Beyond Tests: 5 Alternative Assessment Ideas
December 21, 2022
Did you know that a 5th grade teacher is expected to guide students to mastery of 200 standards each year? Given a typical school year of 180 days, that’s 1.1 standards a day! Of course, standards don’t exactly work like that. You can certainly teach more than one standard a day, but that doesn’t give you time to explore them, unpack them, and revisit them, which is where learning and mastery actually happen. The point is there is a lot of content to cover, and not much time to do it in.
Complicating matters further is the issue of assessment. Traditionally, tests have been used to gauge a student’s mastery of certain standards. However, what tests often reveal is whether a student has memorized the content – not whether they understand it. To better promote student growth, teachers must turn their attention to making assessments as informative, interesting, and easy as possible. Here are just five easy ways to practice assessment beyond a paper and pencil test:
- 5-Word Challenge: Quickly assess how well students understand a topic while also developing their creative and critical thinking skills by challenging them to summarize their learning in 5 words or less (this can be on video or on paper or other mode of communication). See it in action (30-second video) with our students sharing what they learned about food webs in 5 words (more or less).
- Rewind and Fast Forward: To ensure continuity of learning, give students a short quiz with the majority of questions focused on current learning, 2 questions on past learning, and 2 questions on future learning. Use summatively to capture the current learning or formatively to differentiate for any relearning needs or extension opportunities.
- Present and Defend: Have students share their work and defend their claim in response to constructive feedback. This allows you to see how students respond to challenges and how deep their understanding of the topic really goes. Great for developing a culture of risk-taking and developing students’ ability to exercise informed skepticism. Here is an example of the Present and Defend protocol used in science investigations. This is a great framework that can be adapted for all content areas and grade levels.
- Separate Content from Habits of Work: Utilize a separate grading system for habits of work (participation, meeting deadlines, tardiness) and content. Grades are meant to convey what a student knows and is able to do, so subtracting or adding to a grade for behavior renders the grade inaccurate. Both are important, so expect and track mastery in both.
- Teach Me Something: Shoutout to my friend Paul Yenne (@MrYennePaul on Twitter), a 5th grade teacher in Colorado, for this assessment idea. Simply ask students to teach you something. You can simply offer ½ credit if you learn something. It’s a great way to tap into what students know and are able to do while also gaining insights into what they are passionate about.
If you found these ideas helpful, be sure to check out VAI’s latest recorded webinar, Beyond the Test: Using Alternative Assessments in the Classroom. In this video, Terra Tarango shares additional strategies for practicing alternative assessment in the classroom while also helping teachers determine their power standards. As we all take our first steps toward the new year, these resources can help teachers transform their classroom while encouraging students to explore new avenues of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. Which new strategies will you use first?