Authentic assessment refers to assessment tasks that resemble reading and writing in the real world and in school (Hiebert, Valencia & Afflerbach, 1994; Wiggins, 1993). Its aim is to assess many different kinds of literacy abilities in contexts that closely resemble actual situations in which those abilities are used. For example, authentic assessments ask students to read real texts, to write for authentic purposes about meaningful topics, and to participate in authentic literacy tasks such as discussing books, keeping journals, writing letters, and revising a piece of writing until it works for the reader. Both the material and the assessment tasks look as natural as possible. Furthermore, authentic assessment values the thinking behind work, the process, as much as the finished product (Pearson & Valencia, 1987; Wiggins, 1989; Wolf, 1989).
(A comment from Jeff: this last sentence really resonates with me, as I have always believed that the journey is just as important as the destination when it comes to learning. We need to strike a balance between the two, if we are going to authentically assess our students.)
Working on authentic tasks is a useful, engaging activity in itself; it becomes an "episode of learning" for the student (Wolf, 1989). From the teacher's perspective, teaching to such tasks guarantees that we are concentrating on worthwhile skills and strategies (Wiggins, 1989). Students are learning and practicing how to apply important knowledge and skills for authentic purposes. They should not simply recall information or circle isolated vowel sounds in words; they should apply what they know to new tasks. For example, consider the difference between asking students to identify all the metaphors in a story and asking them to discuss why the author used particular metaphors and what effect they had on the story. In the latter case, students must put their knowledge and skills to work just as they might do naturally in or out of school.
Goals of Authentic Assessment are discussed in the article Incorporating Authentic Assessment from Park University. Here is an excerpt:
Goals of Authentic Assessment:
- Enhance the development of real-world skills
- Encourage higher order cognitive skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation)
- Promote active construction of creative, novel ideas and responses
- Encourage emphasis on both the process and product of learning
- Promote the integration of a variety of related skills into a holistic project
- Enhance students' ability to self-assess their own work and performance
Although it doesn't specifically mention integrating the arts, it doesn't take too much effort to see how one could use those ideas with authentic assessment.