Overview of Authentic Assessment

Authentic Assessment is...

  • A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills -- Jon Mueller
  • "...Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field." -- Grant Wiggins -- (Wiggins, 1993, p. 229).
  • "Performance assessments call upon the examinee to demonstrate specific skills and competencies, that is, to apply the skills and knowledge they have mastered." -- Richard J. Stiggins -- (Stiggins, 1987, p. 34).(1)
  • "Authentic assessment is any type of assessment that requires students to demonstrate skills and competencies that realistically represent problems and situations likely to be encountered in daily life." (4)

This video offers a good overview of authentic assessment.
(Note: The terms "alternative" and "authentic" assessment are interchangeable. [3])

Why Use Authentic Assessments

Since every classroom is different, many teachers use a mix of both authentic and traditional assessments to serve different needs and purposes. The following items attempt to explain why authentic assessment as increased in popularity and why teachers may decide to use it in their classrooms.

Authentic Assessment are Direct Measures
Teachers don’t want their students to just simply know or memorize the content; instead, the main goal is to have students use the knowledge and skills learned while in school and apply it to the real world. If you were teaching someone how to play golf, for example, you would not assess their skills through a written test. Assessments of students, then, should determine if they can truly apply their knowledge to authentic situations. If teachers want to determine if students are truly applying their knowledge to real life situations, then authentic assessment will serve as direct evidence. Many of the pieces shown in the puzzle above, detail the specific skills needed to meet the demands of the modern workplace. Rather than simply transferring knowledge to students, active learning expects learning to occur through discovery and learner initiative. Learners must be self-determined, focused and continually strive to use and acquire additional skills need to learn.

Authentic Assessments Capture Constructive Nature of Learning
A substantial amount of research indicates that students cannot be simply fed knowledge. They must create their own interpretation and meaning of the world by using our own experiences as well as information that was taught to us. Therfore, when assessing students, we should not simply ask them to memorize and repeat content, but show that they have an accurate understanding of what they have been taught.

Authentic Assessment Makes for Better Students
Behind traditional and authentic assessments is a belief that the primary mission of schools is to help develop productive citizens. That is the essence of most mission statements I have read. From this common beginning, the two perspectives on assessment diverge. Essentially, TA is grounded in educational philosophy that adopts the following reasoning and practice:

1. A school's mission is to develop productive citizens.
2. To be a productive citizen an individual must possess a certain body of knowledge and skills.
3. Therefore, schools must teach this body of knowledge and skills.
4. To determine if it is successful, the school must then test students to see if they acquired the knowledge and skills.
In the TA model, the curriculum drives assessment. "The" body of knowledge is determined first. That knowledge becomes the curriculum that is delivered. Subsequently, the assessments are developed and administered to determine if acquisition of the curriculum occurred.(3)

Why might I use authentic assessment methods in my classroom?

Many teachers are dissatisfied with only using traditional testing methods. They believe these methods do not test many skills and abilities students need to be successful. These educators assert that students must be prepared to do more than memorize information and use algorithms to solve simple problems. They believe students should practice higher-order thinking skills, and criticize tests they feel do not measure these skills.

Examples of Authentic Assessments

Authentic Assessments can have as many possible varieties as a person can imagine. Below are some examples.

Social Studies: Here is an example of Authentic Assessment in a U.S. History class (Chatham High School, New Jersey)

Other examples could include:
  • A written letter to a congressmen with the student's opinion on some issue of importance
  • Students' participation in a mock trial
  • A debate in the style of a presidential debate

Science may be the easiest to do authentic assessment, as there are so many interesting and fun science experiments that can test a student's knowledge. A very popular one shown in the video below is a match stick bridge to demonstrate understanding of physics principles:

Other examples could include:
  • Testing the chemical properties of soda
  • Measuring the height of a building with just a ruler


Like science, math can be used in authentic assessment, but it takes some creativity;
  • Probability: Calculating the chance of winning every game on the Price is Right
  • Geometry: Calculating how many basketballs can fit into a phone booth
  • Distances: Measuring the shortest path to walk home

Below is an example of "real world," authentic application of math concepts, titled "Math in the Kitchen"


Examples of authentic assessment in literature and language can include:
  • Observed conversations with someone from another country
  • Corespondence with a foreign pen pal
    • For example, language-exchanges.org offers Skype-based text/audio/video chat platforms where users pair-up with a native speaker of their target language.
  • Short story writing
  • Literary criticism for a school newspaper

The video below talks about setting up classroom blogs for students.

Technology and Authentic Assessment

Technology can play an important role in authentic assessment, as students can use technology to demonstrate their understanding. Using PowerPoint for presentations, role playing in virtual worlds, and doing simulations are all uses of technology for authentic assessment.

Technology essentially opens up the world of authentic assessment to new opportunities because so many things can be simulated or created digitally - and shared - with relative ease.

Authentic Assessment and Standards

Many people believe authentic assessment is at odds with standards as there is no way to objectively measure mastery of a subject through authentic assessment because it is too "subjective." Also, opponents argue that authentic assessment doesn't allow for comparison between schools and students.

Proponents of authentic assessment would say that if authentic assessment can't be used to show achievement of standards then the standards are inappropriate. What is the purpose of learning, they would say, if it can be demonstrated in an authentic task.

Authentic Assessment and High Stakes Testings

In today's education system, students are frequently assessed using High Stakes Testing. Their scores on these tests are used by the government to make major decisions, most commonly about the allocation of federal and state funds. Teachers, whether they argree with the use of this form of assessment or not, are required to administer them to their students. The problem that this presents for authentic assessment is that it is difficult to for a teacher to create authentic assessments for their students when so much relies on testing in a completely different way. Also, many teachers have simply begun "teaching to the test," or in other words, they have altered curriculum to limit instruction to only the items on these high stakes tests. So clearly, a teacher that feels the tremendous pressure of preparing their students for high stakes tests will not have the adequate time to properly implement authentic assessment.

Challenges with Authentic Assessment

Good authentic assessments can be very difficult to design. They take more effort on the part of the teacher, in general, in both design and grading. This makes them subject to internal resistance from educators who hesitate to change their ways, but it is not a valid argument against authentic assessment.
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As mentioned in the section, another possible challenge to using authentic assessments in the classroom is the use of high stakes testing by schools and the government. Administrators need to be able to view student achievement, and they also need to be able to compare that achievement with other students. Unfortunately, the easiest (although not the most reliable) way to do this is through high stakes standardized testing, which leaves less opportunities to incorporate authentic assessments.