A common theme runs through many of the current school-reform proposals: Students should become “active learners,” capable of solving complex problems and constructing meaning that is grounded in real-world  experience.

In this issue report, we offer a conception of instruction and assessment that remains consistent with active learning, but which also offers another critical element: It emphasizes that all instructional activities must be rooted in a primary concern for high standards of intellectual quality. We refer to this conception as authentic pedagogy.1

This report includes general criteria for authentic pedagogy, as well as more specific standards that can be used to judge the quality of assessments tasks, classroom lessons and student performance. We offer examples of tasks, lessons and student performance that score well on these standards.

We also offer new evidence, based on our study of 24 restructured schools, that authentic pedagogy pays off in improved student performance, and can improve student performance regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. The results were consistent across different grades and subjects in schools across the United States.

Until now, arguments in support of “authentic” teaching have often been made on philosophical grounds. We believe this study offers some of the strongest empirical justification to date for pursuing such a course.2

We hope this issue report advances thinking about the meaning of authentic pedagogy, supports its practice and suggests directions for further research to benefit school restructuring.