Authentic Assessment

This is an excerpt from Inclusion in Physical by Lauren J. LiebermanC & athy Houston-Wilson.

Researchers have indicated that standardized testing protocols may present challenges in adapted physical education. For example, Block (2016) noted that outcomes from standardized tests have been misused in determining IEP goals and objectives. In addition, some standardized tests do not provide an instructional link to the PE curriculum (Good, 2014), and some items are not functional in relation to PE goals and objectives. For example, although the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency, Second Edition (Bruininks & Bruininks, 2005), is considered a blue-ribbon standardized test for determining the need for special education services (such as adapted physical education), components of this test bear little relation to typical PE curriculum content (e.g., stringing beads [fine motor skill], stopping a falling ruler [reaction time]). Their value should not be minimized, however, because these tasks are used to develop an overall picture of the child’s motor proficiency. Although standardized tests are useful, other forms of assessment need to be used to provide content-specific data. Authentic assessment fills this gap.

Authentic assessment
is an ongoing feedback system that monitors and records student learning and outcomes under authentic conditions. Authentic assessment is conducted in real-life situations, and it gives students opportunities to demonstrate skills, knowledge, and competencies in age-appropriate, functional activities. It is a performance-based approach to testing, which means that students are evaluated on skills that are directly related to outcomes of the program. The results provide unparalleled information about students’ learning and achievement. Many in the teaching field agree that this assessment technique should be infused into the teaching process (Lund & Veal, 2013).

The benefits of authentic assessment include the following:

  • Authentic assessment can be used in the current curriculum.
  • It is created specifically for the goals and objectives of each unit.
  • It can be created in a way that includes every level of ability in the class.
  • Students know what is expected ahead of time.
  • Students are held accountable for their own learning.
  • It is motivating and challenging, and it keeps students interested in learning.

Authentic assessment is a clear, concise, measurable, and motivating way of assessing student learning, improvement, and achievement. Authentic assessment uses tasks that are based on content and situational criteria; as a result, students must rely on higher-level thinking and concept application to complete tasks. In addition, because the assessed skills are directly tied to the curriculum, students are informed in advance and have time to practice the skills. This advance knowledge gives students ownership of the process. They can prepare mentally and physically for testing and thus perform at the highest competency level (Mitchell & Walton-Fisette, 2016). The following sections describe several kinds of authentic assessment.


A rubric is a form of assessment used to measure the attainment of skills, knowledge, or performance against a consistent set of criteria. Rubrics are designed to be explicit, observable, and measurable. Scoring relies heavily on the qualitative aspects of a task and generally assigns a numbering system or checklist that yields quantitative data. In some cases, rubrics may be scored based on the levels of physical assistance students with disabilities need to perform the task.

You can develop rubrics for each unit of instruction, and they can easily be individualized based on the learners and the intended objectives. The rubric can cover a wide range of abilities and accommodate heterogeneous classes by including multiple levels of achievement. Rubrics are also useful in developing a progressive curriculum in which students must attain prerequisite levels of a skill before they move on to more advanced forms of the skill. This process can help ensure the safety of the learners. Rubrics allow students to become more independent learners because they are given the rubric at the start of the unit, which allows them to know what is expected. This system enhances motivation in learning because students strive to reach the highest level possible for each given skill set. Rubrics also promote the use of self-assessment and peer assessment, which encourage students to work together to improve performance.

Rubrics should be created with all students in mind. Every rubric should be universally designed and developed with the heterogeneity of the class in mind. For rubrics, universal design is a process whereby consideration is given to all learners before creating a task rather than having to change something that has already been created. (See chapter 6 for a more thorough explanation of universal design.) Students with the highest and the lowest skills should be able to achieve and improve using the class rubric. In order to do this, there must be small variations between rubric levels and a wide range of options for all students. Figures 2.1 and 2.2 are sample rubrics that are universally designed.

Students with disabilities should be included in a GPE class and assessed on their individual skill levels.
Students with disabilities should be included in a GPE class and assessed on their individual skill levels.

Ecological Task Analysis

Another form of authentic assessment that has been used with students with disabilities is ecological task analysis (ETA) (Horvat, Block, & Kelly, 2007). ETA provides students with choices for executing skills. You set the parameters or objectives, and students make choices on how best to meet the objectives based on their abilities. Some choices from which students choose include equipment, distance, time, with or without a partner, and individually or in a group, to name a few. Teachers observe and maintain data about these behaviors, and use the data to continually challenge students within their comfort levels. The following is an example of ETA for striking a ball:

  1. Present the task goal: striking or propelling a ball.
  2. Provide options such as size, color, and weight of the ball; size and weight of the bat; and use of batting tee, a thrown pitch, or a hanging ball.
  3. Document student choices (e.g., red ball off a tee with Wiffle bat).
  4. Manipulate task variables to further challenge the student (e.g., to a partner, to a location, or change the striking implement).

This system offers several advantages: You learn what movement forms and equipment are most comfortable for the student, the student starts out with success, and you know that the student is being realistically challenged because you set the task goal. There are no right or wrong choices for equipment or execution of performance; however, the type of equipment made available limits the student’s choices (Carson, Bulger, & Townsend, 2007). ETA is used to determine preferences and skill level and is a starting point in deciding how to further challenge the student (Mitchell & Oslin, 2007).

Consider this example that illustrates the concept. Felicia is a middle school student with mild intellectual disability, and her class is participating in a volleyball unit. Felicia is being taught the underhand serve and is given a choice between a beach ball, a volleyball trainer, and a regulation volleyball. She is also given a choice about how far from the net she will be when she serves; tape marks are placed on the floor in 1-foot (0.3-meter) increments from the net to the serving line. She chooses a beach ball and serves from a line located 2 feet (0.6 meters) from the net. Based on these choices, the teacher now knows that Felicia is a beginner. The teacher can further refine Felicia’s skills and slowly work toward using smaller and harder balls until Felicia feels comfortable making an underhand serve from the service line with a regulation volleyball.


A portfolio is a compilation of a student’s best work; as such, it reflects a student’s progress toward physical literacy (Kowalski & Lieberman, 2011; Melograno, 2006). Portfolios are also the most promising method of exhibiting and recording student performances. Because they reflect the outcomes of performance in each domain (psychomotor, cognitive, and affective), they provide a broad overview that gives teachers, parents, and learners a genuine picture of achievement. The visual presentation of student performance can be used as a motivational tool, a method of communication with the family, a means for grading, and a vehicle for program promotion. Portfolios can be used to chart progress in all domains over the course of a unit, a semester, a year, or a period of multiple years (Melograno, 2006). Following are examples of items that can be included in a portfolio:

  • Journals
  • Self-reflections or self-assessments
  • Rubrics, checklists, or rating scales
  • Peer evaluations
  • Fitness, cognitive, or affective tests
  • Articles, article critiques, or collages
  • Videos
  • Skill analyses
  • Game statistics
  • Special individual and group projects
  • Teacher comments
  • Interest surveys

Portfolio entries can be made to reflect progress each day, or specific achievements can be added when they occur. Students can be evaluated on portfolio contents in various ways depending on the age of the student and the content and purpose of the portfolio. If the portfolio is used as an evaluation or grading tool, you can give an objective point or percentage value to contents in each domain to produce a composite score. For example, the portfolio can be divided into sections such as psychomotor, cognitive, affective, and physical fitness. Within each section, point values can be attached to each item. Portfolio scores can then be generated based on the portfolio contents.


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