Authentic Assessment: approaches and practices

The term ‘authentic assessment’ is likely to unfamiliar to many reading this blog, however, it is a concept that Falchikov (2005) observed ‘appears to be increasingly used in further and higher education’. So what explains this discrepancy? Falchikov herself offers one reason, explaining that ‘my own work… has involved my students in all of the activities [I regard as authentic]. However, I have not used the term ‘authentic’ to describe the type of assessment being carried out.’

In some recent research that Denise Whitelock and I have been doing within the OU we have been examining the concept and practice of authentic assessment – and in particular, how to make visible those assessment approaches associated with concept but not understood as such. It’s been great to have the opportunity to explore the term a little and in this post I hope to outline a few of my initial impressions.

The current use of the term emerges from a discourse around ‘authentic’ and ‘genuine’ testing that had become established by the mid-1980s and which combined with the broader social constructivist project to become part of what Serafini considers to be the most recent of three assessment paradigms: ‘assessment for enquiry’.

The notion of ‘authentic’ certainly appealed to those interested in getting closer to ‘real’, ‘meaningful’ learning and represented an idea with an innate capacity to help problematise traditional assessment practice. Early definitions include Wiggins who defines it as ‘[the extent to which] student experience questions and tasks under constraints as they typically and ‘naturally’ occur, with access to the tools that are usually available for solving such problems’, Newmann et al. (1996), and Torrance who suggests ‘[it is the] assessment tasks designed for students should be more practical, realistic and challenging than what one might call ‘traditional’’ and that it is ‘a generic term… to describe a range of new approaches to assessment.’

By 2000, overlapping interpretations of what authentic assessment meant and authentic assessment tasks comprised of were emerging (e.g. McTighe and Wiggins (1999) and the review by Cummings et al.). There were also efforts to instantiate these in to guidance or advice on designing authentic assessment tasks (Darling-Hammond & Snyder; Williams; Hughes) or integrating the idea of authenticity in to principles for instruction (for example, Merrill).

The upshot of this is a range of emphasis and interpretations about what ‘authentic’ means (sometimes in respect to particular disciplines) and what constitutes an ‘authentic’ assessment task. In the itemised paragraphs below I attempt to identify some of the components of the authentic assessment discourse. Read more of this post

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Benchmarking Assessment (conference paper): breaking down barriers and building institutional understanding

Denise Whitelock and myself have recnetly been working on a project to identfy key meaures (or criteria) of assessment processes and practice. The aim to to develop a benchmark instrument for use in better assessing and understanding assessment practice in Higher Education.

As part of this work, I am presenting on our behalf a paper at the Computer Assisted Assessment Conference in Southampton this week. In the abstract we make the point that benchmarking offers a comprehensive way of measuring current practice in an institution per se; whilst also gauging achievement against external competitors. It would appear that although e-learning has been benchmarked with a number of universities in the UK and abroad no one to date has tackled the area of assessment; which is now becoming of more concern with the advent of e-assessment. 

Our paper describes the construction of a set of benchmarking measures/indicators and the outcome of early pilots which combine a survey instrument and semi-structured interview methodologies. The findings suggest that building a comprehensive and robust core of benchmark measures would have great utility and value to institutions; not just in external benchmarking but in internal benchmarks and reviews, setting baselines, exploring the student experience, providing staff with data meaningful to their role and professional development and supporting continuous improvement.

The paper is accompanied by our current working draft of the benchamarking measures. [Since writing this post the measures have been revised further. A new version of the measures is available at: Assessment Benchmarking Criteria v17_A]. We will be very interested to hear your comments or feedback on the paper and the draft.