Subscribe Here!

    3 min read

    The 27 Most Crucial Qualities of Authentic Formative Assessments

    Written By

    Get access to ALL our resources and premium unit plans by joining the Future Focused Learning Network

    Words Per Min: 200
    The 27 Most Crucial Qualities of Authentic Formative Assessments

    When it comes to teaching we must remember that it's only the learners, not the teacher, who create learning. The teacher’s role in learning is guiding the process by responding to a learner’s performance.

    Ultimately the best way for that to happen is by designing the best and most authentic formative assessments possible. Using them to help students improve and excel as they learn is what mindful assessment is about.

    One of the most passionate proponents of authentic formative assessment was the late Grant Wiggins. He penned an article in 1989 proposing a laundry list of student-centered qualities for defining the ideal formative assessment. It was called Teaching to the (Authentic) Test.

    In this article, he suggested there were 27 things that he considered the hallmarks of authentic formative assessments. In the spirit of the great man himself, we'd like to share them with you below.

    The 27 Characteristics of Authentic Formative Assessments

    The qualities Grant suggests below are broken down into 4 different categories for easier referencing. Use these ideas as you visualize building authentic formative assessments for using with your learners.

    Structure & Logistics

    Authentic Formative Assessments:

    1. Are more appropriately public; involve an audience, panel, etc.
    2. Do not rely on unrealistic and arbitrary time constraints
    3. Offer known, not secret, questions or tasks
    4. Are not one-shot – more like portfolios or a season of games
    5. Involve some collaboration with others
    6. Recur – and are worth retaking
    7. Make feedback to students so central that school structures and policies are modified to support them

    Intellectual Design Features

    Authentic Formative Assessments:

    1. Are “essential” – not contrived or arbitrary just to shake out a grade
    2. Are enabling, pointing the student toward more sophisticated and important use of skills and knowledge
    3. Are contextualized and complex, not atomized into isolated objectives
    4. Involve the students’ own research
    5. Assess student habits and repertories, not mere recall or plug-in
    6. Are representative challenges of a field or subject
    7. Are engaging and educational
    8. Involve somewhat ambiguous (ill-structures) tasks or problems

    Grading and Scoring

    Authentic Formative Assessments:

    1. Involve criteria that assess essentials, not merely what is easily scores
    2. Are not graded on a curve, but in reference to legitimate performance standards or benchmarks
    3. Involve transparent, de-mystified expectations
    4. Make self-assessment part of the assessment
    5. Use a multi-faceted analytic trait scoring system instead of one holistic or aggregate grade
    6. Reflect coherent and stable school standards


    Authentic Formative Assessments:

    1. Identify (perhaps hidden) strengths [not just reveal deficits]
    2. Strike a balance between honoring achievement while mindful of fortunate prior experience or training [that can make the assessment invalid]
    3. Minimize needless, unfair, and demoralizing comparisons of students to one another
    4. Allow appropriate room for student styles and interests [ – some element of choice]
    5. Can be attempted by all students via available scaffolding or prompting as needed [with such prompting reflected in the ultimate scoring]
    6. Have perceived value to the students being assessed

    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published May 11, 2019, updated September 29, 2021

    Information & Legend

    Read line
    Read line max progress
    Read area visibility bounds
    Read text bounds
    Source code available on GitHub

    Related Articles

    Formative assessment tools can be a part of every teacher's toolbox. They needn't be complicated or..

    Every teacher knows that the classroom environment is a great place to allow students to “take the..

    When it comes to teaching creatively we use both the heart and the mind in equal measure. ..