Reasons Why Authentic Assessment Could Be Better Than Tests

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Education faculty and teachers alike face the same resounding question, “How do I know if my students are understanding the material I teach?” For the most part, the solution is to administer tests. Traditional testing relies on multiple choice, true/false, and free responses to answer given questions. Another method that can be combined with traditional testing or used alone is authentic assessment. Authentic assessment is a way of testing that can gauge how students apply knowledge to real-world situations.



Students in front of a classroom presenting
Photo by Pocky Lee on Unsplash



What Is Authentic Assessment?

An authentic assessment is designed to resemble complex and real-life situations. Teachers can design assessments that feel realistic in nature to see how a student will approach and resolve a problem. While traditional tests have right or wrong answers, authentic assessments have varying solutions based on how a student comes to interpret and solve a challenge, problem or task.


Authentic assessments can be created for any subject matter. Overall, they tend to fulfill this criteria:

  • Realistic in nature
  • Asks the students to actively “perform” the subject matter in a sense
  • Resemble the workplace or societal environment
  • Require innovation and critical-thinking
  • Allow opportunities for consultation and/or feedback


Why Use Authentic Assessment?

In some cases, authentic assessment may be a better alternative to traditional tests. In other cases, it may work best in combination with tests. There are several benefits and reasons to use authentic assessment. It’s best to implement when:

  • You want to directly measure understanding on a topic or idea
  • There are various ways to demonstrate understanding
  • You want to see learning in action
  • You want to integrate teaching, assessment, and learning all together


What Does Authentic Assessment Look Like?

How do you create authentic assessments? Here’s a look at some authentic assessment examples across subjects:

  • Nursing: Create a sick patient report and have students design a plan of care
  • Computer Science: Ask students to create an app that solves a need
  • Business: Develop a fake company and ask students to design a marketing plan with a set goal

It’s clear to see that authentic assessment parallels the types of situations students will face in the real world. It allows for students to use their knowledge and demonstrate it in action.



Traditional Assessment Vs. Authentic Assessment: The Differences

Some may argue that traditional tests also can provide insight into how a student will deal with a real-world situation. However, there are main differences between the two types of assessment that better position authentic assessment to test situations outside of the classroom.



Characteristics Of Traditional Tests

  • Have one correct response
  • Do not have real-world constraints
  • Isolate skills, facts, and specific knowledge
  • Results in a score
  • Are unknown in advance
  • Are graded easily


Characteristics Of Authentic Assessment

  • Are meant to be known to students in advance
  • Are complex and have multiple right answers
  • Contain recurring tasks
  • Have real-world constraints
  • Provide insight to a student’s knowledge


Authentic Assessment Complements Traditional Assessment

The mission of most educational institutes is to develop productive citizens. Both traditional and authentic assessments can help to achieve this mission; however, they do so in their own ways.


Under traditional assessments, the ability of a productive citizen will rely on his/her knowledge and understanding of skills and information. So, teachers explain these skills and then administer tests to determine if a student has absorbed the information.


On the other hand, authentic assessments mirror what a student will face as a citizen in the real world. Then, to determine if a student is ready to perform these tasks upon graduation, they replicate challenges and problems to test if a student is ready and capable to overcome such challenges.


There’s no one right or wrong way to assess a student’s knowledge. Both authentic and traditional assessment can work together to better understand how well students absorb information.



Alternative Names For Authentic Assessment

As a teacher, you may have heard of authentic assessment already. If you haven’t, it also goes by these names:

  • Performance Assessment
  • Alternative Assessment
  • Direct Assessment


Authentic Assessment Toolbox

If you’re interested in creating authentic assessments but are unsure where to start, this toolbox has all you need.



1. Identifying Standards


Choose the standard or topic you want to assess.



2. Selecting Authentic Tasks


Pick a task that is correlated to the knowledge that was taught on this topic.



3. Identifying the Criteria for the Task


Outline criteria for the task. For example, you can choose from criteria like: short answer essays, concept maps, creating a product, performing an interview, etc.



4. Creating The Rubric


Since authentic assessments don’t have a right or wrong answer, you’ll want to spell out how you are going to determine success. Share this information with your students so they know how they are being evaluated.



Student taking a test with an open-book
Photo by Wadi Lissa on Unsplash



Moving From Traditional To Authentic Assessments

  • A traditional test (TT) asks a student to select or give a response. An authentic assessment (AA) asks them to perform a task.
  • TT is contrived and time-bound whereas AA is iterative.
  • TT tests the recall and recognition of information whereas AA calls for the application of knowledge.
  • TT is structured and designed by teachers (top-down) and AA is created and designed by students (bottom-up).
  • TT is indirect as the right answer could’ve come from an educated guess, yet AA tests knowledge directly as it requires a student to apply what they know to create the answers.


What Does Authentic Assessment Look Like?

Authentic assessment comes in various forms. Traditional tests often look the same as they are either multiple choice or true/false.


Authentic assessments have more formats and options to select from, including:

  • Interviews
  • Stories
  • Writing samples
  • Projects
  • Public speaking and debates
  • Experiments
  • Constructed responses
  • Observations
  • Portfolios


Goals Of Authentic Assessment

Like traditional tests, the overall goal of authentic assessments is to evaluate a student’s understanding and knowledge of a subject. Because the design of authentic assessment involves a student’s subjectivity, it helps to emphasize what a student knows as opposed to what they don’t know. In this way, teachers can also better understand the needs of each individual student on a personalized level.



The Bottom Line

Performance on tests ranges greatly based on both a student’s ability and the way a test is designed. When it comes to traditional testing, there’s a clear right and wrong answer. This is just one reason as to why authentic assessment may be beneficial within any classroom to complement traditional tests.


Rather than only recalling information, authentic assessment can test how a student applies knowledge to real-world situations. Authentic assessments open the door to creative problem-solving and leverage critical thinking skills to complete.