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Alternative Assessment

Alternative Assessment

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Published by: jay on Feb 07, 2010
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Alternative Assessment
What Is Alternative Assessment?
The term alternative assessment is broadly defined as any assessment method that is an alternative to traditional paper-and-penciltests. Alternative assessment requires students to demonstrate the skills and knowledge that cannot be assessed using a timed multiple-choice or true-false test. It seeks to reveal students' critical-thinking and evaluation skills by asking students to complete open-endedtasks that often take more than one class period to complete. While fact-based knowledge is still a component of the learning that isassessed, its measurement is not the sole purpose of the assessment.
Alternative assessment is almost always teacher-created and is inextricably tied to the curriculum studied in class. The form of assessment is usually customized to the students and to the subject matter itself.
What does Alternative Assessment look like?
Alternative assessment takes many different forms, according to the nature of the skills and knowledge being assessed. Students areusually asked to demonstrate learning by creating a product, such as an exhibition or oral presentation, or performing a skill, such asconducting an experiment or demonstration.Three variations of alternative assessment are performance-based assessment, authentic assessment, and portfolio assessment. In anygiven situation, more than one form may be involved. A brief description of each follows.
Performance Assessment
This terms refers to the range of assessment activities that give the teacher the opportunity to observe students completing tasks usingthe skills being assessed. For example, in a science class, rather than take a multiple-choice test about scientific experiments, studentsactually conduct a lab experiment and write about their process and choices in a lab report.
Authentic Assessment
 This approach attempts to connect assessment with the real world. It requires students to apply skills and knowledge to the creation of a product or performance that applies to situations outside the school environment. Biology teachers may assess students'understanding of the scientific process and collaboration by having students take part in an annual Audubon Society collection andanalysis of local songbird populations.
Portfolio Assessment
Portfolios usually are comprised of work that has been completed over an entire grading period or semester. Teachers using portfoliosrequire students to review their work and select items that best demonstrate that learning objectives have been met. Often students alsowrite an essay reflecting on what they have learned, including the processes they have used to meet their goals. Portfolios can be paper-based, computer-based, or a combination of both. Ultimately, they should be judged against a predetermined set of criteria andwill provide evidence of the learning that has occurred over time.
How Does It Differ from Traditional Assessment?
In each of these types of assessments, sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between study and assessment. This is a hallmark of alternative assessment. Part of the purpose is to make assessment a more meaningful learning experience. However, ascertainingmastery of a skill or subject is still the key objective of assessment.
Teachers usually grade products and performances using a scoring rubric. The rubric consists of a set of detailed standards and explicitcriteria to which the performance or product will be compared. Students are provided the scoring criteria at the onset of instruction andsometimes will even have input into how they will demonstrate their proficiency.
Why Use Alternative Assessment?
Many people attribute the move toward alternative assessment to changes that have occurred in the workplace. In the past, publicschools prepared students for manufacturing jobs that were the backbone of the economy. Schools focused on base skill sets and fact- based knowledge. Paper-and-pencil tests adequately measured the fact-based knowledge used in the old economy.
As the country has moved from manufacturing to an information-based economy, some economists have predicted that the newworkplace will increasingly demand workers with analytical thinking skills. Workers will need to use higher-level thinking skills tosolve complex problems of information management and computing. Alternative assessments help schools prepare students for thecomplex tasks that will be required of them when they become adults by focusing on thinking skills rather than memorization.
Assessment as a Tool for Learning
 by Jill Hearne Assessment! For teacher, the word conjures up images of late night grading sessions prior to report card deadlines. For  principals, it conjures up phone calls from media and parents demanding "bigger, better" scores. To a superintendent, theword "assessment" is often related to job tenure. For students it signifies the judgment of others regarding work they mayor may not understand or care about. But assessment can have positive connotations and consequences when it is used as atool for learning. Sound assessment should be both a barometer of how well things are progressing as well as a compassindicating future direction.Throughout the United States principals and district administrators engaged in meaningful school reform are working withtheir communities to share assessment information to guide decision-making about curriculum and instruction. The resultis that there is a shift from using assessment as a negative force in schools to a positive force that builds a climate of reflection about what is going on in classroomsWhen I was a principal, we had a social skills program where staff would give "coupons" to students seen "doing thingsright" (i.e. being helpful good citizens). An ideal school would treat assessment in the same way. Students, staff, and principals should be rewarded for using assessment as a tool for learning rather than simply rewarding right answers.The Changing Scope of AssessmentThe shift in consciousness from assessment data as organizational hammer to its use as a tool in strategic planning is slow but critical if we in school are to truly develop learning organizations. Recently a group of highly educated mainly Ph.D. parents assembled to critique a new standards-based report card. Teachers had spent months laying out developmentaldescriptions of reading, math and language skills with carefully worded and ordered phrases such as: "recalls some storydetails", "recalls major story events", "recalls relevant passage details", "summarizes passages concisely", "makesreferences and draws conclusions". Each description defined a level of skill students could be expected to attain in a particular age bond such as ages 5-7, 7 to 9 years, etc.After studying this new report card form in some length, one of the parents raised his hand and said, "Oh! So this is whatyou do in school?" This innocent and honest question revealed for me the essential error those of us in school have madefor all these years. Our error has been the assumption that what we did as instructors was clearly evident and known to all participants, students, parents and teachers.But in fact we have not been clear. We have not made it clear to students what is to be learned, we have not made it clear to parents how well students are to perform, and we have not agreed as educational communities on what learning or knowledge is of most worth. Lacking consensus on knowledge, skills and understandings perhaps it is a functionalsolution to be vague about data, about student learning (assessment information).As students are no longer being educated to perform rote tasks focused on knowledge and understanding, so too mustteachers be supported as they acquire adult learning skills as creators and users of assessment information and not passivedeliverers of curriculum prepackaged by a distant textbook publishing company. The movement toward teachers beingmakers and users of assessment data reflects the shift from teacher as assembly line worker to lifetime learner (Bullard, p.206)Principals, teachers, students and the community can come together around sound principles of assessment to createlearning experiences that matter. Data on student outcomes individually and collectively comes center stage as all themembers of the school community discuss three critical questions regarding quality. Staff and parents ask themselvesthese same critical questions about quality that they can also use to teach students to ask about their work:* What am I doing?* How well am I doing it? (in relationship to established criteria)
* What do I need to do to improve? (Hearne, 1992)A key question to ask is: "What is the match between what our goals are and how we are assessing?"Assessment LiteracyIn student Involved Classroom Assessment, Richard Stiggins (2001) engages in a particularly useful discussion about thematch between assessment method and assessment targets. He discusses the four main types of assessment methods:selected response (multiple choice, true/false, matching, and fill in) essay, performance assessment and personalcommunications.For assessing knowledge and mastery, selected response methods are parsimonious. They allow a quick, accurateinexpensive means of finding out what is known about a subject or area. Essay responses can also show knowledge andalso allow for indications of reasoning proficiency.Performance assessments are too expensive and time consuming to be used at the fact-recall-knowledge mastery level, butthey allow for observation of skills during performance and assess proficiency in carrying out steps in developing a product. Personal communication has strength at each level from knowledge through skills, product creation anddisposition about learning, but is not efficient at each level. (Stiggins, 2001).Sound assessment results only when there is a clear purpose for assessment, clear and appropriate targets, proper methods,an appropriate sample of the targets, and elimination of bias and distortion in measurement. Stiggins proposes that thesefive principles guide sound assessment practices.1. Is the purpose of the assessment clear?2. Is the target achievement clear and appropriate?3. What methods do the target and purpose suggest are appropriate?4. How can we sample performances appropriately, given target, purpose and method?5. What can go wrong, given target, purpose and method, and how can we prevent bias and distortion? (Stiggins, p. 15)When answered with understanding, this results in assessment literacy. Stiggins (2001) states that those who know themeaning of assessment quality with all of its nuances and know that one is never justified in settling for unsoundassessments are assessment literate.At the school level, understanding the match between method and student outcomes is critical. Also critical is anawareness of audience. Who needs to know what information and in what time frame? The needs of school boardmembers are very different from the needs of parents or students.As you examine your assessment menu in your school, remember to include parents and students in discussions of quality.Provide opportunities for each to truly understand what is being measured, what evidence is considered proficient or "good enough" and most importantly to see the link between the assessment and instructional complications.Unless assessment results are used to make issues of quality part of everyday conversation in schools, they will notchange instruction. This is where the assessment revolution is actually taking place-- in the use of assessment data todrive decision-making. The difference is that "data" takes on a richer meaning when that "data" is actual student work instead of numbers representing a normative version of student work.Certainly, normative data has a place, and there are clear advantages of using normative data for program planning as wellas building and district evaluation. Consistency over time, ability to look at trend data, comparability between schoolsystems at a regional, state, or international level are a few of the benefits.Using Multiple MeasuresUtilizing multiple measures of student learning that include actual student work builds a community of learners. No onetest or assessment can give a clear picture of student achievement which is why several states (Washington, Maryland,Maine) and districts (Seattle, Washington, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina) have incorporated multiple measuresincluding classroom-based evidence as part of their total accountability system.

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