These days high stakes testing and school accountability mean that teachers, parents, and students have less room to vary lessons, tests, and proof that learning has occurred. While it is important to prevent systematic racism, which is the reason many reformers have historically given when pushing a one size fits all standards and accountability framework, it is also important to recognize that not all students will feel motivated within this framework. This is why it is highly important to provide a variety of options for showing that learning has occurred.
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If you are a student with special needs or a child who is not interested in pencil and paper options which are predictable and somewhat boring in the eyes of some people, then alternative assessment options will be more likely to keep you interested and to show where you have improved as well as where you still need to work on a certain concept. After all, standardized tests do not often provide immediate information with which to inform instruction in a meaningful and emergent way. By using continuing assessment tools which often have the opportunity to change in presentation, you not only allow students to show their strengths, but a teacher or parent is more likely to quickly see gaps in learning and how to fix these gaps. The goal should be mastery, not passing a test with a C grade or higher. This makes alternative assessment options useful, interesting for the learner, and appropriate in both brick and mortar school and homeschool education models.
How do I begin?
Many people ask how to go about moving away from canned lessons and toward flexible assessments. Canned lessons can be good if they allow for flexibility when students need this. However, many times teachers must change lessons quite a bit in order to meet the needs of all learners in their care. If you must use canned lessons, don’t’ worry, you can still use flexible assessment options most of the time. You may already have some of these options written into 504 Plans or IEPs which you currently use for some students.
What does alternative assessment look like?
For example, if a student needs to give an oral report, but has anxiety, allow the student to choose a newscast style report where it is recorded first, a small group presentation, or a large group presentation. Also, give the student the option of a podium and stool in order to help support the student should he or she decide to give a live presentation.
If a student with low muscle tone needs to show you how to add with two digit numbers, don’t focus on the writing component. Instead, allow for the option to type, draw large pictures, have extra time to write numbers, use a stencil, or show using a poster board and objects glued on. This way the child can show understanding of the concept, but not be bogged down with pain in the hand due to low tone.
Sometimes gifted students, and others, become bored with the same routine. They may have a lowered attention span or refuse to complete a task due to being bored. Instead, try asking the student to create a newspaper that offers solutions to math problems like the ones through which you are currently working. Another option is to allow the student to create a physical project, like a science project or photography project, to illustrate the skill he or she must master.
The goal is not to copy the ideas listed here, but rather find options that both test a skill and allow students to do their best work without feeling as if the task is either above or below them. By adding a dash of creativity, a list of options, and allowing students to try something new, you are enabling both learning and constructive criticism which will help them to learn, grow, and succeed.
For further information
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About the author
Photograph by Alexandra Islas
Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed. is a former teacher, behavior coach, and tutor who works with families and students to help them reach their full potential in a peaceful, positive environment. Melissa’s educational experiences paired with real world experience give her a unique perspective when working with families to achieve their behavioral and educational goals. Please contact Melissa with questions or to request services.
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