Nicole M. Dimich works with elementary and secondary educators in presentations, trainings, and consultations that address today’s most critical issues all in the spirit of facilitating improved support of student learning.

Simply Deep: Designing Authentic Assessments that are Meaningful and Relevant

“Being able to recall scientific concepts, identify historical events, or memorize mathematics facts and algorithms, while acutely impressive, is no longer sufficient to prepare students for the challenging world they will face. Identifying characters, theme, and symbolism used to be the focus of education, and it was enough. In the past, learners would occasionally have opportunities to collaborate, communicate, critically think, and creatively problem solve, but that was the means, not the end. After engaging in dialogue, problem solving, or analysis, learners would typically take a multiple-choice test or an essay prompt would ask them to recall details or themes discussed in class. As critical competencies shift to be the end rather than the means, recalling facts is not nearly as important as being able to find the content, critically evaluate its value and credibility, apply it appropriately in different contexts, or put new ideas together to generate something interesting and original. Content is not obsolete; rather, the memorization (and recall) of it is. More than ever it is essential for educators to provide more meaningful tasks so learners tap into rich content while demonstrating the critical competencies through application” (Erkens, Schimmer, Vagle, 2019, p. 6).

This new reality requires a different way of thinking about how and what we assess.

There are moments when students are deeply engaged in classroom instruction, and then it comes time for an “assessment” and the engagement stops as “test day” suddenly occurs. Methods of assessment are supposed to capture the level of the intended learning. Assessment is evidence of learning, and it takes on many forms. Assessment can be observations based on a set of criteria or descriptions such as during a collaborative activity, a Socratic seminar, a conversation, an interview, a verbal presentation; it might take the form of a product such as a blog, an essay, a video—the list goes on. A test is only one way to capture a level of learning and is not always the most accurate. When considering what learners are facing in their future, they must experience a wide variety of assessment methods that ask them to engage in meaningful and relevant ways to be prepared for our constantly changing society.

Meaningful and Relevant Assessment Tasks

Meaningful and relevant assessment tasks involve a different way of design. Meaningful tasks assess the critical competencies, or 21st century skills, along with the content in varying contexts. Relevant tasks tap into a compelling and interesting aspect of the content to pose a task that is challenging and fascinating. Relevant tasks may also connect to students’ interests, realities, and their latest passions (e.g. bottle flipping, teen stress). Meaningful and relevant tasks ask students to use competencies such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, social competence, or creative problem-solving to do one or more of the following:

  • Research, dialogue, and explore emerging issues
  • Pose solutions or offer perspectives on school or local community issues
  • Pose solutions or offer perspectives on global issues
  • Communicate ideas, information, or insights to an audience outside of the classroom
  • Collaborate with students in other places around the world or with experts knowledgeable about the focus of study
  • Collaborate with organizations or businesses to seek multiple perspectives on a topic
  • Put existing ideas together to generate new ideas or knowledge
  • Design new and innovate pieces to make the world better or contribute something to the world

Design Components of Meaningful and Relevant Tasks

To implement this new vision for authentic assessment, consider the following design components.


Time is often identified as the biggest concern when engaging in authentic assessment. Both the time it takes students to engage in a meaningful authentic assessment as well as the time to score and grade larger tasks.

However, these tasks can be as simple as 15 to 30 minutes, during which students—individually or in a small group—solve a problem that has multiple solutions; analyze and interpret a graph that shows the increase in stress among teens; or even discuss two cartoons that show opposite perspectives of an issue.

A longer task may take one to three class periods. These tasks may involve solving a problem with two or more solutions and creating a video that explains the process. That video may become a resource for other students attempting to learn to solve problems. A longer, more involved task might also include studying the cause of teen stress by looking at multiple sources, discussing potential solutions and generating some ways to support students in school.

Finally, a comprehensive task may take one to six weeks or longer. These tasks often identify a local or global issues and ask students to learn essential outcomes (standards/competencies) through reading, studying, talking, and producing solutions to some of these issues. Students may tackle distracted driving and develop a full campaign to reduce dangerous driving behaviors in teens. Younger students may study the benefits and challenges of owning a pet and raise awareness and/or money to advocate for a pet issue they uncover.

Timing is important and ensuring that the task is manageable and relevant within the time frame allotted will ensure a meaningful student and teacher experience. Trying to tackle too much can lead to surface level work.


It is essential that what is intended to be learned be the foundation of any task and lead to the best method of assessment.

First, determine the standards and critical competencies to be achieved. Second, write student friendly outcomes. Choose, revise, or design rubrics or learning progressions to monitor progress and evaluate levels of achievement. These rubric or learning progression descriptions will be the basis of observations, feedback, and final evaluations. Students need to know the criteria and learning outcomes before they begin. They may help further define and construct the meaning of this criteria, but in the design of these, teachers and teacher teams determine the starting place.


The best methods for assessing critical competencies are observation and self-assessment. Creating products such as websites, infographics, blogs, emails, essays, presentations, videos are also useful methods of assessment when assessing both competencies and content. Finally, peer assessment can offer a useful perspective on the qualities of the interactions and products when there is deep understanding of the criteria.

Assessment Design Resources

The table below captures a few highlights of the design elements to consider when designing authentic assessments.

Authentic Assessment Duration and Method

Simpler in Design, Execution, and Duration

15–30 min.

More Involved
in Design, Execution,
and Duration1–3 class periods
Comprehensive in Design, Execution,
and Duration1–6 weeks
  • Identify the learning target.
  • Design a method or task that will allow students to use the targeted skill or concept. Consider:
  • Scenario-based problem that students grapple with and respond to individually or in groups.
  • Additional text and materials that represent multiple perspectives.
  • Written, video and oral responses to text and video with a targeted question.
  • Problems with multiple solutions or multiple pathways to the solution.
  • Use student questions to start dialogue.
  • Identify the essential outcomes, write learning targets, and develop learning progressions/rubrics.
  • Design a task or performance assessment that is meaningful and relevant.
  • Students may produce a performance, presentation, or product for an audience outside their classroom.
  • Students may take on a role other than learner—such as scientist, food critic, and many others.
  • Give students voice and allow them to influence their world (social justice, equity, and so on) to pose solutions or communicate perspectives outside the classroom.
  • Provide choice in method, topic, and workspace as long as the criteria remains the same.
  • Ensure materials students engage with provide multiple perspectives.
  • Provide instruction to learn how to engage in critical competencies such as collaboration, creative problem-solving, and critical thinking.
  • Plan for ongoing feedback and multiple revisions within instructional flow.
  • Use instructional strategies that incorporate dialogue, questioning, and feedback during class and provide mini-lessons on needed content and skills.


Templates can help guide this new way of designing. Consider the Grade 7 example linked below in designing your own authentic assessment task.



Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., Vagle, N.D. (2019). Growing tomorrow’s citizens in today’s classroom: Assessing seven critical competencies. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN.


  1. Ken Clark

    Very useful post! Appropriate opportunities for assessment allow for continuous learning.

  2. Mikki Miller

    Excellent post. I am a future educator and I find this content really resonates with me. When I was a student, I always thought the assessments I was taking from my professors were insufficient in measuring my learning. It involved a lot of memorizing, such as in enumeration tests. It was all about what I remember, not what I understand. I much prefer essays, but the teacher would argue that it takes to long to check. Additionally, the other students prefer the traditional multiple choice or true or false types of test because it takes less effort on their part, which is totally opposite of what happens with me.

    So I have a question, in a class where different people prefer different assessment types, which do you give? Do you do a one-size-fits-all kind of evaluation, or are you going to tailor according to the individual?


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