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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D student at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree in...
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Adding Authenticity to Assessment

During their preparation years, teachers likely learn to ensure that assessment appropriately aligns with learning objectives. However, the words real-world and authentic are often also associated with assessment. While it sounds nice, just how do we make an assessment “authentic.”

First, let’s discuss what’s meant by authentic. One definition might be: assessments that measure not only the learning objective but also how those skills and knowledge might be applied in real-world settings. That means considering how someone might use math skills as a professional or in personal situations.

Who might utilize scientific inquiry and in what context?

How might ideas of citizenship and other social studies concepts be applied within a community, state or nation? The key in my opinion is to frame the assessment within a scenario. Immediately, the scenario provides context, meaning, relevancy, and requires the application of knowledge and skills.

Before providing an example, I’d like to mention an activity called GRASP, which stands for goals, role, audience, standard and product. GRASP identifies the essential elements for authentic assessment. For instance, what’s the goal or purpose of the task? Who is the audience?

What product will students create? All important factors to consider when designing a scenario around an assessment.

Let’s go through an example.

Imagine students are being assessed on their ability to find area and perimeter following a mathematics unit. The assessment might be written in way that positions students as city planners, who must design a new park in a limited area or landscapers, who have been hired to create a large flower bed in an already busy yard.

Using the scenario to frame the assessment in this manner places students square in the center of a more real-world application of the learning objective, as opposed to simply completing a paper-pencil test, such as writing an essay.

There’s nothing wrong with having students write an essay at times, as it builds writing skills and the ability to use the written word to craft an argument, for instance. It’s just that, if you are from the camp that believes in using multiple assessment, multiple ways of allowing students to demonstrate learning, then you might want to consider framing assessments in scenarios as well.

Also, in my experience, performance tasks as assessment have become more common, but as teachers, we must ask ourselves if these tasks we are asking students to complete are actually authentic? In other words, if they simply require students to write something or answer some multiple choice questions, where is the “performative” aspect of what’s being assessed?

Back to the example. So, what would an actual, authentic performance task assessment look like?

Performance Task Directions: As a city planner, you have been asked to design a new park for residents. The property for the park is located in a busy, downtown area that has limited space (see map). The park should include adequate space for playground equipment, seating, restrooms, a grassy area for football and other sports, and a small, recreational building. The map contains the layout and actual square footage that can be used for the park. Please create a digital or paper map outlining your plans. The plan should include exact footage for each requirement, including the perimeter and area of each facility and park feature (for instance, the perimeter and area for the restroom building, the recreational building, the grassy area, etc. Plans should also show the entire area and perimeter for the park. Following completion of the park, you will be asked to share your proposal with the class.

Criteria for Success:

____Area and perimeter has been provided for all park features and buildings on map.

____Total area and perimeter of park has been noted on map.

___Map is clearly labeled and readable. Free from spelling errors.

___Student is able to present the map and park plans professionally, with clear language appropriate to his/her audience.

The above example places the assessment-and students-squarely in a real-world situation adding authenticity to the assessment. It includes the GRASP principles-there’s a clear goal, purpose, role, audience, standard or level expectation, and product (the map). Students are provided criteria for successful completion of the assessment, encouraging self-assessment and monitoring of one’s own learning (a topic for another blog).

The challenge now, as teachers, is to take our current assessments and embed them in scenarios using performance tasks to add higher degrees of authenticity. The place to start might be taking a larger assessment, like an end-of-unit exam or end-of-semester test, and framing it around a scenario. With practice, authentic assessment will become the culture of your classroom.