Authentic Assessment: a briefing

This article is designed to provide background information for a school considering the adoption of a broadly based assessment program which includes authentic assessment.  In addition to the summary information, links are provided to online resources which provide more detailed discussion and examples.

Briefing Notes for a Broad Based Assessment Program

Purpose of Assessment
 Authentic Assessment
Current Practice
Classroom Practice
What we Want to Measure
Types of Authentic Assessment
Expected Outcomes
Requirements for Authentic Assessment
Assessment Rubrics


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In Association with

Purpose of Assessment

  • Students need to know how well they are meeting the curricular objectives.
  • Teachers need to know how well the students are doing, to monitor the effectiveness of their teaching, and to identify individual learning problems.
  • Parents want to know how well their children are doing on a regular basis.
  • Administrators need to know how the students are doing collectively.
  • Legislators need to know how well students collectively are mastering the Provincial curriculum.
  • (Leadership for Excellence handout, EDPY 303, U of Alberta, Fall 99)  (Index)

    Online Resource

    M. Kulieke, J. Bakker, C. Collins, T. Fennimore, C. Fine, J. Herman, B.F. Jones, L. Raack, M.B. Tinzmann, 1990, "Why Should Assessment Be Based on a Vision of Learning?" NCREL, Oak Brook [December 8, 1999]

    What we Want to Measure

  • Curriculum objectives are usually stated in terms of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that students are expected to acquire. The students’ mastery of these objectives needs to be measured.
  • How well students have mastered a portion of the curriculum is usually described in terms of Bloom’s taxonomy. (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) Therefore, we want to evaluate the students’ ability to demonstrate the different levels of mastering the curriculum.
  • Curriculum objectives require the development of written, oral, and presentation skills.
  • Alberta curricular objectives usually include the development of research and critical thinking skills.
  • There are social and behavioural expectations for students. How well students meet these expectations needs to be monitored.
  • There is some support for assessing student performance in terms of multiple intelligences such as kinetic or musical.  (Index)
  • Current Practice: Selective Response Questions

  • Most of the assessment done in the school uses selective response types of questions such as multiple choice, short answer, true-false, or fill in the blank questions.
  • The assessment is objective because there is generally only one acceptable answer.
  • The results can be used to identify the causes of student problems understanding the material. For example several students making the same mistake may indicate lack of understanding of the question or what was taught.
  • The tests are readily available, easy to administer and easy to mark. Most schools have prior years tests and sample tests that come with the text books as sources of test items.
  • The test can have a broad focus. Because of the ease of marking and short time required to answer individual questions, a large number of questions can be asked.  (Index)
  • What we are Measuring

    What we are Missing

    (EDPY 303 handouts, U of Alberta, Fall 99)  (Index)

    Authentic Assessment

  • Authentic assessment asks students to apply their skills and knowledge in meaningful ways such as reporting the results of an experiment, writing a letter that is meant to be sent, evaluating their learning or writing a poem.
  • Students are required to develop responses, not select the appropriate response from a list.
  • Students are required to synthesize the information they have encountered and to evaluate their learning as well an demonstrate knowledge and comprehension of the curriculum.
  • Allows the students to work on holistic projects that allow them to create a context for their learning and see the relationship among different pieces of information. For instance, playing the role of a historical figure requires the student to think about what each individual fact learned means to the figure.
  • Includes a wide variety of assessment techniques that can reveal students’ abilities in many dimensions such as oral, visual, and kinetic through the use of performance, portfolios, journals and projects.
  • Allows for formative evaluations and that can encompass many learning objectives such as attitudes and presentations skills that are difficult to evaluate using written tests.
  • Students can be involved in evaluating their own work which prompts them to think about their learning (metacognition ) and develops metacognition strategies.  (Index)
  • Online Resource
    Robertta H. Barbara, "Authentic Assessment Power Point Presentation" [December 8, 1999]

    "Performance Assessment"
    [December 6, 1999]

    Classroom Practice

    Authentic assessment is based on constructivist theories of learning. Further, authentic academic achievement is a prerequisite to authentic assessment.
  • Learning is a constructive process in which the learner develops representations of knowledge and develops understandings of meaning based on personal experience.
  • Constructivists suggest that learning is not linear.
  • Real-world contexts are needed if learning is to be constructed and transferred beyond the classroom.
  • To learn students have to interpret information and relate it to their own prior knowledge.
  • Teachers using this approach use integrated curricula, cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and whole language.
  • Assessments should demonstrate whether or not students can use the skills and strategies they have learned appropriately.
  • Achievement tasks should meet at least three criteria:
  • disciplined inquiry (prior knowledge, understanding problem) For instance, reconstructing an historical event from source documents,
  • integration of knowledge (considering things as a whole) such as making a hypothesis based on a series of experiments, and
  • value beyond evaluation (tasks should have intrinsic value such as the creation of new knowledge, performing, building something, or creating self-knowledge).
  • (Burke, K., December 9, 1999)  (Index)
    Online Examples
    "Authentic Classroom Assessment in Action: Ms. Rodriguez’s Classroom"

    This article describes how Ms. Rodriguez uses authentic assessment in the classroom by presenting snapshots of what she does in September, for parent teacher interviews, and for her year end evaluations. The article illustrates the use of both formal and informal evaluation and involving students in assessing their own learning. [December 8, 1999]

    Andi Stix, 1996, "Empowering Students through Negotiable Contracting to Draft Rubrics for Authentic Assessment" US Department of Education: ERIC #TM027247

    What would happen if students were invited to help decide how their work should be evaluated? Would they exploit the opportunity, designing standards so ridiculously low as to guarantee effortless good grades? [December 8, 1999]

    Andi Stix, "PIC-JOUR MATH: PICTORIAL JOURNAL WRITING IN MATHEMATICS" Arithmetic Teacher, January 1994. [December 8, 1999]

    "Funderstanding Roller Coaster!" This simulator is designed for kids who want to design their own thrilling coaster and educators who want to use a cool activity to simulate the application of physics by using an exciting interactive tool and access to a wonderful reference source. It is your mission to design the coaster so that you can achieve maximum thrills and chills without crashing or flying off the track (unless that's how you like your coaster to work!). If you accept this mission you must decide on a number of factors. You are responsible for setting the controls for the height of hill #1, hill #2, the size of the loop, the initial speed of the coaster, its mass, the gravity at work and the amount of friction on the track. [December 8, 1999]  (Index)

    Books from
    Authentic Assessment in the Classroom By: Gary Borich, Martin Tombari
    Authentic Assessment: Using Product, Performance, and Portfolio Measures from A to Z By: Sandra Schurr, Imogene Forte, Marta Drayton
    Authentic Assessment in Action : Studies of School & Students at Work By: Linda Darling-Hammond
    Linking Assessment and Early Intervention:An Authentic Curriculum-Based Approach By: John T. Neisworth, Stephen J. Bagnato, Susan M. Munson
    Practical Aspects of Authentic Assessment:Putting the Pieces Together By: Bonnie C. Hill, Cynthia Ruptic
    Becoming Reflective Students and & Teachers with Portfolios & Authentic Assessment By: Linda R. Ayres, Scott G. Paris
    Assessment of Authentic Performance in School Mathematics By: Richard Lesh, Susan J. Lamon
    Reform in School Mathematics and Authentic Assessment By: Thomas A. Romberg
    Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners By: Lorraine Valdez Pierce, J. Michael O'Malley

    Types of Authentic Assessment

  • Open-ended or extended response exercises, questions or other prompts that require students to explore a topic orally or in writing. (e.g. experiment observations, role playing)
  • Extended tasks assignments that require sustained attention in a single work area and are carried out over several hours or longer. (e.g. writing a poem, developing conducting and explaining the results of a science experiment, building a boat)
  • Portfolios comprised of selected collections of a variety of performance-based work. (e.g. best pieces and student's evaluation, journals, works in progress)
  • Performance tasks such as plays, presentations, posters, or models.  (Index)
  • Requirements for Authentic Assessment

  • Lessons have to involve activities that are amenable to authentic assessment such as project-based learning, role-playing, journals, and cooperative learning.
  • Tasks should be open ended, meaningful, take place in a realistic context, and be a learning experience.
  • The learning expectations and the criteria for assessment should be matched to valued outcomes and to the task, and need to be clearly defined.
  • Assessments are based on identifiable and meaningful criteria.
  • Students should be involved in developing the criteria for assessing their performance.
  • The assessment criteria should be communicated to the students before the work is started.
  • Assessment should be an integral part of the teaching process. (e.g. a student evaluating his work and developing the learning objectives and evaluation criteria for the next stage of a project)
  • Evaluators need to be trained to ensure consistent application of the criteria.  (Index)
  • Assessment Rubrics

    For performance assessments, the assessment criteria are usually presented as an assessment rubric.
  • Assessment rubrics identify the various performance characteristics that are being evaluated such as format, content, or presentation.
  • The rubric will clearly state the criteria or expectations for each level of performance. (i.e. for each grade)
  • Commonly, rubrics are presented as tables with the grade level down the left side and the characteristics of the assignment to be evaluated across the top or visa versa. The student or the evaluator can then use the rubric to identify the expectations for any grade level such as the requirements for getting a "A" for content.
  • Assignments are usually assigned a grade for each characteristic being evaluated.  (Index)
  • Online Examples
    "Kathy Shrock’s Guide for Educators: Assessment Rubrics"

    Now that we are using the Internet in the classroom to support instruction, it is important that the area of assessment be addressed. The natural tendency for teachers is to provide a rubric for student use and for assessment purposes. Below you will find a collection of assessment rubrics for use of the World Wide Web that may be helpful for you as you design your own. Let me know if you have one that you would like to share! A book that deals with both the theoretical and practical design of rubrics is the ASCD publication, Assessing Student Outcomes: Performance Assessment Using the Dimensions of Learning Model. [December 8, 1999]

    Books from
    Graphic Organizers and Planning Outlines:For Authentic Instruction & Assessment
    The American Literacy Profile Scales : A Framework for Authentic Assessment By: Lois Burrill, Patricia Smith, Patrick Griffin

    Expected Outcomes

  • If authentic assessment techniques are adopted:
  • teachers would be able to evaluate higher order cognitive skills, kinetic and other intelligences not amenable to written tests, critical thinking, performance, and research skills because a variety of assessment techniques are available;
  • learning tasks should engage the students more fully because they are involved in developing the tasks and the assessment criteria and the students can demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways;
  • students should be more aware of their learning process because they will be a part of the evaluation process and involved in setting learning goals; and
  • student achievement should improve because the students are using and placing the curriculum content in context in addition to becoming knowledgeable about the content.
  • Teachers should reflect on their classroom practice to see whether it is compatible with constructivist approaches to learning or not.
  • Teachers should review the online materials and consider whether using authentic assessment is practical in their classrooms or not.
  • Subject teachers should discuss how to use authentic assessment and learning in their classrooms.  (Index)
  • References:

    1997, "Authentic Classroom Assessment in Action: Ms. Rodriguez’s Classroom", Houghton Mifflin Company, [December 8, 1999]

    Robertta H. Barbara, "Authentic Assessment Power Point Presentation", [December 8, 1999]

    Burke, K., The Mindful School: How to Assess Authentic Learning: Introduction. [December 9, 1999.]

    M. Kulieke, J. Bakker, C. Collins, T. Fennimore, C. Fine, J. Herman, B.F. Jones, L. Raack, M.B. Tinzmann, 1990, "Why Should Assessment Be Based on a Vision of Learning?" NCREL, Oak Brook [December 8, 1999]

    On Purpose Associates. "Funderstanding Roller Coaster!", [December 8, 1999]

    1992, "Performance Assessment", Educational Resources Information Center, [December 6, 1999]

    Kathy Shrock, "Kathy Shrock’s Guide for Educators: Assessment Rubrics", [December 8, 1999]

    Andi Stix, 1996, Empowering Students through Negotiable Contracting to Draft Rubrics for Authentic Assessment US Department of Education: ERIC #TM027247 [December 8, 1999]

    Andi Stix, "PIC-JOUR MATH: PICTORIAL JOURNAL WRITING IN MATHEMATICS" Arithmetic Teacher, January 1994. [December 8, 1999]  (Index)