Authentic Assessments: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Authentic assessments are those which involve applying learned information to new situations. In this lesson, we will define the characteristics of an authentic assessment and discuss examples.

What is an Authentic Assessment?

Lunar Rover
Lunar Rover

'Your lunar rover is stuck at the edge of a 1200-foot-high ravine, and you are not sure how to cross the 75-foot-wide gap to the other side, which is 15 feet lower in elevation than your current position. Your list of available materials and operational characteristics for the vehicle are available. Determine a mathematically-sound approach that will make it possible for you to use your vehicle to cross the ravine.'

If you are on the ridge to the left, can you jump to the one on the right?
lunar cliff

When you are designing an 'authentic assessment,' you are trying to create something that simulates a challenge of the type that the student might face, in real life. Generally speaking, life does not hand us lists of terms to memorize or stacks of equations to solve. Life presents scenarios--situations that require us to apply our inventiveness and come up with a solution. The authentic assessment is designed to simulate the sort of challenges that working people face every day.

Characteristics of Authentic Assessments

  • They are realistic in nature. They propose a scenario that makes sense--something that could really happen. They should pose an interesting problem that can be visualized and understood.
  • They should require creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. The student should have to 'think outside the box' a little to find the answer. The assessment should bring some sort of surprise element--something that makes the student scramble a little for answers.
  • They should be similar to tests that show up in real life. The abilities tested should be those same abilities that will be called into play in the home, workplace, and/or marketplace.
  • They should be complex enough that the student must apply a variety of skills and information-seeking methods in order to reach viable solutions.
  • They should be re-iterative, in that the students should have feedback available, and should be able to try different approaches as they search for a solution. In addition, there should be ways to refine and improve their approach, looking not just for a right answer but for optimal approaches and best practices.
  • They should be action-oriented. They should require that the student actually perform some task. The most effective of the authentic assessments involve multiple learning modalities and complex applications of different types of skills.

Examples of Authentic Assessments

Authentic assessments can appear in any field of study, and tend to dramatically affect how memorable, interesting, and stimulating an educational experience becomes. Listed below are authentic assessments in three different areas of study: music, science, and English literature.

Authentic Assessment for a Music Theory Course

You are the conductor!
Conductor of Orchestra

'Congratulations! You have been promoted to the lead conductor at the New York Philharmonic Society, and must prepare for your first performance. Unfortunately, your people lost the first eight measures of the introductory section for your Independence Day performance! Everyone is scrambling, and this is your opportunity to shine. ''Grand Old Flag'', ''Battle Hymn of the Republic'', and ''Star Spangled Banner'' will be showcased during the concert. Write eight brilliant measures--including basic lead, alto, tenor, and bass notes appropriate to your chord selections--that integrate those three musical themes. Your staff writers will then prepare the scores for the instruments. You may research your theory, other concerts, the music for the three selections, and any other musical applications you wish. Good luck!'

This example requires creativity, resourcefulness, and perseverance from the students. They must locate the referenced selections, compare similar introductions, and understand music structure well enough to write the desired measures.

Authentic Assessment for a General Science Course

Your New Home!
Mars Landing

'You are ready to land on Mars, and to claim your new home. Unfortunately, you have found no water, and have no basis for an eco-structure. Your job is to design the development of the planet. Attached is a list of the elements, materials, supplies, equipment, and specifications available to you. You may request resources from Earth, and the delivery time for new materials is about 30 days. For this assessment, you are to resolve the following issues:

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