Authentic Assessment

LEARN about Authentic Assessment iconAuthentic Assessments You Can Use in Any Course

Authentic assessment allows students to engage in meaningful work that accurately demonstrates their competencies. It can be used in any type of course (face-to-face, online, or hybrid) from introductory to graduate level. This resource will support you in developing high-quality authentic assessments for your course.

Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment focuses on the actions students take to demonstrate mastery in your course. Asking them to simply define terms or select a multiple-choice answer on a quiz is asking the student to memorize and repeat information (traditional assessment). However, asking students to perform a task, write a paper, demonstrate a skill, role play, and even take part in a discussion gives them an opportunity to provide an authentic response. Authentic assessment asks students to demonstrate skills and knowledge by performing realistic tasks within the discipline. It provides opportunities to practice, consult resources, get feedback, and refine performances and products.

According to Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary, authentic is defined as:

1 : real or genuine : not copied or false
2 : true and accurate

Take this a step further when creating assessments to evaluate student work—ask yourself the following:

  1. What actions can students perform to demonstrate mastery of the skill or knowledge they’ll use in the real world?
  2. Does the action I’m asking students to perform help them practice a skill, theory, or apply a concept required in the field of study?
  3. How can I ensure students are not simply copying and pasting someone else’s work?

Authentic assessment asks students to demonstrate skills and knowledge by performing realistic tasks within the discipline. It provides opportunities to practice, consult resources, get feedback, and refine performances and products. Well-designed authentic assessments:

  • are realistic, using real-life situations with constraints, purposes, and audiences that impact what needs to be done
  • require judgment and innovation to effectively solve unstructured problems
  • assess students’ ability to use their knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task as a whole
Authentic assessment commonly uses strategies such as case studies, simulations, consulting (where students work with real organization to explore a problem and recommend solutions that are evaluated by both the instructor and the organizational partner), internships, and service learning. However, depending on the discipline, authentic assessment can leverage simpler tools. For example,
  • situating statistical questions in the context of fantasy sports over several weeks of a season
  • sending emails in a foreign language to request information about a travel destination and working with a small group to determine which destination would be the best vacation spot

The time you invest in creating authentic assessments results in a richer and more purposeful-feeling journey for students in your class. You can also use smaller authentic assessment tasks as scaffolding for more significant assignments (including summative assessments). In this way, you support students on their journey toward mastery and use authentic tasks to avoid the feeling of completing — or grading! — so-called busy work.

Authentic Assessment Ideas

  • In Spanish, write a letter or give a speech to convince the library to buy a particular book or movie.
  • Create a storybook for children in Spanish.
  • Write to a public official to influence their vote on a specific issue.
  • Write a grant to request funding for an organization that supports critical needs of youth in your community.
  • Complete a case study on the impact of pollution on a water supply.
  • Write a report on how to use IR spectroscopy to identify organic compound functional groups.
  • Observe and report on local community members’ interactions with aging.
  • Based on your knowledge of state capacity, state autonomy, and failing or fragile states, craft a policy recommendation for the U.S. State Department on how the United States should react and how we should concentrate resources. Your recommendation should include the following: Why is there a humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Who are the key actors involved? As a member of the United Nations, should the United States aid Yemen? Why or why not?

Wouldn’t you rather read authentic responses to these questions/prompts than ones in which students in your class had similar answers or just repeated back things you have said?

Also, consider that for each paper you ask students to write, you could alternatively ask them to record a video, create an infographic, or find resources outside the course to bring as examples of the concepts and theories it covers. Give students choices on how their work is delivered to you. You will enjoy seeing the results! Find some inspiring examples here.