Techniques for Authentic Assessment

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Techniques for Authentic Assessment

Learning is . . . a dynamic process in which learners actively construct knowledge . . . the acquisition and organization of information into a series of increasingly complex understandings . . . influenced by context (Holt 1992). Educators who view learning in this way realize that quantitative methods of evaluating learners do not "measure up." Authentic forms of assessment present a more qualitative and valid alternative. Authentic assessments (AAs) incorporate a wide variety of techniques "designed to correspond as closely as possible to `real world' student experiences" (Custer 1994, p. 66). They are compatible with adult, career, and vocational education. After all, apprenticeship is a time-honored form of authentic learning: skills taught in context. "High-performance workplaces" demand critical thinking, self-directed learning, and individual responsibility for career development (Borthwick 1995; Jones 1994)-which the process of AA can develop. This Practice Application Brief describes types of authentic assessment, explains some of the advantages and challenges they present, and highlights some best practices in design and implementation, with specific examples from adult, career, and vocational education.

What Are AAs?

Assessments are authentic when they have meaning in themselves-when the learning they measure has value beyond the classroom and is meaningful to the learner. AAs address the skills and abilities needed to perform actual tasks. The following are some tools used in authentic assessment (Custer 1994; Lazar and Bean 1991; Reif 1995; Rudner and Boston 1994): checklists (of learner goals, writing/reading progress, writing/reading fluency, learning contracts, etc.); simulations; essays and other writing samples; demonstrations or performances; intake and progress interviews; oral presentations; informal and formal observations by instructors, peers, and others; self-assessments; and constructed-response questions. Students might be asked to evaluate case studies, write definitions and defend them orally, perform role plays, or have oral readings recorded on tape. They might collect writing folders that include drafts and revisions showing changes in spelling and mechanics, revision strategies, and their history as a writer.

Perhaps the most widely used technique is portfolio assessment. Portfolios are a collection of learner work over time. They may include research papers, book reports, journals, logs, photographs, drawings, video and audiotapes, abstracts of readings, group projects, software, slides, test results; in fact, many of the assessment tools listed earlier could have a place in a portfolio. However, the hallmark of a portfolio used for assessment is that the contents are selected by the learner (Hayes et al.
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