Authentic Assessment in Social Studies, pp. 2 of 3

Authentic Assessment

The key to keeping standards and high-stakes testing in perspective is viewing assessment as an integral part of the curriculum and not just an add-on. This view expands the notion of assessment beyond the paper-pencil test, an expansion that is needed in order to address the range of curricular goals. Newmann (1997), Wiggins (1989a, 1989b), and other scholars refer to this expanded notion as authentic assessment and note that the authentic tasks have the following attributes:

  • Tasks go to the heart of essential learning (i.e., they ask for exhibitions of understandings and abilities that matter).
  • Tasks resemble interdisciplinary real-life challenges, not academic busywork that is artificially neat, fragmented, and easy to grade.
  • Tasks are standard-setting; they point students toward higher, richer levels of knowing.
  • Tasks are worth striving toward and practicing.
  • Tasks are known to students well in advance.
  • Tasks strike teachers as worth the trouble.
  • All tasks are attempted by all students.
  • Tasks generally involve a higher-order challenge that requires students to go beyond the routine use of previously learned information.

These attributes add up to an “exhibition of mastery” (Parker, 1991).

Authentic assessment should always reflect the full range of curricular goals, so multiple-choice, true-false, or essay tests sometimes will be appropriate. Other times however, will require measures such as observation check lists, self-assessment checklists, open-ended “I learned” statements, “open-closed” windows, reflective journal entries, laboratory-type performance assessments, portfolios that include a range of student work, or observation measures such as graphs for evaluating discussions. All of these tools can help students and the teacher to get a ‘reading’ of how learning is progressing. Attached to this article, you will find a host of examples taken from the 2013 3rd edition of Powerful Social Studies for Elementary Students (Brophy, Alleman, & Halvorsen, 2013) and shared at the Humanities Educators Conference in Singapore, May 2012. Most of the examples can be easily modified and used in the other core subjects.

Guiding Principles

  • Guiding principles to consider for creating, monitoring, and implementing appropriate social studies assessment practices (as well as those in the other core subjects) are as follows:
  • Assessment practices must be goals-driven, at an appropriate level of difficulty, feasible, and cost effective.
  • Assessment should be considered as an integral part of the curriculum and instruction process.
  • A comprehensive assessment plan should represent what is valued instructionally. Local initiatives should draw on state and national standards and any other sources that can enhance local developments and practices.
  • Assessment should be viewed as a thread that is woven into the curriculum, beginning before instruction and occurring at junctures throughout, in an effort to monitor, assess, revise, and expand what is being taught and learned.
  • Assessment should benefit the learner (self-reflection and self-regulation) and inform teaching practices.
  • Assessment results should be documented to track responses and develop learner profiles (Alleman & Brophy, 1997).

Related Teaching Materials

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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