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Alternative assessment is a form of student performance grading that allows for a more holistic approach to student assessment. The traditional form of student assessment involves the average grading of a cumulative set of work for a given time period. With alternative assessments, students are enabled to provide their own responses rather than simply selecting from a given list of options. Alternative assessment can also encompass a portfolio of work to represent an entire use of concepts, similar to the way a traditional final examination is intended to be a cumulative demonstration of material learned over a given time period.
Formats for Alternative Assessment
In alternative assessment applications, students are responsible for actually creating a response to an assignment or examination. With traditional assessments that are largely multiple choice based, students select a response from a list. This can include true or false responses, matching or any other form where the student's thought process revolves around eliminating options or attempting to find the best possible selection based on the criteria provided.
There are several types of alternative assessments including essay responses, oral presentations, portfolios of compiled work, short answer questions and demonstrations of a concept/strategy. Alternative assessments can be used at given intervals for grading or they can be used as a final assessment at critical intervals such as final examinations or for the overall promotion to the next grade.
Alternative Assessment Benefits
Often because of class size or as a method for saving timing in grading, traditional testing has been utilized. Alternative assessment gives the student the opportunity to demonstrate the depth and scope of what they have learned rather than being limited to just a few responses on a traditional test or exam. The compression of an entire semester of work into a single hour of testing that can account for a major portion of a grade can often be a misrepresentation of the efforts of students.
A portfolio of work is an example of alternative assessments where a student has selected or developed the work they think best depicts their study skills and understanding of concepts. It is also an overall great teacher resource for showing what lesson plans were effective and which were not. In the same way that traditional assessments can show the flaws of poorly understood concepts when viewed at a holistic classroom level, the same can be true with alternative assessments.
Effectively Implementing Alternative Assessments
The teacher resources available to assist with the deployment of alternative assessments in the classroom setting should include more than simply testing options. The study skills required to ensure sufficient supporting information prior to an actual alternative assessment event are critical to the success of students. Worksheets can help a student with the overall development of their responses, but overall, lesson plans should ensure ample time to help students become familiar with the alternative assessment model.
There are teacher worksheets available to assist with improving the study skills of students who are learning the alternative assessment methods. Just as many students feel they have an inherent inability to successfully complete multiple choice or traditional testing, there will be students who find the alternative method difficult. By continuing to foster a sense of ownership and student accountability for their contributions to their own assessment, many of these students will become more effective with their overall assessments.