Authentic assessment has gained a great deal of attention in the educational literature over the last several decades. While originally used as a contrast to external, accountability-based assessments, recent definitions of authentic assessment have emphasized their instructional value as a means of enhancing learning. However, these definitions have not been consistent in terms of the criteria for being an authentic assessment, and in some cases have been contradictory. There has also been a large degree of conceptual overlap introduced, particularly with performance and formative assessment. This has led to a lack of consensus as to how to define authentic assessment independently from other types of assessment.

This entry briefly explores the definitional history and nature of authentic assessment as well as the conceptual relationships with other assessment types found in the literature. These relationships are explored to clarify where there is overlap and where authentic assessment is relatively unique. After considering what is – and what is not – authentic assessment, the following set of criteria is proposed to define and describe authentic assessment as a means of better understanding this important assessment type.

Authentic assessment(s) must:

Be well aligned to, and representative of, important understandings within the intended content domain(s) or standards;

Be situated in a realistic and plausible context, reflecting real-world application of knowledge and skills that exists beyond the classroom;

Involve a relatively complex problem that requires extended or creative thinking and analysis;

Present open-ended situations that allow for multiple strategies and solution possibilities;

Require communicated reasoning, evidence, and/or justification – not just a simple answer;

Include scoring that considers and balances all critical facets of the task expectations including, but not limited to, the content domain(s) and standards, demonstrated reasoning and/or justification, and written or oral communication.