Unit 1: What is Authentic Assessment?

What is Authentic Assessment?

Target Objectives:

1. Understand what authentic assessment is.

2. Compare and contrast the benefits of authentic assessment to that of traditional assessment.

3. Understand how authentic assessment best serves the needs of student assessment and why it should be used in the classroom.


Question 1 - What is authentic assessment?

The word "authentic" is understood to mean something that is true, real, or actual. When a student is given an authentic learning opportunity they are learning something that is real-world and can they can relate to their own lives. The basis of authentic assessment is that students can prove their knowledge through applying what they have learned to the real world. They are able to demonstrate what they learned in a unique way that showcases their strengths. There are several different definitions for authentic assessment, including:

  • "Authentic assessment refers to assessment tasks that resemble reading and writing in the real world and in school (Hiebert, Valencia & Afflerbach, 1994; Wiggins, 1993)"
  • "Students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field." (Wiggins, 1993, p. 229).
  • "Assessment is authentic when we directly examine student performance on worthy intellectual tasks" (Wiggins, 1990).

Question 2 - What are the differences between authentic assessment and traditional assessment?

Authentic assessment does not need to replace more traditional forms of assessment. Instead, the two types of assessment should be combined to best meet the assessment needs of both the student and the teacher. Students will be more likely to display their knowledge according to their learning style when given multiple assessment opportunities. When traditional assessment and authentic assessment are combined, a student can prove what information they have learned, and then transfer their knowledge further through performance. When someone studies to become a doctor they do not only pass written exams proving their knowledge of the human body and medicine, but they must also perform what they know. In this situation, the doctor has a knowledge base of the body and medicine, and then has applied their knowledge to real-life situations. If they were not able to perform both, they would not become doctors. Why shouldn't we be looking at our students learning and assessment in the same way?

The following are the major differences between authentic assessment and traditional assessment:

Traditional Assessment

  • Responses are selected (choices provided)
  • Students recognize or recall prior information
  • Usually only one right answer to a problem
  • Act as drills - students repeat answers to questions for memorization
  • Answers to questions provided without always providing the reason behind their answer
  • Knowledge is only proved through pen and paper tests and assignments.

Authentic Assessment

  • Performance-based - students perform a task to display knowledge
  • Knowledge is acquired and then demonstrated through performance (real-world opportunities)
  • Multiple solutions to problems - not only about knowing the right answer, but how you got to the right answer
  • Allows for teachers to understand a student's thought process
  • Student-centered - students are able to display their personal strengths

Note: Various types of authentic assessment will be discussed in the next unit.

Question 3 - How does authentic assessment best meet the needs of students?

The goal of education in the United States is to provide students with the opportunity to make it in the real-world. What is better than providing them with real-world performance based activities? When a student is given an authentic learning opportunity, he or she is learning something that not only relates to their lives, but that they will be able to use in the real-world after the course is over. It is not enough to just ask students to recite or recall the information they have been provided, but they should be able to perform a task to display their knowledge. Performing a task will not only show that they understand the information, but are able to apply it to a real-life situation. Schools are an apprenticeship for the lives of students. Providing them with the opportunity to directly relate what they are learning to their lives will improve interest as well as retention.


Consider your own curriculum and what you currently use as forms of assessment in the classroom. What are possible ways you could alter your own assessment to relate more to the real-world? What vision do you have to make assessment authentic for your students? Take time to reflect upon these questions and any other questions or thoughts you have/had during Unit 1.

Move on to Unit 2: Types of Authentic Assessment

Back to Creating Authentic Assessment