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Authentic Assessments

An authentic assessment is one that is realistic for the student.  It requires judgement and innovation to complete it, and it requires the student to apply what they have learned to a novel problem.  An authentic assessment should mirror (as close as you can for the level of student) what the professionals in your field do as part of their job. 

For example, if you’re trying to teach marketing principles, maybe you would have students come up with a marketing plan for a product they create.  If you’re trying to teach about a particular event in history, maybe you would have students analyze newspapers to understand the public’s response to it.  If you were trying to teach social work students how to get medical histories from clients, maybe they would practice interviewing family members or fellow students. 

Students want to understand the relevance for what they are being taught.  Will what they are learning have any value to them beyond school?  When assessing students’ understanding of material or mastery of skills, there is room for the traditional drills and tests as well as the applications of knowledge.  When creating authentic assessments, you will want to incorporate feedback during and after the performance of the skill.  Learning comes from practice, self-reflection, and editing or adjusting what they learned in feedback, to improve their finished product.  “The best assessment is iterative; it functions longitudinally, that is, over time.”[1] 

Authentic assessments will help students apply critical thinking and problem solving.  Because they are connected to real life skills, they will be more interesting to students.  Because there is feedback and students are allowed to amend their assignments and learn from the feedback, there is more genuine learning and practice happening.  A drawback is that authentic assessments take more time than traditional assessments for teacher and student alike.  A benefit, however, is that students end up immersed in their topic in order to apply what they have learned in a problem-solving situation. 

Typical Tests

Authentic Tasks

Indicators of Authenticity

Require correct responses

Require a high-quality product or performance, and a justification of the solutions to problems encountered.

Correctness is not the only criterion; students must be able to justify their answers.

Must be unknown to the student in advance to be valid.

Should be known in advance to students as much as possible. 

The tasks and standards for judgment should be known or predictable. 

Are disconnect from real-world contexts and constraints.

Are tied to real-world contexts and constraints; require the student to “do” the subject. 

The context and constrains of the task are like those encountered by practitioners in the discipline. 

Contain items that isolate particular skills or facts. 

Are integrated challenges in which a range of skills and knowledge must be used in coordination. 

The task is multifaceted and complex, even if there is a right answer. 

Include easily scored items

Involve complex tasks that for which there may be no right answer, and that may not be easily scored. 

The validity of the assessment is not sacrificed in favor of reliable scoring. 

Are “one shot;” students get one chance to show their learning.

Are iterative; contain recurring tasks.

Students may use particular knowledge or skills in several different ways or contexts. 

Provide a score.

Provide usable diagnostic information about students’ skills and knowledge. 

The assessment is designed to improve future performance, and students are important “consumers of such information.[2] 

When thinking of how we assess student learning, we can identify at least three standards: 

  1. Content Standards – What should students know and be able to do?
  2. Performance Standards – How well must students do their work?
  3. Task Standards – What is worthy and rigorous work? What tasks should students be able to do?  High quality performance based on credible, intellectual work.[3] 

“The challenge is to design tasks that require thoughtful responsiveness.”[4]  Coaching and using rubrics for authentic assessments will help students more thoroughly master the content you are delivering. 

To create an authentic assessment, think about outlining the following: 

  1. What do you want your students to learn from this assignment? What skills do you want them to develop?  What should they be able to do to demonstrate what they have learned?  How does this connect to your discipline?  Is this in any way using the same skills someone in your discipline would?  List your learning objectives.
  2. Once you have isolated what it is you want your students to learn, think about what they can do to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding (interview, marketing plan, presentation, build something, etc.). Define the task.
  3. Now that you have outlined what you want them to know and you’ve come up with a task for them to demonstrate their understanding, how will you fairly judge their level of understanding? What criteria will they be graded on?  List the criteria to demonstrate understanding.
  4. This is the easy part. You have now isolated what they should know, what they can do to demonstrate their understanding, and what you will look for in grading, now put that all into a rubric.  Develop a rubric to be applied to all students. 
  5. This last step is very important in the learning process for the student. Give them a copy of the rubric and your expectations.  They can’t hit a line drive down the third base line if they don’t know which direction you want them to hit.  Check in with them along the way and give them feedback on their assignment.  This will help them stay on track for what you expect from them.  When they have completed their assignment, have them self-grade a copy of the rubric while you grade another copy.  Meet and compare the two rubrics.  Discuss the difference in perceptions and what you were looking for in their performance compared to what you saw.  This doesn’t have to be critical, just informative.  Put yourself in the role of a coach.  You want this student to improve, not just settle for the current grade.  They can’t improve if they don’t understand specifically which areas they need to work on and how to do that.[5] 

Additional resources related to online assessments can be found in the Resources for Rethinking Assessments article.

More information on Authentic Assessments can be found in Advantages of authentic assessment - A systematic literature review.


[1] Grant P. Wiggins. Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance. Jossey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco. 1998. Pg. 68.

[2] Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL). “Authentic Assessments.” Teaching Resources – Assessing Student Learning. and Wiggins. Educative Assessment. Pg. 23. 

[3] Grant P. Wiggins. Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance. Jossey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco. 1998. Pg. 108.

[4] Wiggins. Educative Assessment. Pg. 37.

[5] Wiley University Services. “Authentic Assessment in the Online Classroom.” Center for Teaching and Learning. March 26, 2019.  Outline of points.