Sunday, February 8, 2015

Alternative Assessments

The world is changing fast and, today more than ever, traditional modes of assessment fail to capture the learning that happens everywhere and at every age. High stakes assessment places students in a passive role. However, we know that students learn best when being active learners that engage their capabilities to produce ideas and solve problems. There are many alternatives to standardized assessments that support the shift from passive to active learning. Learning that actively engage the learner in problem-solving to build mental models is not attained by simply receiving information but also the ability to organize, synthesize and use that information. Alternative assessments often accompany design thinking, project-based learning and experiential learning experiences.  

Alternative assessments represent a profound shift in attitudes toward the role of evaluation in learning. In a classroom that is driven and supported by alternative assessments, the textbook isn't driving the curriculum, learning isn't "one size fits all," and students work cooperatively with an emphasis on teamwork. Alternative assessments require students to complete real tasks that require them to perform and/or produce knowledge rather than reproduce information others have discovered (Stefonek, 1991). In this context, an emphasis is placed on meaningful tasks, multiple assessments, higher order thinking, positive interaction, integration of knowledge, and self reflection.

A few examples of alternative assessments: 


ePortfolios are an opportunity for students to provide documentation of their learning. With many learning management systems having a built-in ePortfolio feature, it couldn't be any easy to get started. With new technologies, videos, blogs and other media can be included in an ePortfolio. By making decisions about what to include in their portfolios, students become knowledge producers rather than knowledge receivers. Thus, portfolios help students construct their own knowledge base as opposed to reacting to a teaching stimulus provided by the teacher.


The "maker movement" is a driving force behind the shift where students design engineered prototypes to make learning come alive. The strongest prototypes that "solve a problem" are also framed as design thinking challenges where students build empathy, interview and collaborate with a real or hypothetical end-user. Teachers can use the excellent rubrics by the Buck Institute for Project Based Learning. I particularly like using the innovation and creativity rubrics. I also like assessing students use of and selection of appropriate design methods to make their prototypes.

Digital Badges

Digital badges have much potential to support the promise of personalized learning. Imagine getting a new group of students each year and seeing what digital badges they have earned in the summer or prior school years. According to HASTAC, a digital badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in many learning environments. Digital badges are a powerful new tool for identifying and validating the rich array of a learners skills, knowledge and dispositions. Digital badges inspire new learning pathways and connect learners to opportunities, resources, and one another. Teachers can award badges other teachers have designed through Credly or create their own with Mozilla Open Badges or their school LMS like Haiku Learning. Read more about badges from DML in this free report by Sheryl Grant. 

This is only just the beginning. I am looking forward to exploring alternative assessment this month with the NAIS Teacher of the Future Program and see my school focusing more deeply on alternative assessment next year as a key professional development theme. With the shift many schools are focusing on to integrate more learning innovation into their programs, the need for teachers to understand and create alternative assessments will only increase.  

A few digital badges that were a part of our Tinker Squads program: 

Works Cited

Stefonek, T. (1991). Alternative Assessment: A National Perspective. Policy Briefs No. 15 &16. Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

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