Authentic Assessment: Portfolios, Etc.
is meant by "authentic assessment"?
teachers have always evaluated student progress based on the way they carried
out assignments and the "work products" they came up with. Good teachers have
always used examples, models, games, demonstrations, experiments, hypothetical
situations, skits, videos, dramas and all kinds of other teaching tools to
gauge student progress.
But in the
1990s, the world of in-school assessment started shifting away from the No. 1
assessment tool - tests - and more strongly toward "authentic assessment" -
just about everything else students do besides tests. Why? Because teachers
felt it gave them a better idea of how well their students were doing.
problem is obvious: subjective judgments can't be compared, so students and
parents don't get useful feedback on how they're doing vs. other students
similarly situated, and the electorate can't evaluate how well its public
schools are doing.
started with Alfie Kohn. A writer and speaker on education, parenting and
related topics, he is an outspoken foe of standardized testing. His books have
contended that grades are bad, competition is wrong, and rewards and
punishments of every kind should be gone from our schools. With massive
popularity among teachers' unions and administrators, he sparked a backlash
against traditional, objective school tests in the 1980s and '90s whose ripples
are still being felt today.
advised teachers to scrap tests and grades because they are "meaningless," and
instead, suggested they should lead students to love learning for its own sake.
though parents, taxpayers and conservatives complained that subjective
measurements of educational progress were meaningless in the way of providing
accountability to the public, educators jumped on the bandwagon. They minimized
traditional tests such as multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank and
essays. They said it doesn't matter if we find out that students have mastered
the information that the adults have presented to them; it's better, they said,
if the students "construct" their own knowledge and interpret information their
educators adopted a system of "authentic assessment," in which the students do
individual and group projects, presentations, videos, bulletin boards,
speeches, paintings, plays, and other non-test demonstrations of what they know
and can do. While it is true that hands-on activities such as math
manipulatives (blocks and shapes) and experiments really do help speed learning
more than plain old reading, writing and 'rithmetic can, there is no
widely-accepted agreement that authentic assessment is reliable and valid
enough to be adopted as the primary form of evaluating student progress.
idea is that paper-and-pencil tests don't really show student progress as well
as student-generated work does. Rather than test scores, homework grades and
assignment evaluations, teachers put together a "portfolio" of each student's
work to show how that student performed in the class.
problem is, there is evidence that authentic assessment does not work nearly as
well in the real world as teachers hoped. For example:
There are vast amounts of inconsistency in what is
acceptable work from class to class, and from year to year in the same class.
That has given authentic assessment a bad reputation as an unreliable, invalid
measurement device. One English teacher might require a handful of paragraphs
to show "mastery" of a writing unit, while the one in the next classroom might
require ten 6-page reports. In comparison, a written test is consistent no
matter who gives it.
Subjectivity in scoring: teachers have been shown to be
highly influenced in the scores they give various authentic assessments based
on how much they like the student, how hard the student tried, how close the
student's views or conclusions are to the teacher's own, and so forth. If you
have two teachers scoring the same portfolio, you're likely to get vastly
different scores; in fact, in writing assessments, scores differ significantly
as much as 60% of the time when more than one teacher does the scoring. In
contrast, 42 teachers could score the same multiple choice test and get the
The authentic assessment process takes an inordinate amount
of planning time, disrupts normal classroom practice, and eats up teacher time
with burdensome evaluation and record-keeping tasks. Research by Harold
Wenglinsky and others has also shown that students don't progress as far if
they are not regularly assessed with good, old-fashioned, "real-time" paper and
pencil tests; there are just too many subjective variables with the other kinds
of assessments to be a reliable picture of their progress.
Because teachers wanted their students to succeed, and to
look good on paper, they tended to allow student work that was far too simple
and unchallenging. For example, an Oregon high-school student who was assigned
to demonstrate a scientific process made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Homework: Authentic assessment is one of
hundreds of education topics handled well by Charles J. Sykes in his book, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children
Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add.