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Authentic Assessment

Brie Stark's picture
Authentic Assessment in Inquiry-Based Education

Brielle Stark, 2009


Inquiry-based education helps to encourage thinking outside of the box by participating in discussion -- by questioning, doubting, critiquing and agreeing to form hybridized new ideas.  It is important that all the players be involved in the discussion, because in inquiry-based education, the discussion/development of new ideas is the key part of learning.  The conclusion is secondary to the discussion, because, in inquiry-based education, the conclusion is subjective to the hybridized story of the participants.  That way, the stories (example: conclusion made by one class) are liable to change as the students in the classes change.

Inquiry-based education seems like an ideal way to encourage asking question and furthering lifelong learning.  However, we come to a simple obstacle: how do teachers assess students in inquiry-based learning?  When a teacher encourages the student to discuss various ideas in class, they are welcoming a safe place for idea generation from everyone.  However, the assessments that we currently possess are not welcoming to inquiry-based education and often ruin the 'safe place' atmosphere.  These assessments stress that there is one 'truth' or one 'answer' to a question and tend to disregard the hybridized answers that the students created.

So, how do we morph our traditional assessments to foster inquiry-based learning?  How do we create assessments that are applicable to even larger class sizes that still encourage inquiry? 

Assessment Considerations

What is the purpose(s) for assessment?
  An Assessment should generate a discussion between student and teacher, should reflect on the student's progress throughout the course, should give student constructive measures for improvement, should not be conclusive and an 'end all be all,' should inform the teacher of the student's progress and should allow the teacher to improve their own instruction in the class.

How can students make their progress known to the teacher?
  Students must take their own time to self-reflect and create their own portfolios which display their progress.  An assessment should not be to the sole discretion of the teacher.  An assessment should take into account what the student believes their progress to be and what the teacher has observed.  In many cases, peer reviews can also be helpful in assessing a student.


On this page, I have aimed to discuss several ideas I have found in various places to help create more inquiry-fostering assessments for teachers. 


Types of Assessments [University of Illinois]

Types and Examples of Assessments [Just Science Now]

Example Inquiry Assessment Rubric

Assessing Every Part

Inquiry Education at University of Illinois


  • Portfolios serves as a collection of information by and about a student that provides a broad perspective of the student's achievement.  A portfolio could contain samples of inquiry-based projects, laboratories, journal entries and other class activities.  A portfolio could be included in an inquiry-molded assessment rubric, and could also be used to develop a connection between student and teacher and student and parent.  A portfolio could also encourage student reflection, which is a key to inquiry-based learning.
  • Profile: a collection of ratings, descriptions, and summary judgments by teachers and sometimes by the student and others to provide a broad perspective of the student's achievement.  A profile could ideally take the place of a normal interim-report or grade-report.  It may document academic achievement, nonacademic achievement, or both. A profile differs from a portfolio in not including samples of student work.
  • Performance Task: a task, a problem, or question that requires students to construct (rather than select) responses and may also require them to devise and revise strategies, organize data, identify patterns, formulate models and generalizations, evaluate partial and tentative solutions, and justify their answers. 
  • Project: a specialized, often interdisciplinary inquiry devised and undertaken by a student or group of students. Project work results in personalized (and perhaps new) knowledge, subtle skills, and professional-like motivation and habits.
  • Demonstration (or Exhibition) of Mastery: often a formal, more or less, public performance of student competence and skill that provides an opportunity for a summative assessment. Demonstrations may also be formative, ongoing, informal, and embedded in curricula and everyday practice.
  • Discourse Assessment: evaluation of what a student tells about what he/she knows. Typically with talking with an assessor, the student illustrates what he/she has learned, offering evidence of critical thinking or problem-solving by producing narratives, arguments, explanations, interpretations, or analyses. The assessor listens and probes for evidence of achievement, such as responses that synthesize relevant information and apply it to a new situation. This is similar to Think Aloud Protocols & Interviews (Informal & Formal/Structured) where a student performs a problem or activity and answer questions about it.
  • Holistic rubrics: The holistic rubric provides global descriptions of different levels of performance. A holistic rubric emphasizes less the specific criteria for achievement, and emphasizes more the overall quality or performance.
  • Student-Kept Records are when the student records feelings and interests in a notebook that is eventually shared with the teacher.  This helps foster self-assessment and can be used in this way, such as How did you do? How would you describe your learning? What would you have done differently? Student-Kept Records involve reflection and promote meta-cognition because they reflect formatively and summatively.  Peer-Appraisal can be a part of this method, if the appraisal provides an opportunity for descriptive assessment.


Just Science Now


Just Science Now provides a great way of analyzing inquiry in terms of concepts and processes, as displayed in the table above.  It is necessary to implement all three of these concepts in order to have a successful inquiry-based classroom.  How, then, can we assess the concepts and processes listed above?  Just Science Now provides some useful ideas:

Types of Assessment

There are three types of assessment. These are diagnostic, formative, and summative.

 Diagnostic assessment provides a way for teachers to chart a course of action, or map out a route, using existing knowledge to build upon. It also allows for identification of gaps or misconceptions in prior learning. These assessments are used to gather information about what students already know and are able to do. Examples could include portfolios, projects, demonstrations, graphic organizers and journal entries.

Formative assessments occur throughout the learning process. They provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate attainment of identified targeted goals without concerns about grading. Formative assessments should vary to accommodate students' abilities to demonstrate knowledge.  Examples could include demonstrations, discourse assessment, student-kept records, conferences, observations, question and answer sessions, first drafts, debates and journals.  Formative assessment provides ongoing direction for improvement and/or adjustment in learning and instruction. It is non-graded and considered low-stakes. An important element of formative assessment is feedback. Feedback makes the biggest impact when it occurs during the learning process.

Summative assessment is a high-stakes type of assessment for the purpose of making final judgments about student achievement and instructional effectiveness.  By the time summative assessment occurs, students have typically exited the learning mode. Summative assessment forms an end point that sums up the performance or learning level of achievement.  The evaluation of summative assessments provides a look at student performance as well as an opportunity to evaluate instructional practices.  Examples could be all-encompassing portfolios, self-reflective essays by the student, student evaluations, final projects, performances and final copies of work. 



Example Inquiry Assessment Rubric

The above website gives a nice rubric with which to critique and adapt to our own inquiry-based classrooms.

Planning and development Identifies an appropriate research question with assistance. Identifies an appropriate open, relevant research question independently

Identifies an appropriate research (open, relevant, rich, ethical, moralistic) question independently.

Breaks main question into sub-questions to research.

Communicating Information-Product Some development in the area of presentation is required. Presentation is visually appealing and appropriate to the content. Presentation is visually appealing and appropriate to the content.

Information is easily accessible to the reader.
Collection of Information and Resources

Selects information from a limited range of sources.

Does not acknowledge sources.

Selects and utilises information from more than one source.

Beginning to acknowledge sources.

Selects and utilises information from a range and variety of sources.

Acknowledges sources independently.
Communicating Information-Actual Presentation Limited understanding of topic articulated Basic understanding of topic articulated Understanding of topic clearly articulated
Analysis / Summary Provides information from source, in original form. Attempts to summarise information into own words. Successfully summarises information into own words. Time Management Needs guidance and monitoring in the area of time management.

Inquiry not completed within given time frame.
Beginning to make effective use of time.

Attempts to complete work on time.
Consistently makes effective use of time.

Work is completed before or on time.
Organizing information Attempts to identify main points.

Beginning to use graphic organisers.
Main points are clearly identified.

Evidence is given to support main points.

Uses a variety of graphic organisers.
Main points clearly identified.

Evidence is given to support main points.

Personal point of view or opinion provided.

Acknowledges alternative points of view.

Uses graphic organisers that best suit the purpose for the data being collected.
Reflection Limited articulation of learning from the inquiry.

Has difficulty identifying a goal for future inquiries.
Can articulate some points that have been learnt in the inquiry.

Can outline a personal goal for a future inquiry.
Can articulate clearly what has been learnt in the inquiry.

Can outline clearly personal goals for future inquiries.



Assessing Every Part

Giving a good, informative final assessment depends upon assessing every part of the whole.  Let's begin with discussing the necessities of this.


  • Assess the students at the first activity and throughout the first weeks of class as a gauge with which to re-evaulate the student later to determine holistic growth throughout the class.
  • Assess the students' ideas, beliefs and values so that you, as a teacher, may grow and develop an inquiry-based classroom that fosters these ideals and helps them grow and learn [remember: assessments are doubled-sided entities that depend on development of both teacher and student].
  • Diagnostic assessments, discussed earlier, could be helpful tools in this beginning process.


  • Gain insight on whether or how the students' ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge are changing and growing throughout the course.
  • Understanding how to best teach to each students' learning styles, and developing strategies to involve each student in the discussion.
  • Diagnostic assessments and formative assements are helpful tools in this process.


I have entitled this process a 'closing' process rather than a 'concluding' process because it is a closing to a subjective course, not a particular conclusion to a broad problem.

  • Reflect on the students' progress from the beginning process to the closing process by using and evaluating the diagnostic and formative assessments. 
  • Reflect on your own quality and effectiveness of teaching to this students' learning style, as you have found it.
  • Allow the student to reflect on his or her own process and develop their own ideas about how they have progressed throughout the course.