Using Alternative Assessments

Student portfolios, grading with rubrics, and other alternative assessment strategies can help you determine how well learning outcomes have been achieved.

Alternative assessments are used to determine what students can and cannot do, in contrast to what they do or do not know.

Alternative assessments, also referred to as performance tests or authentic assessments, are used to determine what students can and cannot do, in contrast to what they do or do not know. In other words, an alternative assessment measures applied proficiency more than it measures knowledge. Typical examples of alternative assessments include portfolios, project work, and other activities requiring some type of rubric.

The essence of a performance assessment is that students are given the opportunity to do one or more of the following:

  • Demonstrate their ability
  • Perform a meaningful task
  • Receive feedback by a qualified person in terms of relevant and defensible criteria

In short, the purpose for using alternative assessments is to assess students’ proficiency in performing complex tasks that are directly associated with learning outcomes.

Advantages of Alternative Assessments

  • They provide a means of assessing valued skills that cannot be directly assessed with traditional tests.
  • They provide a more realistic setting for student performance than traditional tests.
  • They focus on student performance and the quality of work performed by students.
  • They can be easily aligned with established learning outcomes.
  • Process can be costly in terms of time, effort, equipment, materials, facilities, or funds.

Disadvantages of Alternative Assessments

  • Process can be costly in terms of time, effort, equipment, materials, facilities, or funds.
  • Rating process is sometimes more subjective than traditional exams.

Guidelines for Constructing Alternative Assessments

  1. Define the instructional outcome you want to assess as clearly and unambiguously as possible in terms of both the subject-matter content and the set of skills or operations that a skillful performer would exhibit.
    • Example: Students will perform five types of Cha Cha steps in correct dance position without error.
       
  2. Distinguish between those outcomes that can validly be assessed solely by performance assessments and those that can be assessed just as effectively by objective measures.
    • Students would have a difficult time demonstrating dance steps on paper.
       
  3. Create tasks that elicit evidence of the student’s ability to perform the targeted skill.
    • Task: Set aside a block of classroom time for students to dance with a partner, two or three couples at a time. Allow students to dance for at least 2 minutes so they have time to demonstrate all the steps they know. Students should have sufficient time to practice the steps before they are assessed.
       
  4. Decide what kinds of teacher guidance can be used while still allowing students the freedom to learn and do it their own way.
    • Students may do the steps in whatever order they would like. Teacher may put the names of the different steps on the board to help students remember them if needed.
       
  5. Try out the assessment and make revisions as necessary.
    • Revisions could include giving more detailed instructions and expectations to the students or inviting an assistant to write down dictated comments while the teacher keeps his or her attention on the dancers.

See CTL’s Professor Dancelot and the Perils of a Misaligned Course on YouTube.

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