Clinicians in the classroom

07/17/06: Authentic Assessment of Functional Performance

New assessment tools and models have evolved in schools because the reasons for conducting assessments have expanded. This expansion has been motivated not only by mandates set forth in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB), which placed more emphasis on curriculum-based learning and adequate yearly progress, but also by mandates set forth in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), which placed more emphasis on providing services in the least restrictive environment.

In 2000 the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) documented the need for new assessment tools and models other than standardized measures by stating, "The shift to more contextually relevant intervention has brought about a dramatic realignment in the way speech-language pathologists will need to assess performance and design instruction that links with the student's curriculum."1

Dynamic assessment, responsiveness to intervention, fast mapping, play-based assessment, language sample analysis and authentic assessment are some examples of such new assessment tools and models.

There are many reasons why the speech-language pathologist must collaborate with parents, educators and other specialists to conduct assessment procedures. They must determine whether the student exhibits a delay, disorder or difference; if an impairment exists; if that impairment results in a disability; whether performance meets eligibility criteria for a special program; the level of severity; the potential for improvement; appropriate treatment procedures; the least restrictive environment; the appropriate service delivery format; whether progress has been made.

Once the purposes of the assessment have been identified, clinicians must select the appropriate assessment tools to address them after considering multiple characteristics. Reliability, validity and equity are three important characteristics mandated in IDEA 2004.2

Other characteristics include utility, congruence, sensitivity, acceptability, convergence, collaboration and authenticity. Authenticity refers to whether the procedures reflect the real-life learning environments of the student.3

Authentic assessment meets all of these characteristics. As defined by Alice Udvari-Solner, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jacqueline Thousand, PhD, of California State University, San Marcos, "Authentic assessment occurs when a student is expected to perform, produce, or otherwise demonstrate skills that represent realistic learning demands. [T]he contexts of the assessments are real-life settings in and out of the classroom without contrived and standardized conditions."4

Authentic assessment, which is supported by solid research, is an effective model for providing information about a student's functional performance.5-11

One assessment tool is the Oral Language Curriculum Standards Inventory (OL-CSI), which assesses a student's oral language skills in the educational environment based on performance indicators that have been synthesized from model academic oral language content standards published by educational agencies across the United States.12

The speech-language pathologist is encouraged to use at least three sources of information when completing the OL-CSI, such as a classroom observation, parent interview, and peer-to-peer interactions in an unstructured setting like the school playground. Involving students in a self-reflective process ultimately may increase their learning on individual education plan (IEP) goals.12-14

The traditional pull-out model of intervention is being replaced with more inclusive practices.15 Therefore, it stands to reason that traditional models of assessment also may need to be replaced or augmented by inclusive practices.

According to ASHA, "It will no longer be appropriate to provide, as some IEPs have done in the past, test scores as sole examples of performance levels. Similarly, traditional explanations of receptive or expressive language or a listing of deficits in the areas of content, form and use may not be sufficient alone, unless these observations are directly translated into educational performance."1

School-based speech-language pathologists need assessment tools that generate information related to a student's level of educational performance and prognosis for success in the least restrictive environment. Authentic assessment is an approach that meets these needs.


1. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2000). Developing educationally relevant IEPs: A technical assistance document for speech-language pathologists. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

2. Crowley, K., Ouelette, P. (2006). What IDEA 2004 says about assessments. ADVANCE, 16 (23): 11.

3. Kwiatkowski, J., Heintzelman, A., Levin, S., et al. (2004). University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Communicative Disorders clinical assessment framework for the speech-language pathologist. Unpublished.

4. Udvari-Solner, A., Thousand, J. (2005). Promising practices that foster inclusive education. In R. Villa & J. Thousand, Creating an Inclusive School. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

5. Campbell, D. (2000). Authentic assessment and authentic standards. Phi Delta Kappan, 81 (5): 405-7.

6. Choate, J.S., Evans, S. (1992). Authentic assessment of special learners: Problem or promise? Preventing School Failure, 37 (1): 6-9.

7. Diez, M., Moon, J. (1992). What do we want students to know? And other important questions. Educational Leadership, 49 (8): 38-41.

8. Lund, N., Duchan, J. (1993). Assessing Children's Language in Naturalistic Contexts (3rd ed.) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

9. Meyer, C. (1992). What's the difference between authentic and performance assessment? Educational Leadership, 49 (8): 39-40.

10. Schraeder, T., Quinn, M., Stockman, I., Miller, J. (1999). Authentic assessment as an approach to preschool speech-language screening. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 8: 195-200.

11. Thompson, S. (2001). The authentic standards movement and its evil twin. Phi Delta Kappan, 82 (5): 358-62.

12. Schraeder, T. (2006). School Services in Speech-Language Pathology. Madison, WI: Pigwick Papers LLC.

13. Goodrich, H. (1996). Student self-assessment: At the intersection of met cognition and authentic assessment. Doctoral dissertation. Unpublished.

14. Goodrich Andrade, H. (2000). Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning. Educational Leadership, 57 (5): 13-18.

15. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1996). Inclusive practices for children and youths with communication disorders: Position statement and technical report. Asha, 38 (Suppl. 16): 35-44.

Trici Schraeder is a faculty associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She can be contacted at

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