Authentic assessment asks students not just to gather knowledge but also to apply and transfer that knowledge in meaningful, realistic ways. Traditional types of assessment include multiple choice quizzes and tests or other tasks that ask students to recall information. There is a place for information recall, of course, but what if our assessment choices were driven by what we wanted students to be able to do? That is what authentic assessment is all about. This mode of assessment requires students to demonstrate skills and amplifies their learning by engaging in relevant, real-world tasks. At its best, authentic assessment stimulates critical thinking, facilitates the direct application of knowledge, connects to current issues, and is a learning experience itself.
What is it?
Authentic tasks simulate adult tasks; they give students worthy work and they produce useful feedback so that students can progressively improve their understanding and performance, that is, their application of subject-matter content.
Wiggins, 1998, p. 12
According to Wiggins, authentic assessments include the following key components:
- It's realistic.
- It requires judgement and innovation.
- It asks the student to "do" the subject.
- It replicates or simulates the contexts in which adults are "tested" in the workplace, in civic life, and in personal life.
- It assesses the student's ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skill to negotiate a complex task.
- It allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.
So why authentic assessment?
John Mueller (2005) shares the following:
Authentic assessments are direct measures. We don't just want students to know the content we teach them; we want them to be able to apply it – so our assessments must measure the use and application of the knowledge to tell us whether students have learned.
Authentic assessments capture the constructive nature of learning. Authentic assessments allow students to take an active role in the learning process and serve as both an assessment and an educational experience.
Authentic assessments integrate teaching, learning and assessment. In a course that uses an authentic assessment model, students are provided with multiple opportunities to practice skills while they are working toward the larger assessment, while the instructor facilitates the process through formative assessment and regular feedback.
Authentic assessments provide multiple paths to demonstrate learning. Not all of us learn the same way, so it makes sense that we may not all show our learning the same way either. With authentic assessment, instructors can design their courses in such a way that by the time students get to the final assessment, they have had a variety of opportunities that have empowered them to demonstrate their learning in a number of ways and from multiple perspectives.
To learn how to get started on designing a course in this way, contact the Instructional Support Team for a consultation.
What does authentic assessment look like?
There is alignment between your assessment, your content, and your content objectives. To learn more about this, visit our page on Backward Design or check out Mueller's Toolkit page entitled, How do you create authentic assessments?
Formative Assessments/Knowledge Checks/Feedback
It is important to check in with students often through multiple low stakes, formative assessment opportunities. You can also add in self checks for your learners and make them a part of assessing and reflecting on their own learning. Finally, feedback must be meaningful, timely, and supported with ways to improve. This is where rubrics come in.
Provide your learners with rubrics to help them understand how you will be assessing their work – and how they can assess it themselves. For more on creating impactful rubrics, visit the IUB Rubric Creation and Use page.
- Grant Wiggins discusses his original work that spurred a lot of this authentic assessment discussion and breaks down the definition of authentic assessment further in his article Authenticity in assessment, (re-defined and explained) (2014).
- Jon Mueller, a professor of psychology, put together the Authentic Assessment Toolbox, a virtual textbook rooted in his experience and research in the field, to guide the creation of authentic tasks, rubrics, and standards meant to measure and improve student learning. While the site may look dated, the information is up to date and incredibly helpful. This comprehensive virtual how-to guide walks you through the creation of authentic assessments, and it really pulls out the important information in a very approachable way. You may be interested specifically in the Authentic Tasks page as well as Create the Rubric.
- Deandra Little Authentic Assignments on episode 337 of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast.
- Visit the AAC&U Engaging in Authentic Assessment page for links to articles, research, and other resources.
- Mueller, J. (2005). The authentic assessment toolbox: Enhancing student learning through online faculty development. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 1(1), 1-7.
- Wiggins, Grant. (1998). Educative assessment: designing assessments to inform and improve student performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 21 – 42.