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Exploring students’ progress with authentic assessments

The work that goes into a complete assignment means that most students spend weeks perfecting the final essay or project, taking it from the initial draft to their polished final version.

After putting in hours of work, students submit the assignment and wait to see what grade they receive. When instructors hand back the students’ papers, they often skip right over the paper’s comments to see their grade.

This focus on a letter or percentage grade is a hallmark of traditional grading or standardized assessment. The majority of North American schools have been using traditional grading for decades since it’s easier for teachers and more straightforward for students to understand.

However, with distance learning, many teachers and educators are starting to explore different grading and assessment types and how these approaches can benefit students.

One new type of assessment is authentic assessment, also called comprehensive or performance assessment. This progressive assessment allows teachers to offer feedback and direction every step of the way, based on tasks like submitting drafts, participating in class, and even attending classes.

Grading students using traditional assessment

Most of us are familiar with traditional assessment, which uses letter and percentage grades to evaluate students’ understanding of the learning material. Typical forms of traditional assessment include multiple-choice tests or any graded assignment based on a standardized rubric.

We based traditional assessment on the idea that students must obtain a baseline of knowledge before graduation. Since this knowledge is mandatory, it has become the norm to test students on their ability to successfully repeat and recall this knowledge during a test, essay, or other projects.

Critics of traditional assessment note that this type of evaluation only tests knowledge rather than evaluating proficiency in skills, such as literary analysis, writing, and critical thinking. As we take this time to consider how and why we assess students’ learning, it makes sense to evolve beyond letter grades and competition. How can we do better for our students?

The benefits of authentic assessment during distance learning

In contrast with the traditional model, authentic assessment offers teachers the opportunity to grade students based on their progress and how much they’ve learned. Instead of using a roster of standardized assessments like multiple-choice tests or quizzes, well-designed authentic assessments match the instruction’s content. They also give students valuable feedback on how well they understand the information, identifying areas that require further study.

A common authentic assessment is a working assignment, which usually takes the form of an essay or presentation. It offers students the opportunity to receive feedback at every stage to see where they went wrong and course-correct before they hand in the final assignment. A working assignment helps them achieve their full potential, rather than measuring their ability to succeed without any interventions whatsoever.

This grading method also helps reduce pressure on the student’s final grade since their overall grade is based on every task they do during the semester, rather than a limited selection of assignments. When students experience anxiety and depression at record levels, this is a rare opportunity for meaningful COVID stress relief.

Explore a new way of grading students with authentic assessment

Many educators who have used traditional assessment throughout their career may feel intimidated by the prospect of switching to an entirely new method of grading. Remote teaching has already been a challenge, without adding more new skills to be learned.

Fortunately, there are ways to balance new forms of authentic assessment with traditional grading in your classroom. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Introduce new types of authentic assessment

    The majority of educators have already had to adapt and change assignments to ensure they’re compatible with distance learning.

    Instead of adapting traditional forms of assignments like quizzes and tests, try introducing new authentic assessment types into your classroom. These assignments can be anything from one-on-one discussions to tasks that demonstrate their proficiency, like presentations or demonstrations.

  2. Encourage student-structured assignments

    A key component of authentic assessment is the transition from educator-structured assignments to student-structured assignments. Instead of giving students a narrow set of parameters to structure their assignment, encourage them to think creatively and develop a unique way to demonstrate their understanding.

    This deepens their engagement in the assignment, and forces them to think of new and creative ways to present their knowledge.

  3. Ask for your students’ input on the rubric

    A rubric created by an instructor is a valuable tool for students to track requirements on an assessment and demonstrate applicable levels of comprehension on multiple learning outcomes.

    Instructors can deepen student engagement by involving them in creating the evaluation rubric for key assignments throughout the semester. This gives students an in-depth understanding of what is required for them to achieve the highest grade. Students participating in establishing the grading criteria ahead of time also help create a more democratic classroom environment and ensure they’re more engaged in the process.

Explore new types of grading with Crowdmark

Ultimately, grading should encourage a student’s engagement with the subject material by showing them where there’s room for improvement. This can be hard to achieve with traditional grading, especially if you only have a limited number of assignments that count towards your students’ final grades.

Instead of relying on traditional grading, take the opportunity created by remote education to explore new types of assessment. It’s easy when you have a flexible grading tool like Crowdmark.

Our electronic grading platform makes it easy to create new rubrics and evaluate your students based on completed assignments and intermediary tasks like submitting drafts.

Try it out today with a free trial to see how well it works in your classroom.