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Authentic Assessment


Alternative approaches to assessment

While they provide valuable insights into students' performance, paper and
pencil tests alone provide an incomplete measure of what students know and
can do, not least because they depend on written responses. Other and more
diverse means of gathering information about the students have to be used to
give us a comprehensive picture of the students' performance.
The case for alternative forms of assessment is not new and have been made
very strongly by writers such as Griffin and Nix (1991, p. 83), who observe:
There is a need to recognise and encourage the use of multiple ways of
observing student learning behaviour. The principles of triangulation, which are
used in ethnographic studies, can be adopted in the classroom to provide the
means for employing multiple measures, or indicators, of student learning and/or
development. Triangulation is based on the premise that no one type of measure
can adequately describe a phenomenon. The triangulation procedure involves
observing the phenomenon from different points of view. When applied to the
assessment of student learning, the procedure employs many different
measures, such as a work sample, the student's self-assessment, the teacher's
judgement and a test. Thus triangulation can be used to provide more reliable
assessment information.
Triangulation, that is assessing student performance from a range of different
perspectives by using a range of assessment instruments, enhances reliability-as
Griffin and Nix so clearly state. It also enhances validity. It is a principle that
should underline all of your assessment planning.

Criterion-referenced assessment
The alternative approaches to assessment we explore here are all criterion
referenced rather than norm-referenced. That is, we will be concerned
with identifying changes in performance by individual students, not
comparison of one student's performance with the performance of other students
in the group, or with national scales.
Criterion-referenced performances are compared to a pre-specified
criterion/criteria such as a learning outcome(s) or a predetermined benchmark
performance. The performance is then assessed as being competent/having
achieved mastery or not? Or some other similar term.
Norm-referenced performances on the other hand are compared
against the performance of the group or a similar group of students.
The individual student's performance is then given a rating or rank based on the
norm (i.e., the mean or average) of the group. For example, it might be decided
that the top 5% in the class will get HD, the next 10% - D, the next 20% - C, the
next 35% - D, and the bottom 30% will fail.
This norm-referenced method of assigning grades allows administrators to vary
the numbers 'passing' a course without seeming to do it in a subjective manner
or ranking students along a continuum of 'performance'.
In contrast to norm-referenced assessment, one can set up criteria for awarding
grades and then check which of the categories the observed performance most
closely fits. This criterion-referenced assessment is particularly suited to
assessing performance skills such as 'Correctly refitting the cylinder head' of an
engine, or the voice procedure of an office receptionist, or an oral presentation of
a topic the students selected, or the development of an argument in a piece of
extended writing.

Norm-referenced assessment could be used to assess the refitting of a cylinder

head, but we are probably more interested in assessing how individual students
undertake the task than in comparisons between them. Criterion-referenced
assessment is more appropriate in this instance.
To determine the level of individual student performance, a rating scale similar to
that below could be used. A numerical and letter rating scale has been used
where 4 = HC or highly competent; 3 = C or competent; 2 = AC or approaching
competence, and 1 = NYC or not yet competent.

3 HC - Demonstrates mastery over the strategy or skill specific to the task or
situation; Can perform the strategy or skill without error and with little or no
conscious effort. 3 C - Carries out the strategy specific to the task or situation
without significant error. 2 AC - Makes a number of errors when performing the
strategy or skill specific to the task or situation but can complete a rough
approximation of it. 1 NYC - Makes many critical errors when performing the
strategy or skill specific to the task or situation
(This rating scale is adapted from Marzano et al. (1993) Assessing Student
Outcomes, p. 66)
While criterion-referenced assessment is particularly suited to performance
tasks, it can also be applied to the products of assessment tasks such as an
essay or other extended forms of writing or to models or work samples in art,
carpentry, dressmaking, mathematics, and so on.

Where more than one person is involved in assessing a particular assessment
task, inter-marker reliability can be improved by establishing benchmarks. For
example, when a number of markers have to rate a large number of responses to
the same writing task, inter-marker reliability can be improved by having
samples of student responses which are deemed to be excellent (HD),
satisfactory (C) and unsatisfactory (F).
These samples are frequently regarded as benchmarks and they can be used to
develop consensus amongst the team of markers of what to expect and look for
in the products they are about to assess.
Ideally one would select examples for each category of the marking scale being
used, but in practice it is less time consuming to only illustrate what is expected
at the 'top', 'middle' and 'bottom' of the scale. Ambiguous or overlapping
responses are then fitted in between two of the clearly-defined categories.
Benchmarking of performance assessment can be achieved through the use of a
panel in the early stages of assessment through which consensus is established,
or by the use of moderators. Assessments of sporting performance where
judgement is required, such as in diving or gymnastics, typically use a panel
whose scores are averaged.

Constructing criterion-referenced tasks and their rating

There are a number of pointers to follow when constructing criterion-referenced
tasks and applying rating scales to them. The following are among the more
important. The learning objectives should be stated wherever possible in
outcomes terms, i.e., specific words should be used which indicate that the
student has achieved the objective in an observable form.
The degree or level of acceptable performance should be indicated. For example:
'students will be able to name at least five (instead of some) monarchies which
are parliamentary democracies in English and non-English speaking countries'.
The context and conditions under which the tasks are to be carried out could be
clearly stated. For example, the time period allowed; as a classroom, or

classroom + home activity; under test conditions; in a work setting, etc. The
tasks must be very closely related to the pre-specified learning outcomes. The
tasks must reflect the previously determined level of competency or expected
outcomes. The tasks must be a valid sample of the possible domain or range of
tasks that could be set to assess these outcomes. The rating criteria should be
illustrated by typical samples of students' work for, at least, the top, middle and
bottom range of performance.

Authentic assessment
To be able to assess students' behaviour we must get information about the
desired behaviour. This information may be gathered by making direct
observations of the student in a number of different situations. The information is
then assigned to predetermined categories which are frequently represented by
numerical or literal symbols. The conditions under which the information is
gathered can be natural or normal (e.g., in the classroom, workplace, workshop),
or formal (e.g., examinations, structured interviews). Performances are usually
assessed under natural or normal conditions or simulations of natural or normal
conditions. Such assessments are frequently referred to as authentic
assessments. Diane Hart (1994, p. 9) defines authentic assessment as those
information gathering activities which involve: students in tasks that
are worthwhile, significant and meaningful. Such assessments look and feel
like learning activities ... They involve higher order thinking skills and the
coordination of a broad range of knowledge.
They communicate to students what it means to do their work well by making
explicit the standards by which that work will be judged. In this sense authentic
assessments are standard-setting, rather than standardized, assessment tools.
Brady and Kennedy (2005, p. 3) define authentic assessment on page 3 and go
on to provide four major interpretations of authentic assessment (p. 43) and list
of advantages (p. 44). They state that authentic assessment should satisfy at
least three criteria:
1. Authentic assessment involves a variety of assessment strategies
that capture the quality of a student's work.
2. These assessments explore a student's normal daily performance
rather than focusing exclusively on tests.
3. Such assessments reflect the actual learning and teaching of the
classroom and beyond.
When one examines Griffin and Nixs
(1991, p. 91) list of authentic
assessment strategies shown below
[with some additions] it is clear that
most of the methods for gathering
assessment information can be
classified as authentic assessment:
1. Performances
a. In practical or manipulative tasks or
tests (or physical performances)
b. In reading tasks or writing tasks such
as essays
c. In oral tasks such as debates and
d. In teacher made paper and pencil
e. In commercial (standardised) tests

2. Products
a. Projects on themes or topical issues
b. Homework assignments or tasks
c. Finished practical samples
3. Processes
a. Participation in social activities
b. Activities during individual or group
c. Contributions to class or other group
d. Interactions in interviews
e. Casual conversations and events
4. Records
a. Student histories (and portfolios)
b. Examination results published in the
c. Surveys, evaluation reports or
research reports
d. Response patterns on questionnaires
5. Personal qualities
a. Perseverance and commitment to
attainment of goals
b. Entrepreneurship and risk-taking

Describe, Interpret, Reflect

School and district improvement teams begin by describing achievement results from external tests, local
assessments, and student work using such questions as
What learning goals do the various assessments measure?
What kinds of thinking do the assessments require--recall, interpretation, evaluation, or problem solving?
What strengths and weaknesses in student performance do the different data sources reveal?
Are these the results we expected? Why or why not?
In what areas did the students perform best? What weaknesses are evident?
How are different population groups performing on the various assessments?
The next step is to interpret the assessment data using such questions as
What does this work reveal about student learning and performance?
What patterns or changes do we see over time?

Are there any surprises? What results are unexpected? What anomalies exist?
Is there evidence of improvement or decline? If so, what might have caused the changes?
What questions do these data raise?
Are these results consistent with other achievement data?
Are there alternative explanations for these results?
By what criteria are we evaluating student work?
What is the performance standard? How good is "good enough"?
How do our results compare to those of similar schools?

Reporting and Parents

Working with parents is a vital part of effective home- school
partnerships. The focus for all parties should be to support student
learning, educational progress and well being.
Brady and Kennedy (2012 pg 105-106) suggest three key areas of need in
reporting to parents: Cyclical, contextual and social.
Thus effective communication between the teacher and system, the
teacher and students, the teacher and parents and between the school
and parents is vital.

Watch your language!

No matter which form of communication you use - written or verbal, it is
important to consider your audience and the language that you use. This
comes back to getting to know and understand your school community
(demographics and perceptions)
When you look over the Reporting Concerns of Parents (Brady and
Kennedy 2012 pg 104) many concerns can be addressed by clear, plain
language comments that address what the student can do, the areas of
need and HOW they are being addressed by the teacher and school and
the where to next step.
The basis of effective relationships and reporting is knowing your students
and supporting what you know with evidence; organising the evidence
effectively and using that data to inform and improve practice. This

process can be supported by working with parents and developing

effective partnerships.
- assessment is a process that facilitates learning for all students in a
supportive and collaborative environment recognising the individual and
group needs of students.
Consideration must be given to a range of stakeholders including students in
terms of perceptions, aspirations, needs, cultural and socioeconomic
backgrounds, linguistic and physical needs; so that assessment is not only
valid and reliable but fair and transparent.

Examples of Report Comments: Year 2

YOUR CHILD has made some good progress in their reading this semester
and is now
reading at Level 22. S/he has participated in our classroom writing and
has created some
interesting stories about dragons and fishing. S/he is often able to spell
most words from
the spelling list and is achieving a high percentage of correct spelling each
week. A very
pleasing semester! Well done YOUR CHILD
YOUR CHILD is very friendly, cheerful and well liked member of our
classroom. YOUR CHILD
demonstrates keen enthusiasm for his learning. S/he works well own
her/his own but when
put in a group situation can be easily distracted. YOUR CHILDs work
presentation is
continuing to improve. However, I would like to see er/him take more time
to add to
her/his written detail and edit her/his own spelling in our lessons. Keep up
the good work.
Course Description: Year 2
Number sense: Students have written and solved basic addition and
subtraction problems,
and written their own stories. They have studied various number patterns
to 99, including
counting by multiples forwards and backwards and recognising odd and
even numbers. A
major focus in number has been to develop mental strategies for quick
and accurate
number facts.
Writing: This semester students have focused on correct sentence
structure, punctuation
and spelling strategies. In term one we focused on recount writing with
given sentence
topics, for example on the weekend In term two they continued daily
writing sessions,

but also began report writing about Insects and Minibeasts. Incidental
writing has also
occurred including writing stories, journal writing, lists and labels.
Year 9 Example:
Comment to Parents:
SOSE Teacher:
YOUR CHILD is an engaged student who displayed a good understanding of
concepts covered in Studies of Society and Environment throughout this
semester. S/he is well organised and takes pride in presenting he/r work in a neat
and tidy manner. YOUR CHILD is being encouraged to offer he/r opinion during
class discussions more often as they are frequently insightful. This will help he/r
to gain a better understanding of the concepts being covered. YOUR CHILD is to
be commended on he/r excellent results achieved in the Bombing of Darwin Test.
Maths Teacher:
YOUR CHILD is a polite student who is successfully completing the Year 9
Mathematics course at a high level of achievement. S/he is commended for he/r
topic test results where s/he has demonstrated a high level of mathematical
understanding, problem solving and communication skills. YOUR CHILD is being
encouraged to closely monitor the due dates for homework tasks so s/he is able
to consistently complete these within the set time frames. Both assignments
have been neatly completed.
Description of Course:
Students are required to provide evidence of their learning and achievement
from the state/territory curriculum. Students have addressed a number of key
historical periods of time including the Bombing of Darin, Indigenous Australians,
European settlement, the Gold Rush and the Development of Australia as a
nation separate from England. Students developed their knowledge of a range of
historical research skills and methodology.
Students were required to provide evidence of their learning and achievement in
the state/territory and Australian curricula in the areas of Measurement, Number
and Algebra. Students reflected on themselves as learners of Mathematics and
developed a range of skills and concepts. They applied these to solve problems.
There was a focus on the analysis and deconstruction of problems which were
required to be effectively communicated. Students had many opportunities to
provide solutions in a range of forms including mental, written and electronic