Authentic Assessment Challenges and Empowers Students

What is authentic assessment? Authentic assessment is a method for measuring student learning by providing developmentally appropriate, student-centered, active learning strategies that help students develop lifelong learning competencies such as effective decision making, communication, and cooperation. Authentic assessment challenges students with tasks that have real-life relevance and meaning while empowering them to take control of their own learning.

Rather than simply recalling facts, students are required to create a “product” to show what they know and can do. And the open-ended nature of authentic assessment affords students opportunities to express their individuality—something very important to young adolescents. Products can range from penning stories, songs, poems, or blogs to crafting scrapbooks, collages, or dioramas to creating machines, exhibits, short films, or even interactive webpages. Teachers can decide if the particular task is best suited for individuals or small groups. Students are responsible for developing a plan and a schedule for creating their product, while the teacher provides guidance to ensure the process is manageable and the students stay focused on the topic. The following is a specific example of an authentic assessment task.


Lead a Virtual Field Trip

Using the Internet, search for virtual field trips or museum tours that connect to your topic of research. By copying and pasting into a Word document, make a list of the URL addresses of the websites you visit and make notes about each site under the link. Carefully evaluate the sites and decide which one best fits your topic and will make the most interesting tour.

You will be acting as the tour guide for a small group of people. Keeping that in mind, answer these questions as you plan your tour:

  • What main points do you want to make as you lead the tour?
  • Can you think of a provocative question for your members to think about as they take the tour that can help to keep them focused on the topic? (For example, “Where in the United States is the most unsafe place to live due to volcanic activity?”)
  • What questions do you think members of your tour group might ask you?
  • What background information do they need to know to make sense of each stop along the tour?
  • What interesting or humorous highlights will keep your audience engaged?

Next, make a list, outline, or flowchart of the points you want to make along the tour and include pauses for giving background information.

Go through the tour by yourself and practice what you will say. When you feel comfortable with your script, practice with another person. Time the length of the tour to make sure it meets your teacher’s requirements without going too long. You may need to make difficult decisions to cut some stops along the tour. Be sure to allow time for group members to ask questions. When you feel you are completely prepared, schedule your virtual field trip with your teacher.

Assess Your Product

Ask tour members to choose a type of reflection response to your tour. Some possible reflection options are journal, short story, poem, collage, newspaper report, and oral response.

When the reflections are complete, study them to see what tour members took away from their virtual field trip. What changes would you make in leading your next virtual field trip?


Here are a few websites that might help students with planning virtual field trips:

  • The Smithsonian Institute:
  • Chernobyl in Photos:
  • George Washington’s Mount Vernon:
  • American Museum of Natural History:
  • Salem Witch Trials:

This article was excerpted and adapted from Authentic Assessment: Active, Engaging Product and Performance Measures by Sandra Schurr, which includes 50 authentic assessment strategies/tasks.

Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education