Posted by: darcymullin | November 27, 2012

Authentic Assessment

I just finished a unit on Human Body Systems with my class.  It was our first unit of the year, so the kids do not a have a whole bunch of “tools” to show their learning yet, but in the end the kids were able to come up with some pretty great work.  If you want to see some samples, please check out our class blog here – every project is archived for kids to share with their families and for kids to refer back to over the course of the year.

The purpose of this post is not to share the learning, but rather reflect on the importance of offering students authentic assessment opportunities.  Quite simply, by engaging students in meaningful dialogue around their work and learning I have a more accurate picture of what they have actually learned.

In the past, I often have had kids share their work in front of the class.  A commendable practice for sure, but I found the questions my students would ask were lacking in depth and when I would ask a more substantial question, students were often put on the spot in front of their peers – certainly not a recipe for success.  Again, if my intention is to see what the kids have learned this is not the ideal way to do it.

This year, I had each group sit down with me and we just talked through their presentations.  I was able to ask difficult questions and see how much they knew.  What I found out amazed me.  On almost every occasion sitting down and talking to students lead me to a completely different evaluation than I would have given them by looking at their projects in isolation or listening them do a “canned” presentation to the class.  Without fail, the students had more knowledge than they could (or did) put into their projects.  In the end I am evaluating their learning, not their ability to make posters etc., so in reality I would have been doing them a disservice had I not had the conversation.

While I feel empowered by this, I know there are many other forms of authentic assessment that I can use and it also leaves me with more questions than answers – particulary when it comes to secondary schools.

I don’t work in Secondary Schools and I have not spent any meaningful time in one since I left 25 years ago, so I do not profess to be an expert.  That said, I have conversations recently with friends who do live in that world and this type of assessment is simply not possible.

High school teachers are handcuffed by a curriculum that has too many outcomes and by a system that either has a provincial exam at the end or by students who NEED a specific grade to attain a specific goal (scholarship/university) etc.  On top of the curricular and evaluative constraints, these teachers often teach in excess of 200 students.  The reality is any type of authentic assessment is incredibly (impossible?) difficult and I tip my hat to those that are experimenting with it.

How many students are losing out and becoming disengaged because they do not have opportunities to demonstrate their learning in a way that fits them as learners.  I am hopeful that curricular changes that are in the draft/experimental stages come to light soon.  Kids and teaches deserve the opportunity to be innovative in how they either demonstrate or evaluate learning.

listening and talking to kids about their learning.  not possible in high school…that needs to change.



  1. Awesome post Darcy. The time spent in your conversations allows for both assessment as and of as this is a great opportunity for dialogue and feedback. I agree at secondary this is more challenging but is feasible and hopefully more so with the forthcoming changes in IRPs.

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