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Authentic Assessments: What Are They & How Do They Impact Student Learning?

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Have you been thinking that maybe traditional tests aren’t really working for your students? If so, you aren’t alone!

More and more, we are seeing authentic assessments replace traditional testing methods. This is likely because authentic assessments have real-world relevance and emphasize the practical application of knowledge.

They also foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills, making learning more engaging and relevant for students.

When deciding to try something new in your classroom, it’s important to learn all that you can about it first. This article will give you a great start in understanding assessments. 

We will explore the impact of authentic assessments on K-12 education. As educators, we want to prepare students for a rapidly changing world, so we will examine if authentic assessments are an effective way to do this. 

What is an authentic assessment?

Authentic assessments are a type of assessment that focuses on evaluating student performance in relation to real-world situations and in real-life contexts.

Unlike traditional assessments, such as multiple-choice tests, authentic assessments are designed to measure a learner's ability to apply their knowledge and skills. Examples of this might be using testing methods such as simulations or case studies.

When using authentic assessments, there will be some things that you need to do differently. This starts with creating a different type of rubric than you’re used to making. 

This rubric should outline the criteria for how a student’s performance will be evaluated with the different methods. You want to give clear measurements so that students know what to expect.

Even though this method will likely be a shift for your students, setting clear expectations will help ease the transition. 

Often students respond well to this method. And it sets them up for success as the main goals for students are solving problems and making decisions in situations relevant to higher education and the real world.

Benefits of authentic assessment

Using authentic assessments has become a more popular option because they have so many benefits for students. 

Change can be difficult at times, and it may seem easier to stick with what you know. But if authentic assessments are a better option for your students, it’s good to explore the pros and cons. 

Let’s dive into the benefits of authentic assessments!

Builds a portfolio of student work

Traditional tests are usually very specific to the lesson plan and can’t be referenced outside of that specific classroom to show skills. 

Authentic assessments allow for the collection of a portfolio of student work, showcasing their ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world tasks. The results of an authentic assessment aren’t just numbers and letters, so what a student learned is easier to see. 

This form of assessment goes beyond traditional multiple-choice exams and quizzes by showing student performance in various situations. The results can also be referenced later on,  creating a holistic view of their learning outcomes.

This portfolio of work becomes an educative assessment, offering a comprehensive snapshot of a student's competency and growth. It can be easier to see what learning objective students have understood and know how effective the lesson plan was.

Targeted feedback for students

Authentic assessments provide an opportunity for targeted feedback that goes beyond simply grading answers. Through this feedback, you can focus on developing higher-order thinking skills in your students.

Complex tasks and real-world scenarios, such as role play or problem-solving exercises, enable teachers to offer specific guidance for improvement.

This feedback supports students' ability to understand their strengths and weaknesses. When they better understand where they’re at, they can better focus their efforts on hitting learning objectives and increasing their competency.

Prepares students for lifelong learning

Authentic assessments are designed to simulate real-world tasks that students may encounter throughout their lives, and in turn, nurture lifelong learning.

By engaging in complex tasks and problem-solving, students develop critical thinking skills and the ability to adapt to new challenges, even those beyond the classroom.

This form of assessment aligns with the idea that education should be about preparing students for the world and the ever-evolving workplace. WIth this, you can encourage your students to be continuously learning and adapting outside of your classroom.

Equips students with workplace skills

Authentic assessments often feature scenarios and tasks that resemble workplace situations. Because of this, the assessments equip students with practical workplace skills.

As students learn to navigate real-world complexities, they will be better equipped to be adaptable in their future careers. This makes them more appealing to future employers.

These assessments promote the development of competencies that go beyond the theoretical, better aligning students with the demands of the modern workforce.

Increases long-term retention of material

Authentic assessments, because they emphasize real-world applications, lead to a deeper understanding of the material. 

In turn, this contributes to increased long-term retention of information. Students won’t just be memorizing information for a test and then forgetting it afterwards. 

When students apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems, it becomes more memorable and meaningful, reducing the likelihood of forgetting.

Many agree that education should foster not just the short-term memorization of facts but instead provide learning outcomes that persist over time. Authentic assessments are a tangible way to work towards that.

How to build an authentic assessment

Okay, so now you know how your students could benefit from authentic assessments. But how do you implement them in your classroom? How can you build great lesson plans that end with effective authentic assessments? Read on to find out!

1. Identify standards

You should begin by identifying the relevant educational standards or learning objectives that align with your curriculum. 

When making your first authentic assessment, it may be easier to look through the next few standards you need to teach and identify the easiest one to make an authentic assessment for. 

As you get more practice with this method, it will be easier and easier to see how any standard can be evaluated with an authentic assessment. It’s okay, however, to start off slow! 

The standards that you choose serve as the foundation for the assessment, ensuring that it is closely tied to your desired outcomes. 

Then, you can specify the learning outcomes or objectives that the assessment should address. This step is essential for clarifying what students are expected to achieve through the assessment.

2. Develop authentic tasks

The next step is to design authentic tasks that mirror real-world situations. Or you can craft challenges that are relevant to the subject matter that you’re teaching. These tasks should require students to apply their knowledge and skills in practical, meaningful ways.

You can also craft scenarios that engage students in complex tasks, encouraging them to think critically, problem-solve and make decisions just like they would in real-world situations.

After making a plan, you should then confirm that the authentic tasks directly relate to the educational standards and the specific learning objectives that you picked out before. This ensures a seamless connection between the assessment and the curriculum.

3. Set specific criteria

For this step in the process, you need to start by establishing clear and specific assessment criteria. Focus on what students need to demonstrate in their performance. These criteria will help ensure that the assessment is fair and transparent.

Define different levels of achievement within the criteria, such as what constitutes mastery, proficiency, and so on. With these different levels, you can provide a more nuanced evaluation of your students’ performance.

Before moving on to the next steps, you should ensure that the criteria are aligned with the specified learning objectives just like you did with the task selection.

4. Create a clear rubric

After setting your criteria, you can begin to develop a detailed rubric to give to your students. It should outline each level of achievement and exactly what constitutes success at each level. 

Make sure that the rubric is laid out in a way that is easy for students to understand and reference. Have it available in the classroom for students to refer back to while they are doing the assessment.

This transparency helps students understand the expectations and encourages self-assessment and self-regulation.

During the assessment process, evaluate student performance based on the established rubric, providing consistent and objective feedback that aligns with the criteria and standards.

Create an impactful learning experience with Prodigy

Authentic assessment can be a shift from the assessments that you’re used to giving, but the benefits can be worth the growing pains. This type of assessment can prepare students better for the real world by encouraging them to build skills that they will use in the workplace. 

Creating authentic assessments for your classrooms can feel overwhelming at first, but if you stick to the four steps outlined above, they will come together in no time. Keep your students and the desired learning outcomes in mind and you’ll be able to make authentic assessments a staple in your classroom.

If you're looking a fun, engaging educational tool to assess your students in math and English – use Prodigy! Its packed with plenty of features for teachers and students, including:

  • Engaging gameplay – Take the anxiety out of assessments with gameplay that puts fun at the heart of learning
  • Standards-aligned content – Set content based on what you're teaching in class or let our adaptive algorithm do the work for you
  • Detailed student reporting – See how your students are performing at a curriculum, grade and strand level with no grading needed!

And best of all, Prodigy is available to schools and teachers at no cost!

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