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Definition of Authentic Assessment & Why It Is Useful With Students With Special Needs

by Stephany Elsworth

In traditional testing methods in education, students usually complete multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank or short answer assessments to show their knowledge of a subject. These tests usually have little valid use outside the classroom. Authentic assessment, on the other hand, is a type of assessment in which students use their understanding of a subject to solve real world situations and problems. This type of evaluation can be beneficial to special education learners because it allows them to show their knowledge in a variety of ways.

Drawbacks to Traditional Testing

Many children with special needs have difficulty when it comes to expressing their knowledge during assessments. For example, a child with a reading-based learning disability might have a thorough understanding of photosynthesis but might fail the test because he does not understand the way the test is worded or because he has difficulty reading the questions. Traditional tests are usually timed, and rely on the student's ability to remember isolated facts that have been taken out of their original context. A poor score may cause teachers to make incorrect assumptions about the child's knowledge and to plan improper learning or remediation activities.

Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment, also called direct, alternative or performance-based assessment, gives students other opportunities to show what they know. Authentic classroom assessment tasks include creating posters or other artwork, keeping learning logs or journals, conducting experiments, working individually or in groups to complete projects, giving performances or presentations, building a portfolio, writing letters to authorities to address an issue, or organizing a solution to a community-based problem.

Benefits

Authentic assessment is beneficial for all students, but is especially helpful for special needs students because it incorporates social and behavioral skills necessary both inside and outside the classroom. Students learn how to work with others during group projects, for example, and must practice positive character traits such as honesty and perseverance while completing experiments or conducting research. Authentic assessments integrate higher-order thinking skills, since students must apply their knowledge in creative ways to solve problems. This helps children build connections with the world outside the classroom, and it builds self-worth as students learn that their contributions to society matter. In addition, learning tasks can be simplified to meet the child's abilities without losing the authentic nature of the assignment.

Disadvantages and Limitations

Authentic assessments are advantageous to teachers for gauging a student's in-depth knowledge of a specific subject, but this type of assessment does not work as well when the instructor is attempting to assess a broad range of skills. Although most teachers use rubrics when grading authentic assessments, this type of assessment is much more subjective than a typical pencil and paper test. It also takes longer to complete an authentic assessment than a regular examination, which can take away from learning minutes.

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