What is authentic assessment?

Photo by Frederick Rubensson on Flickr
'In every talk, I'm asked where I would start first in revolutionizing education (K-professional school): Answer, always. Assessment. Until we change how and what we measure from 19th c productivity norms, education will deliver a 19th c product.'

This was a message tweeted by Cathy Davidson recently. It's important because it shows that assessment drives they way we teach. Cathy proposes a causal link between the way we conduct assessment in formalised education and the deficit we see today in the workplace. If we focus on measuring the product and ignore the process of learning, we fail to prepare students for modern work. Children will leave school ill-equipped to face a highly volatile, technological rich and mentally demanding workplace. Let's examine this in more detail:

Assessment in schools is still based largely on memory and recall of facts. I acknowledge that there are attempts to introduce new modes of assessment that draw on long-term development of knowledge and skills (project work), and team work (peer and collaborative work), as well as presentational skills (performance work), but essentially, high stakes testing (the one that really counts towards a 'grade') is still very much the preserve of the exam or essay. These have their uses, but there is much more available in the assessment repertoire of effective teachers. 

I recently worked as a visiting scholar at a university that trained nurses. The nurse lecturers asked me to solve a problem in which student nurses seemed disengaged with the assessment tasks. In the ensuing discussion, I asked them how the students were assessed and was told they were required to write essays. I asked whether nurses wrote essays when they were working in clinical areas, and was told, no - they generally wrote reports and case studies. I suggested the tutors should change the assessment from essay writing to report writing, to align it with authentic contexts of working.

This is a simple principle of pedagogy known as constructive alignment (Biggs and Tang, 2011) where we start with outcomes that students need to achieve, support these with appropriate pedagogy, and then assess accordingly (Biggs, 2014). If we think a little about what needs to be assessed, and then in what context the learning will eventually be applied, it becomes evident which mode of assessment might be most appropriate. 

Do you have good examples of authentic assessment? You're welcome to share them in the comments box below. 

Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill.
Biggs, J. (2014) Constructive alignment in university teaching. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, Vol 1. Available online here.
Creative Commons License
What is authentic assessment? by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Unknown said…
what about assessment in the workplace?

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