In this section:

Authentic tasks

Two Approaches

Types of Evidence

Authentic Tasks

Adapted from Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd edition, Chapter 7, "Thinking Like an Assessor."

An assessment, task, problem, or project is authentic if it


  • Is realistically contextualized.

  • Requires innovation and judgment.

  • Asks the student to "do" the subject.

  • Replicates key challenging situations in which professionals are truly "tested" in the workplace, in civic life, and in personal life.

  • Assesses the student's ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skilll to negotiate a complex and multistage task.

  • Allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.

Two Approaches

When thinking like an assessor, we ask . . . When thinking like an activity designer (only), we ask . . .
  • What will provide sufficient and revealing evidence of understanding?
  • What would be fun and interesting?
  • Given my outcomes, what tasks must focus my instruction?
  • What do the students want to do?
  • What types of evidence do my outcomes require?
  • What tests should I give, based on the content I taught?
  • Against what criteria will I consider student work?
  • How will I give and justify grades?
  • Did the assessment distinguish true from apparent understanding?
  • How did the activity go?


Types of Evidence

Performance Tasks

Complex challenges that mirror the issues and problems faced by professionals.  Ranging in length from short-term task to long-term, multistaged projects, they yield one or more tangible products and performances.  They differ from academic prompts in the following ways:

Involve a real or simulated setting and the kind of constraints, background "noise," incentives, and opportunities an adult would find in a similar situation (i.e., they are authentic)

Typically require the student to address an identified audience (real or simulated)

Are based on a specific purpose that relates to the audience

Allow students greater opportunity to personalize the task

Are not secure: The task, evaluative criteria, and performance standards are known in advance and guide student work

Academic Prompts

Open-ended questions or problems that require the student to think critically, not just recall knowledge, and to prepare a specific academic response, product, or performance.  Such questions or problems

Require constructed responses to specific prompts under school and exam conditions

Are "open," with no single best answer or strategy expected for solving them

Are often "ill structured," requiring the development of a strategy

Involve analysis, synthesis, and evaluation

Typically require an explanation or defense of the answer given and methods used

Require judgment-based scoring based on criteria and performance standards

May or may not be secure

Involve questions typically only asked of students in school

Quiz and Test Items

Familiar assessment formats consisting of simple, content-focused items that

Assess for factual information, concepts, and discrete skill

Use selected-response (e.g., multiple-choice, true-false, matching) or short-answer formats

Are convergent, typically having a single, best answer

May be easily scored using an answer key or machine

Are typically secure (i.e., items are not known in advance)

    Informal Checks for Understanding

    Ongoing assessments used as part of the instructional process.  Examples include teacher questioning, observations, examining student work, and think-alouds.  These assessments provide feedback to the teacher and the student.  They are not typically scored or graded.