Authentic Assessment, It’s Real, Y’all!

So lately I’ve been spending too much time defending or explaining my teaching style. It’s exhausting, discouraging, and, to be honest, just down right annoying. I feel like a broken record some times.  But I understand that when you do something different, you have to do it. I think the most frustrating part is that it’s different. It really should not be. By the time kids are in 6th grade, project based learning (PBL) and authentic assessment (AA) should be something that has been experienced several times. So I wonder, do educators know what PBL and AA really are. I know that most parents don’t and they really don’t know the why behind using such methods. Since I’m constantly going over this, I’m going to share it. (Plus this will help me to put all in writing while not feeling like I need to be defensive.)

What is Authentic Assessment?
Authentic assessment is when students are giving a real-world task or have to demonstrate their knowledge of something. I love Wikipedia’s definition, it says the measurement of “intellectual accomplishments that are worthwhile, significant, and meaningful.” I love those key words! Think about it, at some point in your lifetime you took a test that you crammed for and totally passed it, but later on you could not recall a thing. Let’s think back to high school algebra. More than likely you memorized the slope intercept formula just so you could solve for x, y, or m. If the teacher pulled out pattern blocks and made you work backwards to find the slope intercept formula you probably then grasped the whole idea it’s all about patterns. But you probably still are thinking “why do I need to learn this? I won’t be drawing graphs in real-world.” But the moment you have to figure out your monthly phone bill when they charge a monthly $25 fee then $0.10 per text message, ahhhhh now you see how it and the patterns work. But more than likely your grade came from a test focused on just that problem you memorized.  You probably still know y=mx+b, but you don’t think to whip it out when renting a car that charges a rate then additional per mile. Authentic Assessment goes much deeper than figuring out your phone bill, but see the different types of learning and application?

In my class students are given projects that have more meaning than “make a PowerPoint.” Let’s use PowerPoint for example. Y’all know my hate-hate relationship with the program, but it is a state technology standard. So for their two PowerPoint projects, the first one was to make an interactive game on the topic of choice. The second they had to use results from a survey they created to do marketing research on an ‘emerging technology’ they researched during their Word projects, and form conclusions and present them to the company using charts, data, etc, and the slides had to use the CRAP designing method. Real-world learning. I could just grade them on making a tacky PowerPoint, but the learning would just stop there, and seriously no one wants to see 100 cheesy slide transitions.

Also, with Authentic Assessment, you don’t just grade a finished product. There are steps, checklist, rubrics, that are part of the assessment. There is conferencing with each student through out the process. They have to reflect and meet deadlines. I can usually tell who isn’t going to finish on time a week before due date bc not meeting deadlines. So they learn to manage time, to reflect, to follow multi-step instructions, to converse with adults (not just one telling them what to do), look at strengths and weaknesses, work with others (that’s huge in middle school), as well as practice real world projects. It can be tiring on the teachers side. Its not something where you give an assignment and just chill, especially when you have almost 30 students to a class. Also it’s pretty heart breaking after all the conferencing and walking students what they need to do to complete a project and they still don’t turn it in.

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So Why Use Authentic Assessment?
I may ask myself this multiple times a day. There is a lot of push back. Kids don’t always wanted to follow the multiple step instructions, parents get angry because kids grades are a lot different than they were when could just memorize answers, there is a lot of work on my end, grading (and regrading stuff turned in weeks and weeks late), planning, meeting with students all day (some days the 5 minutes I have in the lunchroom is only time I sit), etc. So why? Because I know it’s what’s best. Go back to the slope formula and real world uses. I remember when my dad was getting his pilot license, he had to do three different things, have so many hours with an instructor, so many hours solo, take a written test, and then pass a test flying with an instructor. Would you really want to get in a plane with someone who didn’t do one of the four? And if you got into a plane with someone who passed the bare minimum of one of the regulations, would you rather it be the flight with the instructor or the written test? Is rather none but it’d choose the city one who can fly the instructor not one who can bubble in correct answers. Wouldn’t you? On those days I want to just give up and let them play video games and just give them an A to make everyone happy I remember how important these skills are. Just time management alone is huge for a 6th grader. So I keep on. I get back up, I dust myself off, and I send one more letter home explaining the grading and readjust the assignments. Because my students’ future depends on it. If I have the to teach them skills that will have them not only college ready but career ready, why would I? So parents don’t get it, I don’t get why my grocery store doesn’t put razors on the aisle with the soap, but I don’t complain to Publix CEO or store manager and I am sure they have reasons. I don’t have experience in the grocery store market even though I shop there a few times a week. And I’m sure if I complained, it would still not be with the soap on my next trip. I know authentic assessment is the most effective way to assess my class. And I know and see students learning so much more than things they could memorize. And I hope more teachers move passed push back of change when it comes up. Someone needs to for our children. For my own child. There is so much for them to learn beyond textbooks and we only have a short time to do so.

5 thoughts on “Authentic Assessment, It’s Real, Y’all!

  1. Excellent post. I am an airline captain turned teacher and I completely agree. I follow the same method utilized in aviation: written, oral, and practical. Or in the teaching world: PBL and AA.

    You’re article encouraged me to keep up the PBL and AA. As you mentioned, it can be messy and time consuming, but aren’t our students–which is to say our future–worth it?!

  2. Nice job explaining the process. I teach at a PBL lab school with lots of educators visiting and touring. The question that I am getting tired of is “How do you know this works?” Of course all they mean by this question is will student still pass the standardized tests. Then they want to see data.

    My response is getting snarky. How do they know that sitting in rows, taking notes from lectures, and cramming for quizzes works? Why do they assume that their teacher-centered, boring classes “work” for kids and I need to “prove” that PBL is effective? I find this biased and arrogant on their part.

    My data consists of story after story of students who I have watched grow through our school. That is all of the data I need.

  3. u r doing such a wonderful job! i agree with u that the learning process should be an application based..well, in India, we r facing same problems..it is like we r having an exam system instead of an education system..
    Well, what i think is exam patterns should be revised and efforts must be made to make syllabus nd patterns more application based..

  4. Thanks for sharing this with us, Amanda. It encouraging to know that PBL and AA are alive in well in our classrooms (although perhaps not as popular as we’d like them to be just yet). One of the biggest hurtles I’ve seen teachers run into is finding real-world applications in higher grade level humanities content, i.e. 11th grade US History. (Of course, the pressure toward superficial curriculum coverage and the influx of high-stakes testing doesn’t help!) Viva PBL!

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