If It's Broken, Fix it!
Why Dive Into Authentic Assessment?
The moments that stand out in my memory of my time as a K-12 student are those in which I engaged in meaningful projects. I remember the terrarium I build out of soda bottles, the research paper I wrote about the Iroquois Natives, and my class's re-enactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Now ask me to tell you the dates of the battles of the Revolutionary War that I had to remember for our end of unit test, and I could not tell you one!
As a teacher I carried this preference of authentic learning into my practice. I've spent my career developing hands-on, real-world tasks that allowed my students to demonstrate their knowledge without a paper test! When it came time to develop my study, I knew I wanted to do something that would encourage other teachers to consider this methodology. If I could prove that student's learn not just more, but more deeply by replacing tests with authentic assessments, then maybe I could sway this practice to find its way into more classrooms.
The Background and Need for This Research:
The topic of authentic assessment has been studied for over 30 years, yet despite research supporting this modality as a means of better assessing learning, our education system still primarily relies on the use of traditional tests. One of the primary researchers on this topic was Grant Wiggins who first published his paper titled, “The Case for Authentic Assessment” in 1990. Wiggins identified that traditional multiple choice exams do not measure the learner’s ability to apply knowledge to real world tasks. He also suggested that traditional tests serve as a stand alone tool that is not part of the learning process, but instead an after-the-fact nuance. Wiggins’ claim was that the use of a more authentic assessment would increase student learning and engagement (Wiggins, 1990).
The Needs of Our Learners The 21st-century workplace requires employees to apply a variety of skills that are not learned through a multiple choice exam. Exams require low-level thinking skills such as memorization, summarization, and recollection. This does not mirror the skills found to be necessary for success in the 21st-century workplace. A study done in 2000 looked at 140,000 work environments and found that communication, collaboration, and problem solving were the three most important skills. (Rios, Ling, Pugh, Becker, & Bachal) The purpose of education is to prepare students for success, yet without authentic assessment, students are not engaging in the types of tasks they will be asked to complete in the years following their education.
The need for authentic assessment is even greater for our disadvantaged students. The research took place at a school in which 80% of the student body at the school is considered socio-economically disadvantaged, and 93% of the student body consists of students of color. The need for authentic assessment exists for all students, but it is arguably even more important for our students of color, and students of low-income families as it has been shown they consistently perform lower on standardized tests than their white counterparts. (Berlack 2001) To close the opportunity gap, we need to step away from heavily biased traditional assessments to provide more equitable means of assessing students. This will not just increase student’s performance in the educational setting, but in their future careers.