Authentic assessment is a major area of research in the field of education in the early 21st century. Scholars have experimented with modes of assessment. Overall, most find that evaluators receive more accurate results when students are provided a rubric prior to completion of the assessment. Testing conditions may vary; however, the rubric (e.g., objective analysis) is essential to meet one of the thresholds of authentic assessment. Indeed, the 20th century comprehensive exam style for PhDs (and Masters) was very subjective and arbitrary and would not qualify as authentic assessment. Providing a rubric to students does not mean, what-so-ever, that the assessor is giving the students the “correct” answer.
For the evaluators: authentic assessment means (1) getting the question right, (2) determining a reasonable answer for the question via a rubric (some use other mechanisms), and (3) a non-partisan application of the rubric to the student’s work. Of course, creating a rubric is difficult. However, using backwards induction will most readily create the necessary rubric. This carries the benefit of increased question reliability; meaning, the comp. question does have an expected answer. This does not mean that there is only one answer, particularly since prolific students may answer via recent scholarship or other extraordinary means.
For the students: authentic assessment is a mechanism to better engage student learning and promotes observable proficiency. Authentic assessment promotes student learning because a rubric explains what a student is expected to learn. For instance, students should be given the bank of questions and the corresponding rubrics to those questions upon entrance into the PhD program. Therefore, the professional threshold is established [which is not so under the arbitrary and subjective 20th century system], so that 21st century students are aware of comp. answer expectations. Authentic assessment suggests that the student will have learned much more at the time of comp. exams than students not under the mechanism of authentic assessment.
The Rubric Hurdle: First, written comp. questions and answers should be useful for professors and students alike. For example, political science has come a long way since the 1950s. Comp. questions should resemble real questions in the sub-fields of political science. Second, the rubric must address the paths which would constitute a “pass.” For example, there could be an American question investigating interest groups. The question can be written once these rubric tenets are formulated:
- What’s the big normative question being addressed?
- how do interest groups distort the public will?
2. What are the major perspectives needed to answer this question?
Notice, there are no specific authors, even though “the cannons” should be mentioned under each perspective. The rubric clearly does not tell the student anything about the answer, while telling the student everything about the answer! Most importantly, if you cannot create this rubric, then the question is unanswerable, and should be discarded.
I look forward to the 21st century. Authentic assessment should create much better life-long learning students…