Authentic Assessment Toolbox
created by Jon Mueller

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











Step 3: Identify the Criteria for the Task

Examples of Criteria

Characteristics of a Good Criterion

How Many Criteria do you Need for a Task?

Time for a Quiz!


Criteria: Indicators of good performance on a task

In Step 1, you identified what you want your students to know and be able to do. In Step 2, you selected a task (or tasks) students would perform or produce to demonstrate that they have met the standard from Step 1. For Step 3, you want to ask "What does good performance on this task look like?" or "How will I know they have done a good job on this task?" In answering those questions you will be identifying the criteria for good performance on that task. You will use those criteria to evaluate how well students completed the task and, thus, how well they have met the standard or standards.



Example 1: Here is a standard from the Special Education collection of examples:

The student will conduct banking transactions.

The authentic task this teacher assigned to students to assess the standard was totop

make deposits, withdrawals or cash checks at a bank.

To identify the criteria for good performance on this task, the teacher asked herself "what would good performance on this task look like?" She came up with seven essential characteristics for successful completion of the task:

  • Selects needed form (deposit, withdrawal)
  • Fills in form with necessary information
  • Endorses check
  • Locates open teller
  • States type of transaction
  • Counts money to be deposited to teller
  • Puts money received in wallet

If students meet these criteria then they have performed well on the task and, thus, have met the standard or, at least, provided some evidence of meeting the standard.

Example 2: This comes from the Mathematics collection. There were six standards addressed to some degree by this authentic task. The standards are: Students will be able to

  • measure quantities using appropriate units, instruments, and methods;
  • setup and solve proportions;
  • develop scale models;
  • estimate amounts and determine levels of accuracy needed;
  • organize materials;
  • explain their thought process.

The authentic task used to assess these standards in a geometry class was the following:

Rearrange the Room

You want to rearrange the furniture in some room in your house, but your parents do not think it would be a good idea. To help persuade your parents to rearrange the furniture you are going to make a two dimensional scale model of what the room would ultimately look like.

1) You first need to measure the dimensions of the floor space in the room you want to rearrange, including the location and dimensions of all doors and windows. You also need to measure the amount of floor space occupied by each item of furniture in the room. These dimensions should all be explicitly listed.
2) Then use the given proportion to find the scale dimensions of the room and all the items.
3) Next you will make a scale blueprint of the room labeling where all windows and doors are on poster paper.
4) You will also make scale drawings of each piece of furniture on a cardboard sheet of paper, and these models need to be cut out.
5) Then you will arrange the model furniture where you want it on your blueprint, and tape them down.
6) You will finally write a brief explanation of why you believe the furniture should be arranged the way it is in your model.

Your models and explanations will be posted in the room and the class will vote on which setup is the best.

Finally, the criteria which the teacher identified as indicators of good performance on the Rearrange the Room task were:top

  • accuracy of calculations;
  • accuracy of measurements on the scale model;
  • labels on the scale model;
  • organization of calculations;
  • neatness of drawings;
  • clear explanations.

(But how well does a student have to perform on each of these criteria to do well on the task? We will address that question in Step 4: Create the Rubric.)

You may have noticed in the second example that some of the standards and some of the criteria sounded quite similar. For example, one standard said students will be able to develop scale models, and two of the criteria were accurary of measurements on the scale model and labels on the scale model. Is this redundant? No, it means that your criteria are aligned with your standards. You are actually measuring on the task what you said you valued in your standards.


Characteristics of a Good Criterion

So, what does a good criterion (singular of criteria) look like? It should be

  • a clearly stated;
  • brief;
  • observable;
  • statement of behavior;
  • written in language students understand.

Additionally, make sure each criterion is distinct. Although the criteria for a single task will understandably be related to one another, there should not be too much overlap between them. Are you really looking for different aspects of performance on the task with the different criteria, or does one criterion simply rephrase another one? For example, the following criteria might be describing the same behavior depending on what you are looking for:

  • interpret the data
  • draw a conclusion from the data

Another overlap occurs when one criterion is actually a subset of another criterion. For example, the first criterion below probably subsumes the second:top

  • presenter keeps the audience's attention
  • presenter makes eye contact with the audience

Like standards, criteria should be shared with students before they begin a task so they know the teacher's expectations and have a clearer sense of what good performance should look like. Some teachers go further and involve the students in identifying appropriate criteria for a task. The teacher might ask the students "What characteristics does a good paper have?" or "What should I see in a good scale model?" or "How will I (or anyone) know you have done a good job on this task?"


How Many Criteria do you Need for a Task?

Of course, I am not going to give you an easy answer to that question because there is not one. But, I can recommend some guidelines.

  • Limit the number of criteria; keep it to the essential elements of the task. This is a guideline, not a rule. On a major, complex task you might choose to have 50 different attributes you are looking for in a good performance. That's fine. But, generally, assessment will be more feasible and meaningful if you focus on the important characteristics of the task. Typically, you will have fewer than 10 criteria for a task, and many times it might be as few as three or four.
  • You do not have to assess everything on every task. For example, you might value correct grammar and spelling in all writing assignments, but you do not have to look for those criteria in every assignment. You have made it clear to your students that you expect good grammar and spelling in every piece of writing, but you only check for it in some of them. That way, you are assessing those characteristics in the students' writing and you are sending the message that you value those elements, but you do not take the time of grading them on every assignment.
  • Smaller, less significant tasks typically require fewer criteria. For short homework or in-class assignments you might only need a quick check on the students' work. Two or three criteria might be sufficient to judge the understanding or application you were after in that task. Less significant tasks require less precision in your assessment than larger, more comprehensive tasks that are designed to assess significant progress toward multiple standards.

Ask. Ask yourself; you have to apply the criteria. Do they make sense to you? Can you distinguish one from another? Can you envision examples of each? Are they all worth assessing?

Ask your students. Do they make sense to them? Do they understand their relationship to the task? Do they know how they would use the criteria to begin their work? To check their work?

Ask your colleagues. Ask those who give similar assignments. Ask others who are unfamiliar with the subject matter to get a different perspective if you like.

If you have assigned a certain task before, review previous student work. Do these criteria capture the elements of what you considered good work? Are you missing anything essential?top


Time for a Quiz!

Do you think you could write a good criterion now? Do you think you would know a good one when you saw one? Let's give you a couple small tasks:

Task 1: Write three criteria for a good employee at a fast-food restaurant. (There would likely be more than three, but as a simple check I do not need to ask for more than three. Assessments should be meaningful and manageable!)

Task 2: I have written three criteria for a good employee below. I intentionally wrote two clear criteria (I hope) and one vague one. Can you find the vague one among the three? Are the other two good criteria? (Yes, I wrote them so of course I think they are good criteria. But I will let you challenge my authority just this once :-)

  • the employee is courteous
  • the employee arrives on time
  • the employee follows the sanitary guidelines

What do you think? In my opinion, the first criterion is vague and the latter two are good criteria. Of course, evaluating criteria is a subjective process, particularly for those you wrote yourself. So, before I explain my rationale I would reiterate the advice above of checking your criteria with others to get another opinion.

To me, the statement "the employee is courteous" is too vague. Courteous could mean a lot of different things and could mean very different things to different people. I would think the employer would want to define the behavior more specifically and with more clearly observable language. For example, an employer might prefer:

  • the employee greets customers in a friendly manner

That is a more observable statement, but is that all there is to being courteous? It depends on what you want. If that is what the employer means by courteous then that is sufficient. Or, the employer might prefer:

  • the employee greets customers in a friendly manner and promptly and pleasantly responds to their requests

"Is that one or two criteria?" It depends on how detailed you want to be. If the employer wants a more detailed set of criteria he/she can spell out each behavior as a separate criterion. Or, he/she might want to keep "courteous" as a single characteristic to look for but define it as two behaviors in the criterion. There is a great deal of flexibility in the number and specificity of criteria. There are few hard and fast rules in any aspect of assessment development. You need to make sure the assessment fits your needs. An employer who wants a quick and dirty check on behavior will create a much different set of criteria than one who wants a detailed

The second criterion above, the employee arrives on time, is sufficiently clear. It cannot obviously name a specific time for arriving because that will change. But if the employer has identified the specific time that an employee should arrive then "arrive on time" is very clear. Similarly, if the employer has made clear the sanitary guidelines, then it should be clear to the employees what it means to "follow the guidelines."

"Could I include some of that additional detail in my criteria or would it be too wordy?" That is up to you. However, criteria are more communicable and manageable if they are brief. The employer could include some of the definition of courteous in the criterion statement such as

  • the employee is courteous (i.e., the employee greets customers in a friendly manner and promptly and pleasantly responds to their requests)

However, it is easier to state the criterion as "the employee is courteous" while explaining to the employees exactly what behaviors that entails. Whenever the employer wants to talk about this criterion with his/her employees he can do it more simply with this brief statement. We will also see how rubrics are more manageable (coming up in Step 4) if the criteria are brief.

"Can I have sub-criteria in which I break a criterion into several parts and assess each part separately?" Yes, although that might be a matter of semantics. Each "sub-criterion" could be called a separate criterion. But I will talk about how to handle that in the next section "Step 4: Create the Rubric."

Step 1: Identify the Standards

Step 2: Select an Authentic Task

Step 3: Identify the Criteria for the Task

Step 4: Create the Rubric



Home | What is it? | Why do it? | How do you do it? | Standards | Tasks | Rubrics| Examples | Glossary

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