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They are a constant presence in everyone’s life. It is a simple truth that we have each been subject to them in some form or another at various points throughout our years. It may also go with out saying that in most instances they have been greeted with nothing but scowled faces and a solid stream of complaints. What is this repugnant enigma of our existence that is being referred to here? It is simply… a test.
From the moment one begins his/her academic career, tests are an aspect that is not only inevitable, but also unavoidable.
The test is the most commonly used, as well as the oldest, form of assessment. They come in various shapes and disguises. These may include; a multiple choice test printed on a scantron, a series of essay questions placed on a handout, or perhaps an oral quiz where the students scrawl their answers on their very own notebook paper. Whatever the preferred method may be, the test is designed to gauge a student’s progress.
That is, the test is intended to give an idea to the teacher, the parent, as well as the student as to what knowledge he/she has learned and retained within a given period of time. Is this simple form of testing always an appropriate means of assessment, however?
To argue this, let’s look at an orange. On the surface, an orange is said to be “good for you”. It is a healthy fruit that is full of vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need to grow and function properly.
This assessment of an orange’s attributes is comparable to the common test. It is a rough estimate of what is accomplished. Just like the orange is said to be “good for you”; a student may earn an “A” on a particular test. The conclusion is then drawn that the student has answered all of the questions on the test correctly; therefore, he/she has learned and retained the information necessary for mastery of the skill.
A closer look at the orange, however, reveals some very interesting facts. If we were to consider the entire profile of an orange our results would differ greatly from that “good for you” statement. For example, oranges are extremely high in sugar. This could be fatally hazardous to a person who may suffer from diabetes. The initial assessment of an orange is “good for you” is now grossly incorrect.
When referring back to the student who just received the “A” on his/her test this same mistake may hold true. Although the student has answered each of the questions correctly, a large chunk of the puzzle may be missing from the whole picture. These chunks of information may be better understood if we consider Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory.
This theory states that people should not be judged on merely whether or not information can be regurgitated, but rather on a multi-leveled scale of achievement. This theory currently includes eight such levels; Visual/Spatial, Bodily/Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Musical, Verbal/Linguistic, Mathematical/Logical, and Naturalistic. The goal is to allow students to excel in learning where they may have a natural aptitude, (Armstrong 12).
Let’s look at a scenario. Little Bobby is a third grader in a middle class neighborhood. He has always loved school and for the most part done extremely well. As tests become a more frequent staple, however, Bobby has begun to fall behind. When his teacher looks at Bobby’s profile in conjunction with the Multiple Intelligences she notices that Bobby is very kinesthetic by nature. He likes to touch, feel, move, and generally be actively involved when it comes to most things. Now that a specific portion of Bobby’s learning character has been pinpointed the teacher may now do various things to help him. These may include, letting the kids go out for recess before giving a particularly heavy test, allowing Bobby to move about the back of the room while taking a written test, or perhaps giving more hands-on forms of assessment, (Cohen 24).
James R. Dellsie, a Ph.D. from the state of Ohio, agrees that, “…in order to illustrate a child’s true spectrum of knowledge, we must do more than the old stand-by of paper and pencil tests.” The fear, especially in light of George W. Bush’s Education Plan which was introduced in January of 2001, is that a single test will replace an entire tapestry of applicable learning, that numbers will replace knowledge, and that statistics have supplanted the professional opinions of teachers who know their children better than any test can ever show.
Grant Wiggins also suggests that there are certain premises that an assessment should meet, (Maylone 32). Wiggins focuses on five specifics. These are as follows;
The main thread that connects each of Wiggins’ ideas is that far too often tests intimidate students. If the teacher has done his/her job, then an assessment should be of no worries to the students because, (in theory), they all know the material and will simply demonstrate that knowledge. This is where the alternative assessment is beneficial because it allows the students to display and apply their knowledge in a useful and stress free manner.
It is no secret that alternative assessment is becoming an increasingly hot topic among educators, especially in the face of the current mainstreaming trend within the classroom. As more students with varying learning levels and capabilities are found in
the seats of the classroom, teachers have had to become creative in ways to assess. So what are these various forms of assessment?
They may take the face of a hands-on project or group presentation that must meet specific criteria to demonstrate a child’s knowledge. Portfolios or journals are also becoming quite popular. Though they may differ slightly, the basic idea is that the students’ work is placed in an individual portfolio. This work includes homework, projects, essays, teacher-selected items, as well as student-selected items. It is reviewed as both an illustration of the child’s current state of learning, as well as a visual to the progress he/she has achieved over the course of time.
An alternative assessment may be as uncomplicated as teacher observation of the students. As David Rogosa, a professor at Stanford University, points out, “…by walking around, asking questions while the students work, and noting how each student interacts and functions, a teacher can gain great insight into the comprehension level of his/her class,” (Rothenstein 68).
These methods of assessment are not perfect in nature either, however. In most cases, the alternative assessment is time consuming for the teacher. Many argue that in this period of declining school resources and overcrowded classrooms, testing continues
to offer impartiality and is an efficient use of teachers’ time. Others, such assistant principal of Social Studies in Jamaica, James Killoran, agree that with proper effort, tests may be designed to assess many levels of the cognitive domain.
What is the answer then? Should we surrender the paper in pencil tests in the face of alternative assessment? Is alternative assessment the right choice or even a feasible answer for that matter? Like so much in life, and even more so when speaking of education, there is no one right answer. Just like the orange is one aspect of an entire plan for a healthy diet we must look at the various forms of assessment as similar links in the chain. It is when all parts interlock in a curriculum that the student will grow strong.
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