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Authentic Assessments

Nicole Messier, CATE Instructional Designer
April 15th, 2022

WHAT? Heading link

Authentic assessments involve the application of knowledge and skills in real-world situations, scenarios, or problems. Authentic assessments create a student-centered learning experience by providing students opportunities to problem-solve, inquire, and create new knowledge and meaning.

Elements of Authentic Assessments

There are several elements to consider that make an assessment more “authentic” (Ashford-Rowe, 2014; Grant, 2021; Wilson-Mah, 2019;), including:

  • Accuracy and validity – The accuracy of the assessment refers to how closely it resembles a real-world situation, problem, disciplinary norm, or field of study. The assessment validity refers to the alignment of grading criteria to the learning objectives, transferable skills (e.g., communication, critical thinking, etc.), workforce readiness skills, and disciplinary norms and practices.
  • Demonstration of learning – The outcomes of an assessment should allow students to demonstrate learning in ways that reflect their field of study, for example, a performance or a product that is authentic to their future career. Or the assessment should allow for student choice based on interests and skills; for example, one group of students decides to create a podcast to demonstrate their learning in general education coursework.
  • Transfer of knowledge – The assessment should provide the transfer of knowledge from theory to practice and from one task or experience to another. For example, students writing a blog post about a scientific principle that was demonstrated in current events replacing a traditional essay or paper on the scientific principle.
  • Metacognition – The process of reflecting on learning should be purposefully planned for students to make connections to prior knowledge, experiences, and different subject areas. For example, metacognition can be encouraged in authentic assessments by asking students to evaluate their progress, self-assess their product or performance, and reflect on their thought processes and learning experiences during the authentic assessment.
  • Collaboration – The assessments should provide opportunities for interaction that are aligned to the real-world situation. For example, if the task is typically completed by a team in the field, then the assessment should be completed collaboratively by a group.
Authentic Assessments
  • Flexibility – The assessment should provide flexibility in the timeline and due dates for meeting project benchmarks and deliverables to align with real-world tasks. For example, if the task would take a few weeks to complete while working full time then the timeline in the course should reflect this timing to ensure authenticity and manageability.
  • Environment and tools – The environment and tools used to provide the assessment should be like the environments and tools in the students’ field of study or aligned with a real-world situation. For example, students taking a graphic design course utilizing software that is used in their field to create typography, logos, etc., or medical students practicing authentic tasks in a simulation room to mirror a hospital room.

Authentic assessments can also be referred to as alternative assessments or performance-based assessments. All of these assessments are considered “alternatives” to traditional high-stakes tests or research papers, and are based on the constructivist theory where students actively construct new meaning and knowledge.

Also, it is important to understand that authentic assessments can be used to assess students both formatively (during instruction) and summatively (when the instruction is over). Want to learn more about formative assessments or summative assessments? Please visit the Assessment & Grading Practices teaching guides in the Resources section of the CATE website.

Types of Authentic Assessments Heading link

Authentic assessments can be designed using different teaching methods like inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning, scenario-based learning, or design-based learning. Select each of the headings below to learn about how these teaching methods can support your design of authentic assessments.

WHY? Heading link

Impact of Authentic Assessments

Authentic assessments have the potential to improve student self-efficacy (belief in own capacity), performance, and learning.

  • Self-efficacy and confidence – in a review of research completed on fifteen studies of project-based learning, 90% of the students reported improved confidence and were optimistic that they could implement project-based learning in future careers (Indrawn, 2019).
  • Higher grades – In a general education writing course, students who participated in scenario-based learning showed consistently higher averages (one to two letter grades higher) than students who did not receive scenario-based learning (Golden, 2018).
  • Engagement and retention – authentic assessments have shown improved student engagement and learner retention through participation in authentic assessments.
  • Direct evidence – authentic assessments provide direct evidence of students’ learning and skills for instructors and students to better understand the learning taking place and plan the next steps for instruction and learning.
  • Student diversity – authentic assessments allow students to demonstrate their unique abilities, lived experiences, interests, and social identities.
  • Real-world artifacts – authentic assessments provide students with authentic tasks that can be utilized in professional portfolios, resumes, or interviews.

Workforce Readiness and Graduate Attributes

Authentic assessments’ impact has also been viewed through the lens of workforce readiness and graduate attributes. For example, in a project-based learning experience, 78% of students reported that the experience prepared them to be workforce ready because of the real-world practice they received through the authentic assessment (Indrawn, 2019).

Several graduate attributes have been identified as outcomes of authentic assessment participation (Foss, 2021; Indrawn, 2019; Karunanayaka, 2021; Elliott-Kingston, 2018; Murphy, 2017; Rowan, 2012), including:

  • Open-mindedness – students who participate in authentic assessments learn to be receptive to the diversity of ideas and multiple perspectives.
  • Comfort with ambiguity – students who participate in authentic assessments learn to live with uncomfortableness as they construct new knowledge and meaning.
  • Ability to engage in an iterative process – authentic assessments provide students with opportunities to ideate, evaluate, and reflect on ideas and learning. Students develop effective problem-solving skills through this iterative process that includes idea incubation.
  • Creativity – authentic assessments positively reinforce students’ creativity through the inquiry process.
  • Learn to fail – authentic assessments provide formative feedback to help students build resiliency and strengthen their self-efficacy even when faced with failure.
  • Take risks – authentic assessments encourage student risk-taking, and the instructor provides a safe and supportive learning environment for taking risks.
  • Search for multiple answers – students learn how to brainstorm ideas and develop numerous solutions to address problems.
  • Internally motivated – authentic assessments support students’ internal motivation by providing opportunities for student choice based on their interests and future careers. Students develop metacognition and self-regulation skills as they reflect on their motivations, interests, and learning.
  • Take ownership of their learning – authentic assessments foster student ownership and autonomy. Students develop scholarship and a commitment to life-long learning through participation in authentic assessments.
  • Leadership – authentic assessments foster leadership, professionalism, and decision-making skills as students self-direct their learning and performance.
  • Citizenship and empathy – in many cases, authentic assessments ask students to reflect on an audience, end-user, or global community when solving a problem or designing a product. These experiences help to foster citizenship and empathy.

HOW? Heading link

Considerations for Authentic Assessments

There are several variables that you should consider as you begin to design an authentic assessment: 

  • The education and experience level of students – consider how you will support students who may not have the professional skills yet to complete the authentic tasks (see the Student Success during Authentic Assessments in the HOW section of this guide).
  • The subjectivity of authenticity – consider how you will ensure that the designed assessment is authentic to the students. Please note that authenticity is subjective in nature; this means that what one person views as authentic might not be regarded the same by another (see the Elements of Authentic Assessments in the WHAT section of this guide for ways to make your assessment more authentic). Will you provide students with an opportunity to give you feedback to improve authenticity? Will you engage with practitioners in the field to ensure the authenticity of scenarios, problems, or prompts?
  • Complexity – consider how you will ensure that the assessment’s level of complexity is aligned to the learning objectives, course outcomes, and real-world situation, problem, or field of study.
  • Instructor’s role – consider how you will interact with students during the authentic assessment (see the Student Success during Authentic Assessments in the HOW section of this guide). How will you ensure that your role supports the education and experience level of your students? Will you provide guidance, facilitation, or direct instruction during the authentic assessment?
  • Student ownership and choice – consider what level of student responsibility and choice that will be present in the authentic assessment. Will students have minimal responsibility if you are using direct instruction, or will the students have higher levels of responsibility if you are guiding student-directed inquiry? Will students have the opportunity to choose how they will demonstrate their learning with a final product or performance?
  • Formative feedback – consider how students will receive formative feedback during the authentic assessment. Who will provide the formative feedback (instructor, TA, peers, or self)?
  • Manageability – consider the manageability of the authentic assessment regarding class size and course modality.
    • In large class sizes consider incorporating authentic assessments through partner or group work to reduce grading and feedback time as well as encourage communication and collaboration skills of students.
    • In online courses consider incorporating asynchronous peer review to provide opportunities for student interaction and feedback.
  • Alignment of assessments and instruction – consider how you will utilize authentic learning instruction to support student achievement in authentic assessments. For example, if using design-based learning during a group assignment then consider utilizing design thinking during your lectures and activities.

Authentic Assessment Products or Performances Heading link

There are numerous types of products and performances to choose from when designing an authentic assessment. This is not an all-encompassing list of authentic products or performances, but more of a starting point for ideas. Instructors should also consider allowing students or groups to brainstorm ideas for products or performances and self-select a format.


Student Success during Authentic Assessments Heading link

A well-planned and communicated authentic assessment will help improve student performance and student satisfaction during the authentic assessment.



REFERENCES Heading link