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Authentic Assessment and Remote Learning

By Dr. Jason Trumble & Dr. Debbie Dailey

Recently a high school English teacher asked one of us if open-note assessments in a remote learning class would be considered authentic. This led us to reconsider what authenticity in classroom assessment looks like for remote learning. 

What is Assessment?

Classroom assessments, either delivered virtually or in-person, are used to measure the progress of the students and inform instruction, and evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction and inform needed changes to the content or delivery. What does authentic mean in terms of classroom assessment? James McMillian defines authentic assessments as, “the direct examination of a student’s ability to use knowledge to perform a task that is like what is encountered in real life or in the real world” (Mcmillian, 2018, p.268). Typically, authentic assessments are formative and performance-based and require students to use knowledge and skills to perform a realistic task. 

What is Authentic Assessment for Remote Learners?

If you ask students the purpose of assessment, they will most likely tell you it is for a grade or to see if they have been paying attention in class. Students may view assessments as a "got-ya" or a punishment of some sort, and parents often perceive assessments as final measures as opposed to progress measures.  This is true even at the collegiate level. How learners perceive the assessment lends to the authenticity. 

Authenticity in assessment stems from connections. Connections between the student and the content. Connections between the student and the teacher. Connections between the content and real-life. Connections between student learning and expectations of learning. Connections between information and action. Connections between expectations and performance. Because these connections exist when we think about assessment we must define the purpose of the assessments we give our students. 

We were working with a group of high school teachers this summer focused on transitioning to online teaching and assessment. Their biggest concern was the control over tests and assessments. They worried that  students would cheat on exams that are administered remotely. The fact is, there is no perfect way to keep kids from cheating when assessing remotely. Even with lockdown browsers, students are able to cheat using secondary devices. As one person said, "I can't stop them from googling on the phone when I'm remote." This is why authenticity and measuring performance is so important.

Here are a few tricks for assessing students in online environments that can help you. One trick is to do a modified oral exam. Oral exams are actually popular in European high schools as part of comprehensive exams. Through a tool like Flipgrid, you can have students explain their process, thinking, and problem solving as part of an exam. You can watch students complete drawn computations through Classkick and Nearpod, although these aren’t perfect they can help you manage students

Designing for Authenticity in Remote Classes

Designing authentic performance assessments can be daunting. It takes consideration of the goals and skills we are measuring within the contexts of the classroom experience. It also focuses on the task and the action. The gathering of data is essential to our practice of meeting the goals of learning experiences. We do this by reading, listening to, and observing students. We use pedagogical tools like dipsticks, digital writing, elevator pitches, square/triangle/circle, art, peer evaluations, and virtual exit tickets to gather formative data in the remote classroom. Through all these things, we listen to students, we observe students as they practice new skills and work together to solve problems. 

Even in remote classrooms, we still ask questions central to the assessment process. Questions like:

  • How does the assessment match the objective or learning target?

  • Will the results of this assessment inform me of the progress the students are making toward the objective or goal of the lesson/unit?? 

  • Will the results give me enough information to redirect my instruction as needed to remediate, continue, challenge, or enrich my students’ content knowledge and skills?

Instead of thinking of the assessment as a single event, we can change our thinking toward ongoing assessments. Find times for students to perform their understanding more than at one specific time. Connect those performances to the real world. Ask questions, read the chat and student creations, listen to the breakout room conversations and asynchronous videos, and observe student actions all the time as you teach. 

Authentic performance assessments take these questions and connect them to actions. The design of assessments becomes the foundation of varied experiences.The structure of your assessment in a virtual environment needs to be based on real-world applications as opposed to factual recall, this is not to imply that recall is not important. We all know that students have to start at the bottom before climbing Bloom’s mountain. The fear of cheating can be high but for middle and high schoolers, when an assessment is focused on performance, cheating is rare because the evidence is authentic and original to the learner.

If we are assessing a student's ability to use correct conventions and grammar structures in writing, we may present students with a passage or paragraph and ask them to insert the punctuation and edit sentences that are incorrect. With this example, students are applying the English conventions that we've already taught, so having notes written rules of those conventions does not provide the answers. It is all about the application of the rules, and as the teacher, we can observe/read where students struggle to apply the rules. 

Traditional literature exams focus on the lower level of Bloom’s taxonomy. Open book/open note tests tend to help students succeed at these levels because there is a direct relationship between the book and the possible answers. It is when you do what you mentioned, ask students to think critically or move up Bloom’s taxonomy, that the book/notes become a reference to the critical thinking process.  

While writing this article, we have, at our fingertips, resources that we can use and assimilate through our phones, tablets, and computers. If we are authentically replicating real-life in our classrooms, we must consider what real-life looks like and connect content and skills to the real-life discipline. So are open-note tests ok? Yes, they are ok. In fact we suggest as you write your next lesson plan you use all the materials available to you to support your teaching success.

Jason Trumble is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Central Arkansas. Jason has been an educator since 2004 and is currently the program coordinator for UCA’s Ed.S in Digital Age Teaching and Learning.  He is a board member of the Arkansas Society for Technology in Education, and he serves on the Teacher Education Council for the Society for Information Technology in Teacher Education. Jason is an ISTE Certified Educator who is passionate about serving students.

Debbie Dailey is an Associate Professor of Education and the Chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Arkansas. Debbie serves as treasurer for her state gifted association (Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education), Chair of the STEM network at NAGC, and President-Elect for CEC-TAG. Debbie has authored and co-authored multiple journal articles, books, book chapters, and products focused on K-12 STEM and gifted education. 

Dr. Trumble's Twitter: @proftrumble

Dr. Dailey's Twitter: @Daileyprof