Authentic Assessments

I teach a workshop on “How to Create Fair, Valid and Reliable Tests.” The workshop focuses primarily on classic (usually multiple choice) knowledge-based exams. Since many of our clients use the Intela platform for sales training, most of them deliver two types of assessments: knowledge-based assessments to ensure content mastery and skills-based assessments to test selling skills. Many understand that this is an artificial separation and that content mastery is only meaningful if it can be employed within the selling process.

But is there a way to test both at the same time? It turns out there is: Authentic Assessments. Authentic Assessments require the learner to demonstrate acquired knowledge within the performance of a relevant task (in this case selling).

The Authentic Assessment movement came from the world of education, specifically in reaction to the proliferation of standardized tests. It has now begun to spread to the corporate world. And it makes sense: It’s all well and good that our learners can answer objective fact-based questions, but can they answer them within the context of their jobs? Can they demonstrate that they can apply what they know?

The traditional approach to testing goes something like this:

  • The training department’s mission is to provide employees with the body of knowledge and skills necessary to perform their jobs.
  • To determine if the employees have acquired this body of knowledge and skills, the training department tests them on each.

The Authentic Assessment approach goes something like this:

  • The training department’s mission is to provide employees with the body of knowledge and skills necessary to perform their jobs.
  • To determine if the employees have acquired this body of knowledge and skills, the training department asks employees to use their knowledge to perform the real-world tasks they will encounter in the course of doing their jobs.

So, an Authentic Assessment combines the classic knowledge-based assessment with a classic role play. It looks like a role play but puts more emphasis on factual questions asked within context. The scoring rubrics for the role play are changed to account for scoring on the knowledge-based interactions as well as the skills, and passing requires a passing score on both rubrics. And there is more inquiry on the part of the trainer. When a test taker answers a question on a standard objective test we don’t exactly know why he/she responded in that way. But in a live Authentic Assessment we can ask. We can probe; we can make the learner justify his or her response. Was it a lucky guess? A tentative response? Or can the learner justify his or her answer with confidence?

So why aren’t Authentic Assessments used more frequently? The answer is usually one of practicality. As you can guess, creating and scoring an Authentic Assessment is time consuming. It’s much easier to write 25 multiple choice items and then do a standard role play than try to create meaningful and score-able assessments that combine both.

In my assessment workshop, I am often asked if it is possible to write standard multiple-choice questions that test at a higher level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The answer is yes, but it’s really hard. But by combining knowledge with application and analysis, Authentic Assessments provide a method for doing just that.

Authentic Assessments provide a better evidence of knowing than standard knowledge-based assessments.

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