Authentic Assessment Toolbox
created by Jon Mueller

What is Authentic Assessment? Why Do It? How Do You Do It?

Mueller's* Glossary
of Authentic Assessment Terms

* I have tried to present definitions below that are consistent with the common use of these terms.  However, because some terms do not have commonly agreed upon definitions and because, in a few cases, I think certain definitions make more sense, I am calling this Mueller's Glossary.   Use at your own risk.

Analytic Rubric: An analytic rubric articulates levels of performance for each criterion so the teacher can assess student performance on each criterion. (For examples and a fuller discussion, go to Rubrics.)

Authentic Assessment:  A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.  Student performance on a task is typically scored on a rubric to determine how successfully the student has met specific standards.

Some educators choose to distinguish between authentic assessment and performance assessment.  For these educators, performance assessment meets the above definition except that the tasks do not reflect real-world (authentic) challenges.  If we are going to ask students to construct knowledge on assessments, then virtually all such tasks should be authentic in nature or they lose some relevance to the students.  Thus, for me, this distinction between performance and authentic assessments becomes insignificant and unnecessary.   Consequently, I use authentic assessment and performance assessment synonymously.   (For a fuller discussion of the different terms used to describe this form of assessment and its distinction from "traditional" or forced-choice assessment, go to What is Authentic Assessment?)

Authentic Task:  An assignment given to students designed to assess their ability to apply standards-driven knowledge and skills to real-world challenges. A task is considered authentic when 1) students are asked to construct their own responses rather than to select from ones presented; and 2) the task replicates challenges faced in the real world.  Good performance on the task should demonstrate, or partly demonstrate, successful completion of one or more standards.  The term task is often used synonymously with the term assessment in the field of authentic assessment.  (For a fuller description of authentic tasks and for examples, go to Authentic Tasks.)top

Content Standards: Statements that describe what students should know or be able to do within the content of a specific discipline or at the intersection of two or more disciplines (e.g., students will describe effects of physical activity on the body). Contrast with Process Standards and Value Standards.

Criteria:   Characteristics of good performance on a particular task.  For example, criteria for a persuasive essay might include well organized, clearly stated, and sufficient support for arguments.  (The singular of criteria is criterion.   For a fuller description of criteria and for examples, go to Identifying the Criteria for the Task.)

Descriptors: Statements of expected performance at each level of performance for a particular criterion in a rubric - typically found in analytic rubrics. See example and further discussion of descriptors.

Distractors: The incorrect alternatives or choices in a selected response item. (For more see terminology for multiple-choice items.)

Goal:  In the field of student assessment, a goal is a very broad statement of what students should know or be able to do.  Unlike a standard or an objective, a goal is often not written in language that is amenable to assessment.  Rather, the purpose for crafting a set of goals typically is to give a brief and broad picture of what a school, district, state, etc. expects its students will know and be able to do upon graduation.  (For a fuller description of the distinction between these types of statements and for examples of each, go to Standards.)

Holistic Rubric: In contrast to an analytic rubric, a holistic rubric does not list separate levels of performance for each criterion. Instead, a holistic rubric assigns a level of performance by assessing performance across multiple criteria as a whole. (For examples and a fuller discussion, go to Rubrics.)

Objective:  Much like a goal or standard, an objective is a statement of what students should know and be able to do.  Typically, an objective is the most narrow of these statements, usually describing what a student should know or be able to do at the end of a specific lesson plan.  Like a standard, an objective is amenable to assessment, that is, it is observable and measurable.  (For a fuller description of the distinction between these types of goal statements and for examples of each, go to Standards.)top

Outcome:  See Standard. Preceding the current standards-based movement was a drive for outcome-based education. The term standard has replaced the term outcome with much the same meaning.

Performance Assessment:  See Authentic Assessment above.  I use these terms synonymously.

Portfolio: A collection of a student's work specifically selected to tell a particular story about the student. See Portfolios for more details.

Process Standards: Statements that describe skills students should develop to enhance the process of learning. Process standards are not specific to a particular discipline, but are generic skills that are applicable to any discipline (e.g., students will find and evaluate relevant information). Contrast with Content Standards and Value Standards.

Reliability: The degree to which a measure yields consistent results.

Rubric:  A scoring scale used to evaluate student work.  A rubric is composed of at least two criteria by which student work is to be judged on a particular task and at least two levels of performance for each criterion.  (For a fuller description of rubrics, their different variations, and to see examples, go to Rubrics. Also, see Analytic Rubrics; Holistic Rubrics.)

Standard:  Much like a goal or objective, a standard is a statement of what students should know or be able to do.  I distinguish between a standard and these other goal statements by indicating that a standard is broader than an objective, but more narrow than a goal.   Like an objective and unlike a goal, a standard is amenable to assessment, that is, it is observable and measurable.  (For a fuller description of the distinction between these types of goal statements and for examples of each, click standards. Also, see Content Standards; Process Standards; Value Standards.)

(Actually, I prefer the way we previously used the term standard: "A description of what a student is expected to attain in order to meet a specified educational intent (such as a learning outcome or objective).  The description may be qualitative and/or quantitative and may vary in level of specificity, depending on its purpose" (Assessment Handbook, Illinois State Board of Education, 1995). In other words, an outcome would describe what students should know and be able to do, and the standard described the particular level of accomplishment on that outcome that you expected most students to meet. That was your standard. We no longer commonly use that definition of standard in assessment.)

Stem: A question or statement followed by a number of choices or alternatives that answer or complete the question or statement. (Stems are most commonly found in multiple-choice questions. See terminology for multiple-choice items.)

Validity: "The degree to which a certain inference from a test is appropriate and meaningful" (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1985). For example, if I measure the circumference of your head to determine your level of intelligence, my measurement might be accurate. However, it would be inappropriate for me to draw a conclusion about your level of intelligence. Such an inference would be invalid.


Value Standards: Statements that describe attitudes teachers would like students to develop towards learning (e.g., students will value diversity of opinions or perspectives). Contrast with Content Standards and Process Standards.



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Copyright 2018, Jon Mueller. Professor of Psychology, North Central College, Naperville, IL. Comments, questions or suggestions about this website should be sent to the author, Jon Mueller, at