Posted by: darcymullin | October 20, 2011

Authentic Assessment

I often struggle to find authentic ways to assess the learning of my students.  I don’t like tests because I can’t design one that assesses anything beyond basic recall or gives them any choice in how to synthesize information.  Tests only allow learning to be demonstrated in the way I decide. 

 I love projects where kids have the opportunity to show their learning in different ways.  I like to give them choice on the type of project and whether they want to work alone or in groups.  More often than not, students choose to work in groups.  I encourage this; as an adult I value collaborative time and work better in social settings.  The problem is kids often choose to create projects that make it difficult to differentiate who has learned what.

For my latest project, kids were asked to create or design a simple machine.  The simple machine needed to incorporate the different things we learned (different kinds of force, motion, levers, pulleys, wedges etc.)  My students had a great time creating the machines, but it was hard for me to distinguish who knew what, so I decided to interview each group.

I sat down with each group individually and asked different kids very pointed questions about the specific outcomes they needed to demonstrate.  If the student could not answer a question, I sent the group back because they had more learning to do.  When they came back I would get the original student to explain it or sometimes I would mix it up and ask another group member.  I would proceed in this fashion until I had covered all the intended learning.  I was able to ensure that EVERYONE understood.

On the surface, it has been a time-consuming practice, but when I step back and analyze further I realize there are many efficiencies.  For example:

1) The information I have is authentic.  I know exactly where each student is in their learning.

2) Students never finish their projects at the same time, so I have managed to get the assessing done while others are still finishing.   This way I don’t have to take anything home and the students receive immediate feedback. 

3) It forces collaboration.  I don’t give the students the answers, they are forced to go back to their groups, figure out their mis-information fill in the gaps in their learning and come back when they are ready. 

4) Kids who struggle with written output flourish.  Jonah was the first student done and he got to WOW! on his first try.

Granted this type of assessment is not easy and it does take the students a while to understand how to access other sources of information when I am busy (but that is a good thing).  It is not effective for every project in every subject area, but it is a very effective tool to get a true understanding of what your students have learned.



  1. Great post Darcy! I think one thing we all forget is that when we use authentic assessments it is front-end loaded and does require some extra work, however, the payoff comes at the end. Students who are more clear on the expected outcomes and have more choice in how they demonstrate their learning have a more positive emotional response to the prospect of being assessed. When you take assessment “format” off the table by allowing choice, anxiety is reduced and students’ levels of performance become more “authentic” and accurate.

    • Tom, the emotional part can not be understated. When kids who typically struggle, see that they can demonstrate their learning in a different way and that they are not dumb, they are on the road to empowerment.

  2. Hi Darcy. Loved the post and I am always looking for authentic assessment practices in my grade 5/6 classroom.

    How many times did the kids have to try before all of them were able to able to answer all questions around the outcomes? Did the repeated attempts lead to behaviour issues or frustrations?



    • Hi Chris, the number of times kids had to come back really varied. Some kids rushed through thinking they were done and had to go back a number of times, some not at all. It is the first time I have done it with this group of kids, so there certainly was a learning curve. Once the kids understood the process, groups were more prepared and had to make fewer trips. I’m sure the students will continue to grow with each project and they will nail it the first or second time.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. […] Go Deeper into Personalized Learning – this is definitley a work in progress.  I continue to explore Project Based Learning in the classes I teach, here is one example.  I think my biggest move has been to personalized assessment, to read more check out my post on Authentic Assessment. […]

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