KSA #05 Differentiation · KSA #06 Planning · KSA #07 Student Needs · KSA #08 Relationships · KSA #09 Instructional Strategies · KSA #11 Assessment · KSA #16 Vision of Teaching

Authentic Assessment

What does authentic assessment mean?

This is a question that I personally ponder as I’m sure many experienced and new teachers do. How do we effectively assess our students in a meaningful way that allows us as teachers to feel confident in our students knowledge but also our students to feel that they have been given the best opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge?

I recently read a blog post by Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher on Twitter) titled “I’ve got 99 problems but a test aint one“. This is an extremely interesting post that challenges what most of us know to be the norm. Nick went the entire semester without giving his students a quiz or unit exam – that sounds fantastic, right? I highly encourage you to visit his posting and give it a read.

This post has really left me to feel intrigued! So much so, that it’s been a few days since I read his post and I am still thinking about it and now reflecting on it in my own blog. As a pre-service teacher, we have discussed the implications of test writing on student learning – does it really allow a student to demonstrate their full knowledge? Perhaps not. The flip side, all standardized assessments mandated by the government are in the form of an exam. By not teaching our students how to effectively write a test are we doing a disservice to them, even though we are limiting the scope of knowledge that they can demonstrate to us? There is a fine line to be walked and unfortunately tight rope walking is not included in any of the courses we take in teacher training.

For me, authentic assessment is getting to know your students and allowing them to demonstrate their knowledge to you in the best way that fits them, as a learner. Perhaps for some this is a test, others it’s a skit or interpretive dance, a song, a video, a monologue, who knows. Right now, where I am in my teaching career I feel that there needs to be a balance.. however that balance doesn’t mean that the exam has to be weighted the heaviest, which is where I think we fall into the trap as teachers. During units, students often engage in projects to develop real world connections to the topic being learned. Unfortunately, often it ultimately comes down to the heavily weighted unit exam and the “meaning” then becomes negligible to the student. Instead, authentic assessment is giving the most weight to which ever piece of work allows the student to showcase their knowledge the best. Administer the unit exam to teach necessary test writing skills, but why have that hinder a students ability to prove their knowledge by having it weighted the highest?

I of course, do not have the answers. But I welcome discussion on the topic as I feel it is important for all educators, students and parents.

Until next time,
Mr. B

7 thoughts on “Authentic Assessment

  1. I totally understand your position! One year, I decided to eliminate tests and quizzes in my literature class. I didn’t make a big deal out it, never called attention to it, but everyone noticed anyway. I gave alternative assessments, instead. Often, there was a great deal of choice involved. Sometimes, we just moved on to our next area of study without an assessment at all! I’ve never had so much fun in a class before, and I think the students enjoyed their learning more, too. I knew it was a good thing, what I was doing. However, the next year, the teachers who got my kids were concerned that the kids didn’t know how to take a test, answer a multiple choice question, etc. I asked them if they thought the students didn’t possess the knowledge necessary to succeed in their courses, and they said that the kids knew their material and could certainly discuss the reading, but they worried about the tests. In the end, I ended up trying to find balance, as you suggest. But I need to say that I still think about the real learning that happened in the room that year; without the pressure of a test, the kids were able to sit back and really work out their understanding. I miss that year…

    1. Hi Amanda,
      Thank you so much for your comment! It’s great to hear what a positive experience you had in a year where you decided to use alternate assessments and eliminate quizzes and tests. You’ve brought up two very important messages (1) It worked! It worked so well that you were able to develop and foster a Positive Learning Environment (PLE) that surpassed any of your previous years, which is so crucial to student learning. (2) Their teachers next year were concerned about their ability to write tests – not their knowledge of the subject matter and their ability to discuss/demonstrate that knowledge in a “non-traditional” way. How cool is it, that your students were able to carry over the depth of knowledge that they did in to their next year of education, this really demonstrate how effectively the alternative assessments work to promote student learning. However, it again points to the fact that the facts – exams are part of the education system and students need to know how to write them.
      I wonder if we could develop a community in our classroom, where students demonstrated their knowledge using alternative assessments, but we were still able to teach them effective test writing skills, without dampening the PLE, perhaps without even attaching a grade to them. Would there be a point then, in the eyes of the student? or teacher?
      Again, thank you for your comment, it was a pleasure to read!

  2. I’m with you on this one. I teach physics, so there are a lot of authentic tasks available to me. The most recent one involved having students ride a bicycle down the hallway to measure its coefficient of friction. I’ve also had them drop an egg on my head from the roof (calculating exactly when to drop the egg to make sure it hit me) and I’ve given final exams that involved taking and analyzing measurements of Diet Coke & Mentos fountains (which resulted in a lot of envious looks from kids in other classes whose final exams involved filling in bubble sheets).

    However, I do sometimes give tests. Some of these are “open friend” quizzes. (These are in the same vein as an “open book” quiz, except that you get to use a couple of friends.) I make the questions quite challenging and I float around the room helping each group. By the end of the period, most of the students have learned a lot, and I have an “A” in the gradebook for each of them. Other tests are challenging solo tests, but I still help each student individually, which also results in high grades and significant amounts of learning through the test itself.

    The same colleagues who tell me that kids won’t work without the threat of a traditional test looming over their heads are the same ones who marvel at how hard my kids are still willing to work after April vacation when they do almost nothing for most of their teachers, and the same ones who marvel at how well my students handle challenges and high-level tasks.

    1. Mr. Bigler,
      Thank you for your comment, it’s greatly appreciated! Those sound like extremely fun assessments, makes me want to be in your Physics class. Physics is definitely one of those classes that needs to be engaging and purposeful. Some students take it because they are interested in the material, but I know I took it when I was in High School because I needed to. A classroom environment like you’ve created, would have made it exponentially better.
      I definitely like the idea of “open friend” quizzes, but how do you ensure that all students are equally contributing and that each student has grasped the concept at the intended/necessary level. The individual test, but providing that differentiation piece for each student as you walk around the room (rather than sitting at the front of the room reading your paper and drinking your coffee (ha ha)) is totally important.
      I will definitely try the concept of an “open friend” quiz in my PSII semester coming up! Thanks for the idea!

      1. With the “open friend” quizzes, I limit the groups to three students, which I’ve found to be small enough to ensure that everyone contributes, and that any one person is still willing to ask the group to explain something. (With groups of four or more, I find that, a student who is lost starts to feel uncomfortable asking the group to slow down or explain.) The groups tend to self-select with students of similar abilities grouping together. This means I spend more of my time helping the kids who need it more, but that’s what I should be doing anyway!

        I use the open friend quizzes as a formative assessment, usually right after we cover the most challenging topic in a unit. The fact that it’s worth a quiz grade, and the fact that pretty much every student can get an “A” on it means all of them work a lot harder than they might otherwise. At the end of the unit, I use the solo tests with differentiated amounts of help as the summative assessment.

        The non-test assessments tend to fit somewhere in the middle, usually after the open friend quiz but before the unit test, though I sometimes use those instead of a unit test.

        And for the record, I carry my coffee cup with me as I circulate around the room. 🙂

  3. Great discussion here and at the link you sent. Trying to find that balance of authentic assessment and institutional demands is a slippery slope no doubt. Here is a quick idea I have used in elementary schools. And teachers of adult ELLs that I have trained said it was successful in their classrooms as well. Simple and takes some of the traditional out of tests while still doing things to satisfy schools.


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