Consequently, assessment has also undergone a massive reform. This has led to a wider range of assessment now than there was twenty-five years ago (Gipps, 1994). Evidence has shown that educational systems have undergone assessment reforms, which are coincident with curriculum reforms (Nitko, 1995). A number of assessment methods have been applied in the Ghanaian educational system since the introduction of schooling in the country (MOE, 1987). The educational reform in Ghana began with the hope that learning was to be more practical and examinations should be based on practical oriented syllabus.
What had emerged was that the cost and difficulties involved in assessing students’ practical work and the unreliability of teachers’ assessment had resulted in a return to the status quo, that is pen and paper tests. Currently, Ghanaian teachers tend to monitor students’ understanding through pen-and-paper tests and exercises in class, and move through the syllabus and textbook with little or no attempt to use new instructional strategies if students do not understand the material. The use of pen-and-paper tests has been used almost exclusively by schools to monitor students’ achievement.
These tools have also dominated examination for the 1 professional certification of teacher and college admission. These strategies of assessing students have come under severe criticism by many educators (Wolf, 19891). The perception that much of what gets tested is not relevant or has not been taught to students has been a source of concern to many educators and parents. Such concerns have made educators direct their attention to a new approach to testing variously described as “performance assessment”, “authentic assessment”, portfolio assessment”, and “alternative
assessment” (Winzer, 1992). The Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 1989) call for significant change in the way mathematics is taught. In conjunction with this demand for change in mathematics instruction, a change format for assessing students is needed. To document these new expressions of teaching and learning, alternative assessments have emerged as the vehicle by which students and teachers can organise, manage and analyse life inside and outside the school.
One of the most exciting and liberating things about the current interest in assessment is the recognition that numerous assessment tools are available to schools, districts, and states that are developing new assessment systems. These tools range from standardized fixed-response tests to alternatives such as performance assessment, exhibitions, portfolios, and observation scales. However, in Ghana, alternative assessment is relatively an unknown concept and only few researches have been conducted in this area. Each type of assessment brings with it different strengths and weaknesses to the problem of fair and equitable assessment.
Recognizing the complexity of understanding performance or success for individuals, it is virtually impossible that any single tool will 2 do the job of fairly assessing student performance. Instead, the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (1996) suggests that an assessment system made up of multiple assessments (including norm-referenced or criterion-referenced assessments, alternative assessments, and classroom assessments) can produce “comprehensive, credible, dependable information upon which important decisions can be made about students, schools, districts, or states.
” Since the influence of testing on curriculum and instruction is now widely acknowledged, educators, policymakers, and others are turning to alternative assessment methods as a tool for educational reform. The movement away from traditional, multiplechoice tests to alternative assessments, variously called authentic assessment or performance assessment, has included a wide variety of strategies such as open-ended questions, exhibits, demonstrations, hands-on execution of experiments, computer simulations, writing in many disciplines, and portfolios of student work over time.
These terms and assessment strategies have led the quest for more meaningful assessments which better capture the significant outcomes we want students to achieve and better match the kinds of tasks which they will need to accomplish in order to assure their future success. Billions of dollars are spent each year on education, yet there is 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.
3. After years of increases in the quantity of formalized testing and the consequences of poor test scores, many educators have begun to strongly criticize the measures used to monitor student performance and evaluate programs. They claim that traditional measures fail to assess significant learning outcomes and thereby undermine curriculum, instruction, and policy decisions. The way in which students are assessed fundamentally affects their learning. Good assessment practice is designed to ensure that, in order to pass the module or programme, students have to demonstrate they have achieved the intended learning outcomes.
To test a wide range of intended learning outcomes, diversity of assessment practice between and within different subjects is to be expected and welcomed, requiring and enabling students to demonstrate their capabilities and achievements within each module or programme. The aim of this paper is to provide a guide to the range of alternative assessment tools available, to discuss the potential benefits and difficulties in using the approach and suggest a process for its use. Alternative Assessment Alternative assessment is a generic term referring to the new forms of assessment (Winzer, 1992).
It includes a variety of instruments that can be adapted to varying situations. The teacher and the students can collaboratively decide which procedures are to be used for assessment (Huerta – Macias 1995). Individual students are also often given the responsibility of selecting specific products of their work on which they will be assessed. It provides the students with the opportunity to reflect on his/her learning 4 experience, pointing out what he/she understands, and the factors that contribute to his/her lack of understanding.
The main goal of alternative assessment is to gather evidence about how students are approaching, processing, and completing “real-life” tasks in a particular domain (Garcia and Pearson, 1994). Alternative assessment may include interviews with students, journal writing by students, developing portfolios of students’ work and writing of reflections. Also, students are encouraged to engage in small co-operative group learning and may be assessed individually and jointly.
Alternative assessment, most importantly, provides alternative to traditional assessment in that it; i. ii.does not intrude on regular classroom activities; provides multiple indices that can be used to gauge students progress; and iii. provides information on the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student (Huerta-Macias, 1995; p. 9)
One of the major advantages of alternative assessment as a tool for assessing students is that it empowers students to become partners and decision makers in their learning (Smolen et al 1995). Curran (1997) in his study with middle level educators found that alternative assessment is most valuable for students’ involvement in metacognitive learning.
Vlaskamp (1995) found that alternative assessment processes engage students to become active in learning. The processes offer them opportunities for reflection and to be thoughtful respondents and judges of their own learning. Lee (1996) 5 found that the real value of alternative assessment is an information source for teachers and a learning tool for the students. Alternative assessment includes a variety of instruments that can be adapted to varying situations.
These instruments include the use of checklist of students’ behaviour or product, journals, reading log, videos of role plays, audio tape of discussions, self evaluation, questionnaire, work samples and teacher observation of anecdotal records (Huerta-Macias, 1995, p. 12). According to her, the teacher or instructor and students can collaboratively decide which procedures are to be used for assessment in a given class. Individual students are also given the responsibility of selecting specific products of their work on which they will be assessed.
Portfolio Assessment The concept of portfolio assessment comes from the field of fine arts in which portfolios are used to demonstrate the depth and breath of an artist’s talents and capabilities. A portfolio is a systematic, well organised collection of evidence used to monitor the growth of a student’s knowledge, skills and attitudes (Bonnestetter, 1994). It is a purposeful collection of students work that exhibits to the students and others the student’s efforts, progress or achievement in (a) given area(s) (Reckase 1995). This collection according to them should include: ?
Student participation in selection of portfolio contents ? The criteria for selection, and evidence of student self-reflection (p. 12) To fulfil the purpose of portfolio assessment as a methodology based on multiple measures and high content validity, the portfolio is to be composed of materials that 6 should be selected jointly by the student and the teacher to reflect the students’ work over the entire schooling period. activities. To help the students select materials for the portfolio, a set of guidelines should be made available to the students.
The guidelines include how the content of the All work are to be taken directly from the classroom portfolio is to be selected and the criteria that would be used to assess the portfolios. The contents of the students’ portfolios are to include the following: i. ii. iii. iv. individual assignments (homework and tests); group assignments; self reflection on each selected student or group work group reflection on group work. The reflections are to indicate evidence of learning mathematics in the school, what they know and can do.
They are also to explain what they have understood and the action that contributes to their understanding. They are to identify what they still do not understand and explain the cause of their lack of understanding and what they can do to change the situation. Journal A journal is a daily or weekly record of occurrences, experiences or observations (Berenson and Carter, 1995). Journal writing by students can be used to record the daily and weekly mathematics learning experiences and the attitude of students towards mathematics.
The journal can be used to keep track of the students’ progress in mathematics and to gain insight into the understanding and misunderstanding of the 7 student. The journal can also be used to document the student’s attitudinal changes during the project. Students are asked to write three sets of journals in each semester (term). The first one is to be written during the first week of the semester (term), the second in the fourth week and the third journal in the last week of the semester (term). At the beginning of the semester(term), the students should be asked to write journals to indicate their previous and current feelings about mathematics.
They are also to assess their strengths and weaknesses in mathematics, pointing out the factors that contributed to their failure or success and describe what they need to do. During the fourth week of the semester, the students would be asked again to write journals to identify ideas they understood easily during discussions with the teacher or their colleagues, and then explain why it was easy for them to understand such ideas. They are to identify ideas, which are still difficult for them to understand, and explain why they thnk they are having such difficulties in comprehending these ideas.
They are to comment on a homework or class test they did, and explain why they thought they did well or did not do well. They are to identify aspects of their work that needed improvement. They are also to explain what they learned from doing homework or taking a test and state what they would do differently if they are to do the homework or take the test again. During the last week of the semester(term), students are to write another journal. They should be asked to express their feelings of the test, classwork, homework etc, and their feeling about mathematics.
They are to state whether there is any improvement in 8 their learning or understanding of mathematics, and identify things, which contribute to their understanding or lack of understanding. Journal writing can be used as means of regularly focusing on course progress and possible modifications. The journals are the first step in placing the responsibility for learning with the students. Research had found that the journal was an important diagnostic tool in three important ways. First, as a writing sample, it provided information about students’ strengths and weaknesses in mathematics.
Second, the journals gave an indication of how the students perceived themselves, and finally, the journals revealed students’ perceptions of the mathematics learning process. The journal the students write will help teachers to know early in the course how students perceived themselves as mathematics learners and how they understood the learning process entailed. Whenever their work was seen, evaluations were made which either corroborated their assessment or highlighted their misconceptions. With this information, the students will be helped to become better more efficient learners.
When misconceptions are discovered, students will be helped to establish realistic expectations about what mathematics skills they need to achieve their goals. In fact, the first journal they write is an important point of reference when working with individual students and helping them to identify their objectives during the learning process. Research findings show that journal writing provides the opportunities for the students to reflect on the learning process, and to develop new learning skills. These opportunities will help the students to identify differences between their school experiences and those they are encountering at college.
9 Challenges Testing for accountability purpose is essentially large scale testing and for this reason it relies on tests that are relatively cheap, brief, offer broad but shallow coverage, are easy to score and reliable (Gipps, 1994). Alternative assessment by contrast is timeconsuming, tends to provide detailed multi- dimensional information about a particular skill or area; (and because of time factor, depth may be exchanged for breadth), scoring is generally complex and usually involves the classroom teacher Standardisation of the performance is not possible and therefore reliability in the traditional sense is not high (Mehrens, 1992).
However, alternative assessment in general, has become the cornerstone of educational reform movement. The arguments for using these forms of assessment to support instructional practice are that; (i) they engage students in tasks that are more comprehensive and consistent with the goals of a discipline or resonant with the desired outcomes of educational process; (ii) they provide detailed evidence about student’s thinking that enables more specific instructional decision making; and (iii) they encourage students to take active role in their own assessment enabling a sharing responsibility for learning (LeMahieu, et.al. 1995, p11)
Many educators are of the view that alternative assessment must be held to the same stringent standard of reliability, validity and objectivity as those achieved by standardised norm – referenced assessment, if it is to provide credible and legally defensible measure of learning and performance (Linn and Burtin, 1994). 10 Objections to alternative assessment are often voiced in terms of validity, reliability and objectivity. Questions that focus around these issues are: i. ii. iii. Does the instrument measure what it is supposed to measure? Is the instrument consistent in its measurement?
Is the instrument unbiased? (Garcia and Pearson, 1994). Alternative assessment represents the best of worlds in that it looks at actual performance on real life tasks, such as writing, self-editing, reading, participation in collaborative work, and doing a demonstration in front of a group. These procedures are in themselves valid (Garcia and Pearson, 1994). As regards reliability of alternative assessment, Huerta – Macias (1955), mentions triangulation as a means of ensuring reliability in a qualitative research. In qualitative research, triangulation refers to the combination of methodologies to strengthen a study design.
When applied to alternative assessment, triangulation refers to the collection of data/information from three difference sources/perspectives – teacher, student, and parent. On the question of objectivity of alternative assessment, research findings show that, standardised tests merely represent agreement among a number of people on scoring procedures, format or content. These individuals are not objective; they just collectively shared the same biases. In this regard, Huerta – Marcias (1995) says that standardised test is not more objective than an alternative assessment.
Other challenges of alternative assessment have to do with curriculum and instructional practice. Torrance (1993) reviewed the impact alternative assessment has on curricular and instructional practice in the context of the National Assessment in England and Wales. Among the concerns raised were exorbitant demands on teachers, adding up 11 to two to three hours of extra work daily. Teachers also reported dissatisfaction with managing assessment interactions with small groups of students while trying to maintain the focus of all students.
Torrance (1993) concluded that teachers treated assessment as a special activity set apart from teaching, and they felt obliged to do this by the instructions they received, a vision at odds with the integrated assessment and instruction offered by alternative assessment advocates. The question of relative practicality of alternative and traditional assessment in terms of time consumption has been raised by many authors (Linn, 1993; Gipps 1994). Research results indicate that alternative assessment is not more time consuming than traditional assessment on the part of the students.
Research has shown that students can cope with the time demands of the alternative assessment(Eshun & Abledu, 2000). Educational Implications and Recommendations The following educational implications and recommendations are made for improving the academic performance and enhancing positive attitude of students in mathematics: i. Through alternative assessment processes, the teacher is given the opportunity to know from the students’ journals and portfolios the positive and negative points of his teaching process and work out strategies for his subsequent teaching. ii.
Alternative assessment processes offer a chance for the development of better student- student and student-teacher relationship. During their group work and discussions of their journals with the teacher a friendly climate is generated which helps them to get to know one another better. 12 iii. With alternative assessment the teacher is given a chance to break the everyday monotonous teaching routine. Activities are organised for the students that create a pleasant and motivating atmosphere in the classroom, which revives the interest of the pupils for the subject.
iv. Alternative assessment processes lead to discovery learning and planning. Thus, it is valuable for increasing and maintaining the efficiency of the skills and concepts that the students learn. However, it makes heavy demands on the teacher to plan activities for the students. v. Students who have language problems will be unwilling to communicate in writing with the teacher. Teachers who use alternative assessment processes should rely more on oral interview than the writing of journal. vi.
The positive benefits of alternative assessment lie not only in its implementation but also in the teachers’ ability to extend and enrich the curriculum through the activities he/she arranges for the students. Thorough planning and understanding of the skills students must develop are prerequisite to successful implementation of alternative assessment processes.
Teachers must be trained to live up to the task. It is recommended therefore that pre-service teachers be introduced to the alternative assessment processes. In-service and induction courses on alternative assessment can be organised for teachers who are already teaching.
This training is worthwhile since teachers will have the means to bring about higher achievement in mathematics and higher attitudinal changes in female pre-service teachers towards mathematics. 13 vii. Teachers need to provide many opportunities for students to explore and reflect on mathematical concepts. Having students talk and write about mathematical concepts and how these ideas are applied in various problems situation can strengthen their understanding and provide valuable information to the teachers.
It is therefore recommended that mathematics concepts be presented to students through the alternative assessment processes. This will then enhance the current programme of promoting the interest of girls in Science, Technology and Mathematics Education (STME). viii. To evaluate our programmes and the progress students are making, me must look beyond the current traditional assessment alone, and find better ways of assessing students’ creativity, ability, and sensitivity in mathematics. The point is, continuous assessment ought to provide a more comprehensive view of pupils’ all-round performance.
The Ministry of Education (MOE), the Ghana Education Service (GES) and other policy makers on education must adopt alternative assessment to improve female students’ performance and attitudes in mathematics. Conclusion Knowing mathematics is doing mathematics. We need to create situations where students can be active, creative, and responsive to the physical world. I believe that to learn mathematics, students must construct it for themselves.
They can only do that by exploring, justifying, representing, discussing, using, describing, investigating, 14 predicting, in short by being active in the world. Alternative assessment is an ideal activity for such processes. Reference Brady, R. (1991). A Close Look at Student Problem Solving and the Teaching of Mathematics: Predicaments and Possibilities.
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