Thursday, August 01, 2013

Authentic assessment

Apart from over assessment, one of the biggest problems in education is lack of authentic assessment - relevant to real world outcomes and engaging for students. But when you scratch the surface, defining what authentic assessment is - let alone designing and implementing it - is not simple. That's why I was interested in the following paper:

Establishing the critical elements that determine authentic assessment. (2013) Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education (39(2): 1-18. doi: 10.1080/02602938.2013.819566

In this paper, the authors list eight elements they regard as critical to authentic assessment:

Authentic assessment should be challenging - tasks which establish connections between real-world experiences and school-based ideas.

The outcome of an authentic assessment should be in the form of a performance or product - does that mean that MCQs can never be authentic assessment? If so, farewell to most of e-learning.

Authentic assessment design should ensure transfer of knowledge - the extent to which the skill, knowledge and attitude being assessed may have meaning beyond the confines of a single content area.

Metacognition as a component of authentic assessment - reflection is required by the learner.

A requirement to ensure accuracy in assessment performance - authentic assessment should simulate and measure a real-world test of ability rather than just match items to curriculum content.

The role of the assessment environment and the tools used to deliver the assessment task - a ‘real world’ environment rather than a hushed exam room.

The importance of formally designing in an opportunity to discuss and provide
feedback - critical to workplace performance.

The value of collaboration - indispensable in most work environments.

So my question to you is this: how authentic an assessment of students is writing an essay?


  1. There's an Authentic Assessment Toolbox here:

    The author says that AA involves the Construction/Application of knowledge (among other things...): "Authentic assessments often ask students to analyze, synthesize and apply what they have learned in a substantial manner, and students create new meaning in the process as well."

    They can do that in essays can't they?

    1. Well they could, but in my experience mostly they don't, and it's difficult to argue for essay being in any sense relevant to any workplace that the majority of graduates will enter. "Essayist" doesn't feature very highly in our Destinations survey.

    2. surely to maintain authenticity students should only write 'essay' type construction/application of knowledge responses in the form of clinical notes.

      Imagine writing everything in clinical note form from Day 1 of medical school. Would have some pretty succinct but coherent residents (US) and Specialty Trainees (UK) then!

  2. Essayist, yes, I'd agree, few students go on to that particular career. However, a lot have to write reports in their work place, often using the same set of information for different audiences (e.g. what you tell the customers/data inputters / shareholders about the new wonderful bit of software you have)

    I wonder how much "authentic assessment" is "problem based learning" or "real world learning" in (slight) disguise.

    I'd agree with you that it would be useful to have more examples of authentic assessment & how it fits into a teaching system that tends to have ever increasing staff/student ratios & ever increasing demands for 'accountability' (often means 'results we can measure nice & easily ... ')

    1. That's my concern, that all too often we got for the easy options where assessment is concerned.