Authentic Assessment

What is Authentic Assessment? 

Today’s educators are being empowered to shift the focus of their assessment strategies from traditional examples, such as multiple-choice exams, true/false, fill in the blanks, matching, etc., to authentic strategies, such as case studies, presentations, role play, team problem solving, and more.   

When students are driven by extrinsic motivations, such as grades, competition, outcomes of a product, what intrinsic values and assessment strategies can you provide that will redirect students toward developing meaningful skills that will help them in real-world career situations?  

By definition, an authentic assignment is “…one that demonstrates application of what students have learned to a new situation, and that requires judgment to determine what information and skills are relevant and how they should be used” (Center for Innovation Teaching and Learning, Authentic Assessment, Indiana University, 2021).  

“According to Grant Wiggins (1998), an assignment is authentic if it: 

  • is realistic. 
  • requires judgment and innovation. 
  • asks the student to “do” the subject. 
  • replicates or simulates the contexts in which adults are “tested” in the workplace or in civic or personal life. 
  • assesses the student’s ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task. 
  • allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.” (Center for Innovation Teaching and Learning, Authentic Assessment, Indiana University, 2021) 

Most importantly, it is key to remember that authentic assessments are always not defined by the task itself (i.e., you can have a somewhat formal test in an authentic way – see chart below for examples), but by the purpose behind the assessment. How do you advance the knowledge of the ‘how’ over that of the ‘what’? (Queen’s University, n.d.) 

The table below, drawn from Wiggins (1998), illustrates the differences between typical tests and authentic assessments.  For example, a traditional test may rely heavily on keeping exam questions top-secret to prevent students from cheating; however, through an authentic perspective, students can be made aware of test questions in advance, requiring the professor to rethink and adapt their existing questions.  Changes to assessments can be made simple, but impactful to better student learning.   

Typical tests Authentic tasks Indicators of authenticity 
Require correct responses Require a high-quality product or performance, and a justification of the solutions to problems encountered Correctness is not the only criterion; students must be able to justify their answers. 
Must be unknown to the student in advance to be valid Should be known in advance to students as much as possible The tasks and standards for judgment should be known or predictable. 
Are disconnected from real-world contexts and constraints Are tied to real-world contexts and constraints; require the student to “do” the subject. The context and constraints of the task are like those encountered by practitioners in the discipline. 
Contain items that isolate particular skills or facts Are integrated challenges in which a range of skills and knowledge must be used in coordination The task is multifaceted and complex, even if there is a right answer. 
Include easily scored items Involve complex tasks that for which there may be no right answer, and that may not be easily scored The validity of the assessment is not sacrificed in favor of reliable scoring. 
Are “one shot”; students get one chance to show their learning Are iterative; contain recurring tasks Students may use particular knowledge or skills in several different ways or contexts. 
Provide a score Provide usable diagnostic information about students’ skills and knowledge The assessment is designed to improve future performance, and students are important “consumers” of such information. 

Adapted from Center for Innovation Teaching and Learning, Authentic Assessment, Indiana University, 2021 and Wiggins, Grant. (1998). Ensuring authentic performance. Chapter 2 in Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 21 – 42. 

Designing Authentic Assessment 

Before jumping headfirst into tackling designing authentic assessments in a face-to-face, remote, HyFlex, or not too distant hybrid-future, take a minute to reflect on some of your most memorable assignments when you were a student:   

  • What fueled your interest in the assignment?   
  • In what ways did it promote real-life learning of concepts discussed in your area of study? 
  • Did you develop a new set of skills applicable to other aspects of your academic or professional career? (Adapted from, Queen’s University, n.d.). 

Implementing new assessment techniques can be challenging, but assessments are critical components of any classroom. Assessments provide students with an idea of their progress in a course, the ability to identify individual strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately serves as the measure of whether students achieve the course’s learning objectives. 

The following steps are based on those developed in 2018 by the University of Florida’s Center for Instructional Technology and Training, and can help set you on your way toward developing an authentic assessment that addresses your learning objectives, enhances your course, and meets your students’ needs. As you being to design authentic assessment opportunities consider the following steps:  

  1. Identify learning objectives 
  1. Define relevant tasks 
  1. Identify essential performance criteria 
  1. Develop a rubric 

Remember, it is not always about the product, but the process of helping your students attain the skills needed to work through real-world issues within their field.  After reviewing and reflecting on the four design steps, take a minute to survey the various resources in the tables below.  They offer definitions, practical examples, and reflective questions that guide your personal journey toward designing and using authentic assessments. 

Resources for designing authentic assessment  

These resources offer a “how-to” when considering the “ins and outs” of designing authentic assessments.  

Resource title  Brief description/purpose of resource 
Building Authentic Assessments (University of Florida) This website is full of resources to help you create many kinds of authentic assessments. It includes sections for designing collaborative, peer & self-assessments, strategies for shifting assessments online, promoting Academic Integrity and more! 
Authentic Assessment Toolbox ( This is a how-to text about creating authentic tasks, rubrics, and standards for measuring and improving student learning.  
Online and Alternative Assessment Ideas (Western University) This website provides alternative assessment ideas to your face-to-face final exam. When selecting an alternative assessment, consider if it allows students to demonstrate the core learning outcomes of your course.  
Considerations for shifting to an online examination  (University of Sheffield)  This document provides an overview of the principles of assessment. 
Assessment Strategies Guide (Queen’s University) This guide is focused on flexible and adaptable options for course assessment, supporting you to make quick but informative decisions on how to assess student performance.  
Online Strategies for Final Assessment (Lakehead University) This website offers some practical tips and resources to assist with the development of assessment for online learning.  

Examples of authentic assessment  

These resources offer tangible, practical examples and ideas to integrate authentic assessment your teaching practice. 

Resource title  Brief description/purpose of resource 
Guide for Authentic Assessment of Cognitive Skills Queen’s University provides an excellent in-depth guide for developing your authentic assessment strategies in a step-by-step format. 
Authentic assessment Ideas (Seneca College)  This page offers many examples of degree-level authentic assessments.  
Exams and alternative assessments  (University of Windsor) This website provides a table that identifies some key types of outcomes, and offers a wide range of assessment strategies that can be implemented in order to ensure students meet the learning outcomes.  
Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) (Vanderbilt University)  Vanderbilt University’s Centre for Teaching and Learning webpage offers a large selection of teaching resources for all levels of faculty.  
Assessments and Alternatives  (MacPherson Institute) The MacPherson Institute provides a clear categorized webpage on various assessment options.  They capture the authentic theme throughout the majority of their resources.  
Online Education: Authentic Assessments  (Faculty Focus) This Faculty Focused educational website has numerous articles regarding assessment strategies that are all worth exploring.  This specific article outlines four basic strategies to assist in authentic assessment design. 
Alternate Exam Resources (University of British Columbia) The University of British Columbia lists various assessment options if considering switching from an in-person examination.  

Streamlining Assessment 

Streamlining assessment is a task that in the long run, can reduce educator stress and leave more time to focus on instruction and interaction with students. The keys to streamlining can be found in these resources that organize and leverage specific technology tools that allow faculty to give comprehensive, personalized, and instructive feedback while saving hours of time over traditional grading methods.  

Resource title  Brief description/purpose of resource 
Using Rubrics (Cornell University)  Although it takes time to build a rubric, time will be saved in the long run as grading and providing feedback on student work will become more streamlined. Many Learning Management Systems have the ability to create digital rubrics which can help ease the burden of grading.  
Streamlining the Grading Process (Michael Willis)  This blog post shares some practical tips to help to streamline the grading process.  
Streamlining Grading and Feedback (Georgian College)  This page offers some useful tips to help ease the burden of grading. It also provides examples of how one can leverage various technology tools to help streamline the collection of assignments and tests and provide meaningful feedback all in the same place. 
Grading with Rubrics (Western University) The Center of Teaching and Learning at Western University  provides a summary of the importance of rubrics. 

Academic Integrity 

Academic integrity entails a commitment to the fundamental values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage (IACI, 2021). Cheating, plagiarism, contract cheating, use of file sharing websites, fabrication, and sabotage are all considered forms of academic dishonesty. 

These resources are recommended to help inform you about current issues, new strategies, and ongoing research and development regarding academic integrity. A reminder that these are suggested resources, and you should always consult your institution’s policies on academic integrity/misconduct.  

Resource title  Brief description/purpose of resource 
International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI)  The ICAI is an international leader in advancing academic integrity. Their website outlines assessment services, resources, and consultations they offer to member institutions.  They also facilitate conversations on academic integrity topics.  
The Importance of Being Honest (McGill University) This website provides resources that can help students avoid dishonest work and the disciplinary measures that go with it, as well as useful information for teaching staff.  
Create Engaging Assignments With Accountability (Association of College and University Educators)  This resource provides some tips to create assignments that provide opportunities for students to engage with readings and participate in a variety of activities to promote accountability.    
Academic Integrity (University of Windsor) This website offers some valuable resources about how to promote academic integrity and offers some example honour codes and other resources.  
Cultivating Originality Series — Turnitin This webinar series by Turnitin contains great insights into current academic integrity trends (to access the recordings, you have to enter your institutional email address). 

Additional Resources:  

These additional resources offer further insights into advancing the authentic assessment landscape.  

Resource title Brief description/purpose of resource 
Final Assessment Decisions (Humber College)  This interactive decision tree will help you make informed choices about how to administer and design final assessments.  
Designing Remote Final Exams (Queen’s University) This recorded webinar describes general design considerations for remote exams and explains how to use the ICE model to design a common framework that ensures single and multiple exams are accurate assessments of student learning outcomes. 
Building Assessment Scaffolds for Intellectual Cognitive Skills (BASICS) (Queen’s University)  This web-based application provides a workflow for constructing rubrics for cognitive skills of critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving. 

Watch our Assessment Strategies Webinars  

Reflect on the conversations led by Ontario postsecondary educators around assessment strategies for remote course delivery.   As an initial response to the global pandemic, eCampusOntario and Ontario postsecondary educators hosted weekly community calls to connect and share strategies for pivoting to remote delivery.

July 29, 2020, 12:00 PM EST Preserving Academic Integrity in a Remote Course, James M. Skidmore, University of WaterlooWatch 
July 30, 2020, 11:00 AM ESTAuthentic and Performance Based Assessment, Heidi Marsh and Mark Ihnat, Humber College  Watch
July 30, 2020, 1:30 PM ESTThe Role of Assessments in Teaching Mathematics Online, Brian Forrest, University of WaterlooWatch
August 20, 2020 12:00 PM ESTMoving Beyond Compliance: Accessibility Considerations for Alternative Assessment, Christine Zaza and Carol Hulls, University of WaterlooWatch