Andrew Miller

Creating Rigorous and Relevant Assessments with Authentic Intellectual Work

When we ask students to do, perform, and produce, we must ensure that these tasks or assessments demand rigor and relevance. But let's be honest, sometimes these words are thrown around as buzz words in education or are difficult to truly internalize as teachers when we are design assessments. What does it look like to ask students to do rigorous work? What does an assessment that has relevance look like? I can make my own assumptions, but how do I know if my assumptions are truly asking for depth of rigor and relevance?

I truly believe that one of the invaluable resources and professional development I received in my years as a classroom teacher was around Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW). I was able to take AIW and apply it to the many teaching practices and pedagogy that I was using, from project-based learning to Understanding by Design® methods. AIW focuses on authentic pedagogy and student work.

When developing AIW assessments that are rigorous and relevant, think about

  • Construction of KnowledgeThe assessment should demand that students are doing higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) like synthesis and evaluation. A lower rating in this area would simply be asking students to reproduce. This is pitfall of some performance assessments; reproducing in a new genre. When we ask students to construct knowledge, is the assessment asking for these HOTS?
  • Elaborated CommunicationThe assessment should show a deep understanding of the content being explored, and the assessment must explicitly demand it. There should be evidence, which usually requires a complex purpose like persuasion and analysis. Instead of multiple choice, or short answer, ask your students to communicate, which you can choose from a variety of forms and genres, and make sure that there are summaries, examples, samples, and other important pieces of evidence that show deep understanding of the concepts you want them to learn.
  • Value Beyond SchoolThis is probably the most obvious and most important part of creating a good assessment. Yet, it remains a bit difficult to quantify and measure a good assessment that shows value beyond school. AIW frames it this way: Does the assessment demand students to solve a problem or encounter an issue that resembles one in real life? Does the assessment demand students to make explicit connections to their own feelings and situations? A lower score here might only provide opportunity to explore the real-world connections or provide little opportunity at all. Again, the assessment creates an imperative connection to the real world and values of students' experiences.

Notice that all these components require explicit direction from the teacher. If you were to hold up the rubric and assessment by itself, it needs to meet the components of AIW. This isn't about supposition or assumption; it is about transparency with students. Learn more about AIW and peruse resources, including a 2007 publication relating the framework to authentic instruction and assessment (PDF), by visiting the Center for AIW website. The center also offers rubrics pertaining to specific disciplines, including science, literature, math, and social studies.


Andrew K. Miller is an educator and consultant. He is a National Faculty member for ASCD and the Buck Institute for Education. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.

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