesson, skill, etc.)

Morgan Lyles's picture

I thought that the tips that were given to help formulate authentic assessment were very good. Having teachers work backwards from the creation of the assessment is a very good idea because it makes you think about what you are really assessing and what it is that you are truely trying to get the students to learn. I also liked the idea of having the teacher give the students time to re-assess after peer assessment. This will allow the students to look at what they are learning and what they still need to work on and learn.

Christy's picture
Montessori elementary teacher

I like the idea of going backward from the assessment to the design of the lesson because this gives your instruction a true goal: you know where you are headed before you start. I think this type of assessment is very practical because it truly addresses the real point of education which is to be able to do something with the knowledge one has aquired. So much of what students have to learn in school seems pointless and is just not retained over time (ie Jay Leno asking 5th grade questions to college students that are always answered incorrectly), so having this type of assessment helps because the instructor has to figure out a way to make the information relevant to real life (which is not always possible, I think).

Abby's picture

I really like the way that Sandy explained that authentic assessment creates clear goal and changes teaching from what to how. I think my goal everyday is to decide how my students can connect to the content. If there aren't real world connections then the conent will not be retained. I also love that authentic assessment rarely has one anwser. There are so many students who aren't engaged because of the of being wrong. Authentic assessment eliminates this and builds confidence in each student.

Kristi B.'s picture
Kristi B.
7th Grade Science Teacher St. Paul, MN

This is something I struggled with as a beginning year teacher, is to have my assessments authentic. I would put together a multiple choice test on what I taught. I was so swamped with keeping up, I forgot to focus my goals and align the work to the standards which I was gradually becoming familiar with as I latched on to a coworker to help me get by. The biggest help in starting this backwards design idea was switching to standards based grading. In our gradebook we have to make sure that all assessments line up to a standard. This forced me to really take a a look at the assessments I was providing and simplify my testing. Rather than long tests with many nonsense questions, I learned to pick key questions and reference the benchmark that the students were being assessed on. For each test now, some might include the students being assessed on 3 different things. This not only helps me so more specifically what standard students are understanding, but it helps me figure out my reteaching for the upcoming lessons rather than reteaching everything!

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.

Kandi Kopel's picture
Kandi Kopel
Center Based DCD teacher

Your article was interesting and informative. I am a graduate student and nearly every point that you mention can be directly correlated to the materials that I have been working with in my assessments course. On a side note, I am curious if you have any suggestions on how to incorporate and implement the use of student portfolios in a center based special education classroom? Thanks!

Mike's picture

The evaluation process is equally important in adult education. As an online facilitator utilizing Blackboard, I can access numerous tools to assess student progress. Included are periodic checks on learning to continually evaluate additional student needs. The DL portion is a pre-requisite to attend a required career progressive resident course. Successful completion is an assessment tool in of itself. It determines the student's eligibility for attendance as well as a barometer for learning potential. This process is an example of how knowledge can be measured with practical application.

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