According to Albert Einstein, “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts." That sentiment captures the philosophy behind the many types of authentic assessment, also known as performance assessment, alternative assessment, or direct assessment.
What is Authentic Assessment?
On his website, Authentic Assessment Toolbox, Jon Mueller defines authentic assessment as “a form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills." This type of evaluation checks students’ understanding and knowledge through circumstances that model real-world situations in which those skills are typically required.
How Do Traditional Assessment and Authentic Assessment Compare?
First, it is important to understand that traditional and authentic assessment are not mutually exclusive means of checking students’ progress, but should, instead, be used to complement one another. The informed teacher uses traditional assessment to test the breadth of students’ knowledge, while authentic assessment measures the depth of understanding and the ability to apply the knowledge.
Traditional assessment requires learners to select answers in multiple-choice or matching questions, or to recall facts in fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions. It is usually norm-referenced and focuses on measuring the acquisition of a specific body of knowledge.
Authentic assessment, on the other hand, is criterion-referenced. It involved “backward planning," in which teachers decide what students need to be able to do in order to show their mastery of the targeted knowledge and skills. They then develop a set of learning activities and experiences that will provide students with the essential knowledge, skills, understanding and tools to complete the required task. Students receive a rubric of the project’s criteria before they begin the task.
Authentic assessment is also valuable in teaching students how to evaluate their own performance, which is an important skill in the world outside the schoolroom. However, because it is often more time-intensive than traditional assessment, it is not appropriate for every part of the curriculum.
What Are Some Examples of Authentic Assessment?
Types of authentic assessment take many forms, all of which involve higher order levels of thinking. They are often task-based and analytical. For example, a traditional assignment might ask students to identify and describe the setting of a story; an authentic assessment of the task would instead have students explain why the author chose to select the story’s setting and what effect it has on how the story progresses.
In this type of assessment, students might discuss books, write letters, participate in debates or dramatic presentations, or keep journals. Some specific examples for the core subject areas appear below.
Most types of student writing, including the revision and editing stages, would fit into the authentic assessment model. Some ideas include writing letters to story characters, creating story maps, planning a business and writing a request for start-up capital, or writing/delivering speeches in a political campaign. Older students could research a selected topic and write an annotated bibliography instead of the usual term paper.
Math may lend itself most easily to finding examples of authentic assessment. Primary students can create shape pictures and then demonstrate understanding by identifying the shapes and colors they used. Hypothetically trading stocks and evaluating the results, interviewing other people or journaling about the use of fractions in one day, determining how much paint or carpet required to redecorate a room in the student’s home, or working with a group to teach the vocabulary or concepts of a particular math unit are all examples of alternative assessment.
Performance assessment has been a part of most science classes since long before researchers recognized its validity. Lab experiments are excellent opportunities for students to demonstrate knowledge in real-world style situations. Recycling or other health campaigns are also fun ways to evaluate students’ understanding.
Authentic assessment has also become a regular part of many social science teachers’ repertoire. History teachers may assign groups to plan the founding of a moon colony, analyzing what would be necessary to make it succeed. A Venn diagram comparing the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution is a simple way to determine how well students truly understand the documents, while writing help wanted ads for members of the branches of government allow assessment of both government concepts and writing skills. Geography students can show what they know by creating travel brochures for the regions, states, or countries the class is studying. Older students can show their understanding of both significant court cases and the judicial process by holding mock court to “argue" the Marbury vs. Madison or Brown vs. Board of Education cases.
There are so many types of authentic assessment that the biggest challenge may be choosing the best one for a particular unit of study.