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More than Memorization: A Guide to Alternative Assessments

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We were eating their concoctions, telling jokes and making noise,
when Mr. Lowe appeared and howled, “Attention, girls and boys!”

He began to fuss and fidget, scratch and mutter, sneeze and cough.
He shook his head so hard, we thought his eyebrows would come off.
He wrung his hangs, he cleared his throat, he shed a single tear:
then sobbed, “I’ve something to announce, and that is why I’m here.”

“All schools for miles and miles around must take a special test,
To see who’s learning such and such – to see which school’s the best.
If our small school does not do well, then it will be torn down,
And you will have to go to school in dreary Flobbertown.”

“Not Flobbertown!” we shouted, and we shuddered at the name,
for everyone in Flobbertown does everything the same.

It’s miserable in Flobbertown, they dress in just one style.
They sing one song, they never dance, they march in single file.
They do not have a playground. And they do not have a park.
Their lunches have no taste at all, their dogs are scared to bark.

We sat in shock and disbelief. “Oh no!” we moaned. “Oh no!”
We were even more unhappy than unhappy Mr. Lowe.
But then the test was handed out. “Yahoo!” we yelled. “Yahoo!”
For it was filled with all the things that we all knew we knew.

There were questions about noodles, and poodles and frogs and yelling,
about listening and laughing, and chrysanthemums and smelling.
There were questions about other things we’d never seen or heard,
and yet we somehow answered them, enjoying every word.

–Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, Dr. Seuss

The above poem is about a wonderful school that believes in all different kinds of learning. At one point, the students need to take a test and are worried that they won’t be able to display the knowledge that they all really have. Luckily, the book ends with Diffendoofer School getting the best score despite their teachers’ unconventional teaching methods.

When we want to know what students know, we give them a test or a quiz. While this can be a great way of knowing what they know, it doesn’t always reflect the application of the skills they are learning every day. In other words, tests and quizzes are an essential part of the learning process, but should not be the only forms of assessment a teacher uses to evaluate a child’s knowledge. Forms of testing that are not actual “tests” are called alternative assessments. Below, I have outlined a few possibilities for alternative assessments in elementary through high school:

 

Elementary School:

  • Bookmark. A typical test to know what a student knows about a book or short story would consist of questions or a book report. Instead, teachers can tell students that they need to create a bookmark with a synopsis on one side and key vocabulary on the other. This bookmark can then be transferred to the next book for use. At the end of the year, the student can compile a scrapbook of all the bookmarks created. This not only tests the students’ knowledge of the contents of the book, but also helps them see their progression as the year continues.
  • Recipe. For math and science, a great alternative assessment is to give the students a recipe and ingredients for cookies or any other delicious baked good. Then, give the students instructions for halving or doubling. Depending on the level of the student, fractions can be involved. If possible, the school can also provide measuring cups and spoons so that students can work to actually measure out the contents of each ingredient. Multiplication, division, and measurement are all tested in this alternative assessment.
  • Timeline. For social studies teachers, assigning a different time period in history to students in order to create a timeline can be an effective testing measure. The timelines would require students to understand the sequence of historical events and additionally force them to think about cause and effect.

 

High School:

  • Literature circles. Students in high school can read books in groups and discuss those books with their peers. In order to ensure that students are held accountable for their reading and discussions, teachers can audio-record these conversations and evaluate them on depth of conversation and sophistication. This alternative assessment adds verbal presentation into an English classroom that might otherwise only include written assessments.
  • At-home labs. Science classes don’t always have the material, space, or time for lab work, but there are great labs that teachers can assign to students to be completed at home. Many labs require everyday household items and regular kitchen equipment. With these labs (and the lab reports students write up after), students can demonstrate their knowledge of both math and chemistry in addition to an in-class written test.
  • Director’s notebooks. When reading plays (especially ones written a long time ago), students are often confounded by the language. A great way to test students’ knowledge, while also engaging and motivating them is to have them create “director’s notebooks.” In these director’s notebooks, they would annotate the scripts with difficult vocabulary, stage directions, and tone. Then, the students would perform the scene for the class, thereby demonstrating their knowledge of the subject at hand.

 

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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