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Testing in TESOL Part 3: Authentic Assessment

The first two parts of this series covered a variety of testing types, but I wanted to give this one its own post: authentic assessment.

Why do I feel authentic assessment is so important? Perhaps, as I’m sure many other teachers would agree, the word assessment has a pleasant ring to it — even if we can’t all agree on what authentic really means.

For our purposes, we’ll define authentic assessment as any method of finding out what a student knows that does not use traditional formats, i.e. multiple choice or cloze items; is criterion-referenced; is integrative; is direct; and is based on activities that represent real-life situations.

Some examples of authentic tests are performance tests, in which students construct a spoken or written product. Portfolio assessment, a second form of authentic assessment, requires students to collect samples of work that demonstrate progress over time. Another common tool used in authentic classrooms is self-assessment which requires learners to regulate their own learning by evaluating their skills and making choices on activities aimed at improving their usage. All three of these forms, can potentially be integrated into your course by using performance tests and self-evaluations as content for your portfolios.

Performance tests can include oral interviews; reports and story retelling; demonstrations and role-plays; written responses to prompts; and teacher observations during tasks. These various types of tests all have a few characteristics in common. First, they involve some type of higher order thinking. They are also meaningful, real-world challenges. Next, the process can provide just as much information about the student as the product. Finally, these tests evaluate the student’s depth of knowledge as well as the breadth of their knowledge.

Here’s what I suggest. Design two tests for a given unit of your course. One test should be a multiple-choice test and the other should be something more authentic. After you administer each, ask your students a few follow-up questions. How useful are the results from either of these tests? Which form of feedback do you think will help you improve more? Then present your findings to your colleagues and administrators. I don’t think your findings will be a shock to anyone.

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