Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessments are those that consider both content and mental processes in a naturalistic setting. They allow students to perform a task that show what the students have learned (knowledge), as well as the thought processes involved in doing the task (performance). Authentic assessments allow teachers to evaluate students’ ability to problem-solve, speak publicly, lead a discussion, do research, pursue a science-based inquiry, and numerous other behaviors that would be impossible to evaluate with traditional assessments. They are typically evaluated using rubrics, and therefore allow the students to know beforehand the criteria by which they will be assessed.

What sets authentic assessment apart from traditional assessment is that its focus is not only on the students mastering content knowledge of the curriculum, but also on being able to perform real life tasks that will enable them to function in society. The following goals and beliefs of authentic assessment were taken from Authentic Assessment Toolbox, by Jonathan Mueller:
1. A school's mission is to develop productive citizens.

2. To be a productive citizen, an individual must be capable of performing meaningful tasks in the real world.

3. Therefore, schools must help students become proficient at performing the tasks they will encounter when they graduate.

4. To determine if it is successful, the school must then ask students to perform meaningful tasks that replicate real world challenges to see if students are capable of doing so.

The following clip outlines what authentic assessments are, how they look, and what they encompass:

How to do it?

Further, Mr. Muller has created a pyramid for helping to visualize the differences between Goals, Standards, and Objectives. These are critical parts which make up the whole of authentic assessment.
Step 1: Identify the Standards
It is important to determine what your students should know and what they will be able to do before you can teach and assess them. In order to do this, you will need a good set of //standards//. Or do I need //goals//? Or //objectives//?
Step 2: Select an Authentic Task
Demonstrate ways in which the students are capable of completing the task.
Step 3: Identify the Criteria for the Task
Questions you will ask yourself: "What does good performance on this task look like?" or "How will I know they have done a good job on this task?" The answers to the questions are the criteria for good performance on that task.
Step 4: Create the Rubric
This is a form of measurement for this task.

Related Theories:

Constructivism- Students build their own meaning out of lessons. Encourages group projects and collaborative learning. Students take an active role in their own learning. Students learn by "doing." In authentic assessment, a staple point is that students find personal connections and in-depth meaning in the projects being taught. Most instructors utilize the use of rubrics in order to give students a overview of what goals they should strive to meet. Building off of these rubrics, students create their own understandings of the lessons. Teachers and instructors fill the roals of coaches and advisors, but do not dominate the lesson. This allows students to pose their own research questions, formulate their own construction of knowledge, problem solve, explore, and build off of prior knowledge.


Authentic assessments are appropriate for all areas of the curriculum, and for all grades. They help develop the higher level thinking skills of evaluation and analysis, as well as critical thinking skills. The nature of the tasks encourage creativity and inquisitiveness. Because they require that students initiate learning on their own, they also encourage independence. The variety of possible student products that could result are limitless. Most significantly, authentic assessments prepare students for tasks that they will do in real life.

Authentic assessments have many potential benefits. Diane Hart, author of Authentic Assessment: A Handbook for Educators, suggests the following rewards for utilizing authentic assessment in the classroom:
  1. Students assume an active role in the assessment process. This shift in emphasis may result in reduced test anxiety and enhanced self-esteem.
  2. Authentic assessment can be successfully used with students of varying cultural backgrounds, learning styles, and academic ability.
  3. Tasks used in authentic assessment are more interesting and reflective of students' daily lives.
  4. Ultimately, a more positive attitude toward school and learning may evolve.
  5. Authentic assessment promotes a more student-centered approach to teaching.
  6. Teachers assume a larger role in the assessment process than through traditional testing programs. This involvement is more likely to assure the evaluation process reflects course goals and objectives.
  7. Authentic assessment provides valuable information to the teacher on student progress as well as the success of instruction.
  8. Parents will more readily understand authentic assessments than the abstract percentiles, grade equivalents, and other measures of standardized tests.


Authentic assessment is more time-consuming and labor-intensive than traditional assessment. It is also typically more expensive. It requires that a rubric be developed for the students. These can be tricky to design as they will need to specify very clearly what the learning objectives are. Furthermore, care will have to be taken to avoid bias in scoring the rubric and to maintain objectivity. Since the scores are judgment-based, there may be concern over the reliability of them. Teachers should be careful to design authentic assessments which are sufficiently rigorous, and to make sure that outcomes can be evaluated based upon how successfully they accomplish the stated goals of the lesson.

Given the current emphasis on high-stakes testing, for many teachers and students, accomodating authentic learning and assessment is becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish. When pressure is placed on the need to achieve satisfactory "hard scores" by getting students to prove certain "competencies" or "proficiencies," it can be nearly impossible to find the time and resources necessary to facilitate authentic learning experiences and their accompanying assessments, and equally difficult to justify taking time away from working toward more "concrete" or "measurable" academic goals. Nonetheless, talented, creative teachers may be able to find ways to accomplish academic goals laid out by district, state, or federal regulations while still incorporating opportunities for athentic assessment into the curriculum.

A few helpful hints for designing authentic assessments...when using authentic assessment we are trying to avoid this:

AND this:

And stretch our students minds so that their education and their lessons promotes feelings like this:

Examples of Authentic Assessment:

This lesson on Deforestation Debate was taken from Jon Mueller's Authentic Assessment Toolbox. This lesson has a rubric with very clear and specific criteria.

The “Jar of Dreams” lesson involves the students in four activities: writing an essay, writing a poem, creating and sharing a work of art, and creating and sharing a collage. The activities are designed to help the students explore the theme of heroes and encourage the students to use critical thinking as they evaluate what it means to be a hero. The activities are also technology-based as they require the use of the Internet as a research tool.

In this lesson on Jimmy Carter, designed for student in grades 6-8, students will understand how presidents are evaluated both during and after their presidency. This particular lesson allows the input from students in creating the rubric.

This is a lesson (PDF) which corresponds to the HBO documentary, White Light, Black Rain. This is the story of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the aftermath of the bombings.

Related links:

History Alive!
What is Authentic Assessment?
Understanding Authentic Classroom-Based Literacy Assessment
Types of Authentic Assessment