13 My Thoughts on Grant Wiggins’ ’27 Characteristics of Authentic Assessment’

MARCH 2021

In this post, I am breaking down an article entitled ’27 Characteristics of Authentic Assessment’ that was written by a pioneer in the field of authentic assessment, Grant Wiggins (2020). It was initially intended as musings by him, but the content has a lot of depth, wisdom and is worth spending time unpacking. I am going to try to expand on the ideas from this article so they can be more easily implemented by teachers. My thoughts are in italics.

Authentic Assessments

To recap, authentic learning assessments are those that have a connection to real-world situations. More and more college students are enrolled as a stepping stone to a career in a particular field. This means that programs must be in-line with the actual work expected once students graduate (Shaw, 2019). The original article had some discussion of the limitations of authentic assessments, but my post is focusing on the 27 characteristics outlined by Wiggins (2020).

Structure and Logistics of Great Authentic Assessments

  1. Are more appropriately public; involve an audience, panel, etc. – Realistic communications with stakeholders, presentations if appropriate to share results, emails with updates of projects can be assessments.
  2. Do not rely on unrealistic and arbitrary time constraints – Realistic time constraints- this may mean a large project that is broken down as happens in real life.
  3. Offer known, not secret, questions or tasks. – Clearly breakdown the task, questions to be answered. What are we as teachers actually looking for? A clear rubric can be developed from this step also.
  4. Are not one-shot – more like portfolios or a season of games – Assigning a larger project that is broken down into smaller projects may be more authentic. Also, this will make the earlier parts of the assignment renewable which is an added bonus.
  5. Involve some collaboration with others – Realistic collaboration can include access to a mentor, tech support or working with a partner for all or parts of the assignment.
  6. Recur – and are worth retaking – Creating assessments that measure progress of a certain skill – e.g. How fast can you complete a certain task- this may be valuable in the trades.
  7. Make feedback to students so central that school structures and policies are modified to support them – This suggestion is good, but may be difficult to implement if a teacher is not part of the program development.

Intellectual Design Features

  1. Are “essential” – not contrived or arbitrary just to shake out a grade – This advice sits at the core of what authentic assessment is – questions about whether the assessment is useful in real life and if it is renewable can useful here.
  2. Are enabling, pointing the student toward more sophisticated and important use of skills and knowledge – Assessments building knowledge and skills over time- students are progressing from beginner to advanced levels.
  3. Are contextualized and complex, not atomized into isolated objectives – This points again to the use of larger projects based on real world situations that are broken down into smaller assignments to keep everybody moving forward at a good pace.
  4. Involve the students’ own research – Pointing us again to the usefulness of renewable assignments.
  5. Assess student habits and repertories, not mere recall or plug-in – This may require assessing in the field, and may be difficult to implement in a standard classroom setting. Should be easier in a trades subject.
  6. Are representative challenges of a field or subject- This point is another way to remind us of the point of authentic assessment – ‘ Would this happen in real life?’
  7. Are engaging and educational – To me this points to real-world problem solving, are students taking responsibility? Engagement with the assessment itself can include building the assessment as a class or evaluating other students projects as a few examples.
  8. Involve somewhat ambiguous (ill-structures) tasks or problems – This seems to go against the 3rd point in Structure and Logistics where he calls for tasks to be clearly stated, but in the interest of keeping it relevant to the real world, some vagueness may be appropriate. Assessment can be about effective ways of getting clarity from others, or the vagueness can serve to give some creative outlet to the students – but this must be acknowledged in the rubric.

Grading and Scoring

  1. Involve criteria that assess essentials, not merely what is easily scores – To me, this means are the assessments meaningful, do students need to know how to do this (the task being assessed).
  2. Are not graded on a curve, but in reference to legitimate performance standards or benchmarks – This is a great point to remind us of the importance of a clear and detailed rubric to keep things fair and to mark students based on individual merit.
  3. Involve transparent, de-mystified expectations – Clear rubric, clear instructions unless creative interpretation is part of the assessment.
  4. Make self-assessment part of the assessment – Self-assessments can help students take responsibility for their grades and their learning (McGill,2021) and has been shown to increase engagement. Self-assessment can also be considered feedback on the habits, strengths and weaknesses of a student and give them a starting point for improvement. Areas to focus on can be Abilities, Processes and Products of learning (Andrade, 2019).
  5. Use a multi-faceted analytic trait scoring system instead of one holistic or aggregate grade – Again, the importance of a detailed rubric and the benefit of a large problem or project broken down into smaller assignments.
  6. Reflect coherent and stable school standards – Keep learning outcomes in mind as we develop assessments, courses and programs.


  1. Identify (perhaps hidden) strengths [not just reveal deficits] – A self-assessment can come in handy here. Also, having students evaluate each other can help to unveil hidden strengths. From a teachers standpoint, this will require good observational skills.
  2. Strike a balance between honoring achievement while mindful of fortunate prior experience or training [that can make the assessment invalid] – This seems a bit tricky. It can be difficult to correctly assess the quality of prior experience. Also, Is it fair that a student gets high marks because they already know how to do something?
  3. Minimize needless, unfair, and demoralizing comparisons of students to one another – Behaviour to exhibit at all times but especially as a teacher!
  4. Allow appropriate room for student styles and interests [ – some element of choice] – This point is a reminder about keeping assessments accessible by using different formats,, to account for different learning styles and student engagement (by giving them agency).
  5. Can be attempted by all students via available scaffolding or prompting as needed [with such prompting reflected in the ultimate scoring] – Assessment has clear questions and tasks to guide students, this is important as authentic assessments are part of the learning process.
  6. Have perceived value to the students being assessed. – Is the assessment meaningful? Is the assessment renewable? Are students learning a skill or information they can use in the real world?



Shaw, A. (2020, September 1). Authentic assessment in the online classroom . center for teaching and learning: Wiley education services. https://ctl.wiley.com/authentic-assessment-in-the-online-classroom/0

Wiggins, G. (2020, May 16). 27 characteristics of Authentic Assessment. TeachThought. https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/27-characteristics-of-authentic-assessment/

Andrade, H. (2019, August 2). A critical review of research on student self-assessment. Frontiers in Education. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2019.00087/full

Feedback and self-assessment. (n.d.). McGill University. https://www.mcgill.ca/gradsupervision/supervisees/self-assessment#:~:text=Receiving%20feedback%20from%20others%20is,by%20examining%20your%20own%20practice



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

On Assessment by Students of TLHE 720 at Centennial College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book