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Rated: 18+ · Article · Educational · #1987526
A look at Alternative Assessment and its impact on Learning.

Goal:  To utilize the most effective form(s) of assessment.

Problem: Traditional tests are but a snapshot of the student's ability to recall facts or procedures.

The issues facing the learning process are many.  The issues are crucial to student learning.  This paper will focus on Alternative Assessment and how it impacts on learning.
Many persons have developed various definitions for learning. Driscoll, 2000, p.p. 11-12 contends that learning is a persistent change in human performance or performance potential brought about as a result of the learner's interaction with the environment.
Learning according to Heinch, Molenda, Russell, and Smaldino may be defined as a lasting change in capability caused by experience; also the process by which such change is brought about. From both definitions we see that learning is a change in behavior.
Learning as we know it to be is synonymous with change and is a life long activity. It is a complex affair and can occur intentionally or incidentally. Learning sometimes requires great effort and sometimes proceeds with relative ease. It encompasses a multitude of competencies, from knowledge of simple facts to great skill in complex and difficult procedures. The results of learning are often observable in human performance but the process of learning is much less obvious. There are different perspectives, assumptions, and beliefs about learning. Learning is heavily influenced by the previous experience of the individual and it occurs across a wide variety of situations and tasks and so it is difficult to study because of the inherent problems in the observation and measurement.
Assessment in its widest sense should seek to determine not only what the student has learnt but to measure the student's development.  Assessment in its purest form may be defined as "the measurement of progress toward a learning goal; for example, student performance compared to a desired level of proficiency at a task" (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2000, p.248).

Description of the Issue:

Traditionally, testing and assessment have been almost synonymous; so too is assessment and evaluation.  This paper will speak specifically to assessment as the measurement of progress toward a learning goal.  Pencil and paper tests, done individually under examination conditions still have their place but often, by themselves, do not give an accurate or balanced picture of what students know, indeed the design of many tests can lead to a focus much more on what students do not know.  The effects of traditional tests have caused widespread  dissatisfaction with our educational system among educators, parents, policymakers,  and the business community.  Efforts to reform and restructure schools have focused attention on the role of assessment in school improvement.  The traditional tests and assessment have been strongly criticized by many educators.  One claim is that traditional measures fail to assess significant learning outcomes and thereby undermine curriculum, instruction, and policy decisions.  Critics have further suggested that alternatives to standardized tests be developed and used for more effective student evaluation. 

The limitations of traditional and standardized tests have given rise to innovative forms of alternative assessment at all levels of education.  What are some of the alternatives to the traditional tests?  It is no coincidence that this extract follows that on Learning Styles, because once we acknowledge a wide range of Learning Styles we see that those who learn best in a certain way will do best when assessed in a compatible way.  All of us, as teachers, know that there are some students who know the work but cannot perform at all under examination conditions.  Can we give them a fair alternative? Alternative assessment as the term implies, is another way, aside from the standard way, of gauging student progress and guide instruction. 

Simonson et al. outlined three approaches that are used for alternative assessment; they are authentic assessment, performance-based  assessment,  and constructivist assessment.  These have overlapping categories.  Authentic assessment refers to tasks that stimulate real-world challenges, where the student may be presented with a full array of expectations  presented by a task and is expected to engage in activities that reflect a meaningful response.  Performance-based  assessment is, what it sounds like.  The learner performs a skill.  The constructivist approach encourage students to choose their own form of expression, to work collaboratively with others, to think about their learning, as they build their cognitive structures. Here, the learner takes on greater responsibility for progress toward the instructional goal.

The assessments incorporating the aforementioned  approaches reflect the ideals of alternative form of assessment.  This include but not limited to portfolios, projects, individual interviews, formal and informal observation, investigation, story telling, oral tests, test which involve use of manipulative or demonstration of procedures, and problem-solving  activities.  Alternative assessment can provide a driving force for learning if the following are observed:  Students should get the necessary feedback, students should be involved in marking, students should know how the marks are distributed, tests should use some questions that are peer-assessed, tests should be short enough to enable marking with ample feedback, questions should examine student' ability to think/argue/analyze rather than just recall, greater choice of questions should be provided, and exam technique preparation  should be in place.  In addition, to make better links to learning, students for example should be given more flexibility about what goes on into say, a portfolio, they should be involved in the assessment process, example self and/or peer-assessment. This will enable them to gain a better understanding of what they need to learn, and be able to devise ways of achieving this. They could develop record of achievement and think about using it as assessment, formative and summative.

In conclusion although alternative assessment is not yet well accepted in many educational institutions it will only make bigger strides in gaining acceptance.
Proponents of alternative assessment will continue to make the claim for widespread use mainly because of the extent to which it impacts learning in a more positive way.


Driscoll, M.P. (2000).  Gagne's theory of instruction.  In P.A. Smith (Ed.), Psychology of learning for instruction (pp.363-372).  Massachusetts:  Allyn and Bacon.

Heinch, R., Molenda, M., Russell, J.D. & Smaldino, S.E. (1999). Instructional media and technologies for learning. New Jersey: Prentice-hall, Inc.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2000). Distance education foundations. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc
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