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Tips for Parents: Authentic Assessment

Español/Spanish: Consejos para padres - La evaluación objectiva

In schools across America, teachers are using a method of testing called “authentic assessment”. In simple terms, it is a way of testing students based on their actual performance, rather than by a score from a multiple-choice or true-false test. The following Tips for Parents will help explain "authentic assessment."

What is authentic assessment?

Assessment is considered to be authentic when we directly examine student performance. Authentic assessment requires students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Students, for example, may be asked to write compositions, show how they solved mathematics problems, give speeches, plan and carry out a research study, conduct experiments, observe and record findings, etc.

There are also other names for authentic assessment: alternative assessment, performance-based assessment, dynamic assessment, performance testing, etc.

The good news about authentic assessment

Authentic assessment requires students to be effective performers using acquired knowledge and skills. It will present students with a full array of tasks to be completed. Authentic assessment will help students rehearse for the challenges they will meet in their adult and professional lives.

The bad news about authentic assessment

Authentic assessment is not cheap. The development of assessment tasks, as well as the hand-scoring of students’ response, is very expensive. Whereas machine-scored multiple-choice tests cost only pennies per sheet to be electronically scanned, authentic assessment items cost $1.00 and up per item to be hand scored. If, for example, a school district has 10,000 students and has only 5 authentic-type items for each student per year, the cost (at minimum) would be $50,000 a year. This cost does not include the development and tryout of such items.

An authentic approach to assessment will not be suitable for all educational purposes. Authentic assessment may prove to be a wonderful indicator of an individual student’s progress. It may be inappropriate for monitoring school, district, or state level performance.

One type of authentic assessment

Portfolios. Portfolios are not a new idea. Artists traditionally have kept their best work in a portfolio to show others. A portfolio is a deliberate collection of student work (finished work and/or works in progress).

Why portfolios? Portfolios help students construct understanding because there is genuine involvement in hands-on learning activities. Portfolios help students reflect on their work. What could I have done differently? How can I improve? I would like to learn more about…

The purpose of portfolios
Portfolios help:
•    Students assess their progress
•    Teachers make instructional decisions
•    Communicate with parents and public
•    Educators assess a particular program

Contents of a portfolio:
•    Individual and group work
•    Rough drafts and/or finished products
•    Student writing
•    Projects/investigations
•    Diagrams, graphs, charts
•    Photographs of larger projects
•    Audiotapes of student’s explanation or oral presentations
•    Videotapes
•    Computer printouts/computer disks

For more information:

Mueller, Jon. “Authentic Assessment Toolbox.”

Authentic Assessment Videos from IOX Assessment Associates:

You can also write or call IOX at:
28170 SW Boberg Rd. Suite 1
Wilsonville, OR 97070-9205
(800) 330-3382

You may also find these Tips for Parents helpful:

Tips for Parents: Standardized Testing

Tips for Parents: Student Self Esteem

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