Wendy A. Crocker, E-Learning and Curriculum Specialist, Teaching Support Centre
In recent years, faculty members and researchers in higher education have given considerable thought toward assessment reforms and changes to current assessment practices (Reid & Fitzgerald, 2011). An important trend in this “re-thinking” of how knowledge and learning are evaluated is the use of authentic assessment tasks. By definition, authentic assessment asks students to “demonstrate understanding by performing a more complex task that is usually representative of more meaningful application” (Meuller, nd). Authentic assessment has been described as, “an assessment requiring students to use the same competencies, or combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that they need to apply in the criterion situation in professional life” (Gulikers, Bastiaens, & Kirschner, 2004, p.69).
Traditional assessment techniques can also be effective, so the adoption of authentic assessment tools does not require that tests, quizzes, and exams be abandoned. Instead, careful thought must be given to the “why” behind a certain type of assessment. It is the form of the assessment not the content that is being questioned. As an example: can a student be evaluated on how well she can swim by answering a short answer quiz? Certainly! But is that form of assessment the best method by which to ascertain the student’s ability to swim? In this instance, an “authentic assessment” that would require the student to swim lengths of different strokes, enter and exit the water safely, and show how she would restrict her energy use in the water if she tires would be a better choice. By selecting this authentic assessment of her skills as a swimmer, the teacher has a sense not only that the student can swim, but also how well, and what skills still need to be developed. Short answer and multiple choice tests as examples of traditional assessments cannot offer that same depth of evaluation of her swimming skills and ability.
Basic elements of authentic assessment include but are not limited to:
With the advent of outcomes-based learning in higher education, students are expected to know and demonstrate specific skills, knowledge, and values or attitudes as a result of successfully completing a single class, a course, or an entire program or degree. The regurgitation of content knowledge is not sufficient to gauge student understanding of complex skills and ideas. In creating a scenario, or context, where students must “show what they know”, they are being called upon to demonstrate higher levels of skills (evaluate, apply, synthesize, design) as opposed to the lower levels that require students to know, describe, or understand. Unlike traditional tests or quizzes, authentic assessment affords groups of students opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of a topic, often within a context that is “real-world”. Further, the students can create their own method of demonstrating the necessary knowledge and skills. An authentic approach to assessment highlights the constructive nature of learning and education.
The top ten features of authentic assessment tasks adapted from Jon Meuller’s Authentic Assessment Toolbox (nd) are represented by the following list:
The first step to create a rich authentic assessment task is to review the student outcomes for the course. What is it that was stated that successful candidates would know and be able to do? These demonstrations of knowledge form the basis of the task. Next, consider the best method for observing those demonstrated skills. Is it through a portfolio? A simulation or a case? A poster or a presentation? Next, list the criteria that you would consider appropriate to see as an active demonstration of what the student should know and be able to do. Finally construct a way to assess the quality of that demonstration. In some cases, it is a numeric scale from one to five accompanied by a descriptor such as limited, satisfactory, good, very good, and excellent. In other situations, it may only be a three point scale: unsatisfactory, satisfactory, and good. As the instructor, you determine the criteria and the descriptors of the demonstrations. The key to success in authentic assessment is clarity in expressing the criteria and the related performance at each level, and then sharing the assessment tool with the students before they begin the task so that they are well aware of your expectations.
Gulikers,J., Bastiaens, T., and Kirschner, P. (2004). A five-dimensional framework for authentic assessment. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52 (3), 67-85.
McQuarie University, Learning and teaching centre (2008). Assessment toolkit resources: Creating authentic assessment. Retrieved from http://staff.mq.edu.au/teaching/ curriculum_development/ assessment/
Meuller, J. (nd). Authentic assessment toolbox. Retrieved from http:// jfmueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/
Reid, C. & Fitzgerald, P. (2011). Assessment and employability. London: Higher Education Academy.