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What is Authentic Assessment?

Suggested Authentic Assessment Tasks/Products for Student Assignments

  • Advertisements
  • Exhibits or Posters
  • Brochures
  • Creating/Performing Musical Compositions
  • Campaign Speeches
  • Debates
  • Dramatic Performance or Reenactment
  • Artwork or Broadside
  • Fashion Shows
  • News Reports or TV Talk Show
  • Recording Oral Histories
  • Writing Magazine/Newspaper Articles
  • Documentaries
  • Websites or Wiki Pages
  • Slideshows
  • Historical journal/diary entries
  • Application for historic marker
  • Oral History Collection
  • Writing a History Research Paper
  • Developing Graphs, Maps, Timelines
  • Photographic Essay or Exhibit
  • Responding orally or in writing as the historical person
  • Demonstrations
  • Town or Legislative Meetings
  • Creation of Games
  • Presentations to community groups, i.e. senior citizens
  • Development of a class museum
  • Storytelling
  • Writing or Analyzing Historical Fiction
  • Creating original political cartoon
  • Dioramas or computerized 3-D modeling
  • Podcasts
  • Mock trial performance
  • Acting as docent at local historical society/club/museum

Document-based teaching leads to a more authentic type of assessment than can be obtained through the usual tests or quizzes, which are simply a regurgitation of memorized facts.  Authentic assessment requires students to interact with the knowledge they are gaining, to analyze and rethink the information, and then to present it in a product that has a real purpose, i.e., informing or educating others.   Authentic assessment provides an opportunity for the student to demonstrate their learning through the completion of a task or creation of a product.  There are a number of tasks and/or products that can be used for authentic assessment in history classes (See the chart above for some suggestions).   

With authentic assessment, you give students the chance to create and remix information.  This makes learning an exciting, interactive enterprise and brings history alive, while providing students with the hands-on learning experience they crave.  For example, teachers may ask students to write a short script, create simple props or costumes, and present dramatizations to synthesize the information they have learned, or even film their own dramatization to be presented as a docu-drama on the topic.  Multimedia presentations can consist of digital video, slideshow with narration, podcasts, website or pathfinder projects.  See page for more on methods for student-produced multimedia projects.  Multimedia projects integrate digital historical records and computer technology.  Historical analysis comes naturally during the production of multimedia projects that incorporate historical records.  

Students also might create a mural, cartoons or posters, illustrated time lines, maps, bas-reliefs, or sculptural elements based on their research.  Some students might create a spreadsheet and statistical correlations of data that prove historical relationships and concepts.  Others might pull together a program of music or dance that captures the spirit of a period or the contribution of a particular ethnic group.  New York State is especially rich with topic possibilities ranging from Shaker music and dance to the Harlem Renaissance and hip-hop.  Some students have an aptitude for model-building.  For example, one student’s scale model of the Battle of Gettysburg brought excitement and the spirit of inquiry into the classroom, and led students to delve deeper into research and historical records to find the answers to the questions raised by viewing the battle in 3-D.

Although a great deal of writing is done in Social Studies classrooms, teachers may want to offer students the chance to illustrate their mastery of information through poetry or other forms of creative writing.  (We only need to consider the poet Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, or Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems on the deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti to recall how close the paths of poetry and history can run.)  Gaming enthusiasts might be able to use historical records to construct a historical role-playing game.

The use of rubrics can insure that students who are working on authentic assessment projects understand the performance standards that are expected of them, and also serve as a firm grading criteria.  A number of rubrics for both authentic assessment and other more traditional assessment needs can be found at numerous educational websites.

The use of student portfolios allows the teacher to assess for mastery of more complex skills and more sophisticated historical thinking.  Portfolios are not simply a snapshot of student performance, but an extensive record which documents performance over time.  The student demonstrates progress measured against content and performance standards.  Portfolios also nudge all students towards more sophisticated skills by deepening and broadening their interpretive skills.  All students benefit from the opportunity to revise, sharpening both their writing skills and their historical thinking skills.  Written materials, including draft and final versions of essays, take-home test papers, document-based questions, research papers, and projects lend themselves to inclusion in a student’s portfolio.  Reflective pieces, constructed over time, allow students to contemplate their own learning experience and self-monitor their progress.  The use of peer review groups can be helpful in providing additional feedback for students.  The teacher may also wish to include sample pieces of other media as space and time allow.  The lesson on page ___, “Animals, Horses, &c. at Auction” Broadside, provides an example of activities that could be included in a student’s portfolio.

Document-Based Questions (DBQ’s)

Document-based questions (DBQ’s) are for all students, from elementary school through high school.  They help prepare students to compare and contrast specific issues from multiple perspectives, reconciling differing positions, evaluating the strength of particular arguments, providing authentic opportunities at a high level of thinking, and developing life skills.  They have been a feature on The College Board’s Advanced Placement History examinations and the New York State Social Studies assessment tests (including Regents) for decades. The inclusion of DBQ’s as a feature of standardized tests have led to teachers using more primary sources in their curriculum, as they prepare their students to succeed on DBQ portions of tests (Rothschild 2000).

DBQ’s are another type of authentic assessment and another way for students to interact with historical records.  A DBQ asks students to read and analyze historical records, gather information and fill in some short “scaffolding” response questions, assimilate and synthesize information from several documents, and then respond (usually as a written essay) to an assigned task, by using information gleaned from the documents as well as their own outside information.  DBQ’s teach students to “evaluate selected primary sources, determine audience, and corroborate their reliability from their knowledge of history” (Malkmus 2008). 

How To Find DBQ’s For Use in the Classroom

There are numerous samples of DBQ’s on the internet.  A good way to start is by looking at past New York State assessment tests (Grades 5 and 8) at  A number of DBQ-related links and resources can be found at  In addition, the New York State Archives has a number of document-related collections online, many of which have DBQ’s that have been written by teachers.  The Legacies Project, The Electronic Schoolhouse (La Escuela Electrónica), Remembering World War I, and Throughout the Ages projects allow teachers (or students) to build their own worksheet using the documents in the collections.  Use a search engine on the internet to find additional DBQ’s for practice use.  

How to Create A DBQ

To create a DBQ from scratch, start by collecting several documents that have a common connection around a topic, historical era, issue, or unit from the curriculum.  Make sure that the visual clarity of the documents is excellent, whether they are paper-based or digital.  The best document in the world is useless for a DBQ if it cannot be read by the student.  In some instances, it might be necessary to use a typed excerpt from a document, or to “blow up” or “zoom in” a section of the actual document for better clarity.  

Begin the DBQ by stating the directions, usually written as follows:

To the student:  This question is based on the accompanying documents.  It has been created in order to test your ability to work with historical documents.  Some of these documents have been edited for the purposes of this question.  As you analyze the documents, try to understand the source of the document and any point of view that is presented in the document.

Next, state the historical context in a few sentences, which gives students a framework for understanding the documents.  Give background information on the overall theme, topic, or issue of the DBQ.  Teach students to read this information carefully before they begin working on the documents.  Finally, tell students what the task is, in the following fashion:

Task:  Using information from the following (insert number) documents and your own knowledge of history, answer the questions that follow each document in Part A.  Your answers to the questions will help you to accomplish the writing assignment given in Part B.

Now it is time to present the documents in “Part A” of the task.  For each document, write at least one short scaffolding question that helps students to pull out pertinent data that can later be incorporated in their response to Part B of the task.  Good scaffolding questions are short and concise, and the answer can easily be found within the provided document.  See the following example:

Document: Flyer, “If You Live in the Southeast Bronx…,” c. 1960s. National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, Local 1199, SEIU Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University.  Found on New York State Archives Electronica Escuela, On Behalf of the Workers:  The Role of Labor Unions DBQ,

Scaffolding Question for Document:  What did the union hope to do by working with the community organization program?

Make certain to cite the bibliographic information for each document that is used.  

Finally, present the part B question which asks students to use the information from a specified number of documents and their own knowledge of history to write an essay.  Think about the student goals and expectations for this lesson, including any historical terms or actions that should be incorporated in the students’ response (for example, compare and contrast).  Although it is not typically specified on most standardized tests, classroom created DBQ directions may provide students with a rubric or indication of that the response should have an introduction, conclusion, and include a specific number of supporting paragraphs.  



PART B: Using information from at least five of the documents in Part A to support your thinking, and your own knowledge of history, write an essay describing at least three push and three pull factors that have affected Cuban immigration to the United States since 1959. Your essay should be well-organized and include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion. 
Example Part B from Cubans in America:  Push and Pull Factors of Immigration.  New York State Archives,

A DBQ template (for Windows PC’s) that is easily customizable is available at:  

Teachers may want to stand the document-based question on its head, however, and give their students an unusual challenge by asking them to select historical records and write their own document-based questions, providing an explanation of why they included and excluded what they did, along with their own expected answers to the questions they wrote and a rubric for evaluation.

The lesson on page, “Mortality Schedule:  1860 United States Census for Lansingburgh, Rensselaer County, New York,” offers students an opportunity to evaluate a historical record, research primary and secondary sources and develop conclusions from the data collected.  This lesson could easily be structured into a document-based question.