Alternative Assessment: What, Why, How

Article excerpt

For the past decade, one of the most notable changes in education reform is the movement to performance-based assessment. As a result, new assessment formats, such as performance assessment, authentic assessment, portfolio assessment, and outcome-based assessment, have been proposed and applied in many educational settings. As a result of the reform movement, professionals have noticed the change (Safrit & Wood, 1995). Some of these formats have been introduced (see, e.g., Melograno, 1994), and a few states have begun to use these assessments in practice (Lund, 1994). However, the new assessments have not been introduced and described systematically in the professional journals. Therefore, their differences from traditional testing practices, their advantages and limitations, and the process of their development, implementation, and quality control still are not clear to many teachers and practitioners. The purpose of this feature is to meet this need by introducing the new alternative assessment formats, including what they are, why we need them, and how we can develop and apply them. By declaring the "best" and "worst" times of the assessment, Hensley starts the feature by defining what alternative assessments are and why may need them. Performance-based assessment methods, as pointed out by Hensley, are not new to physical educators and, in fact, have been regularly used for many years. However, alternative assessments are not just performance-based assessments; they have to be authentic and demonstrate a higher-level thinking at the same time. Furthermore, they are often direct assessments of students' performance on significant tasks that are relevant to life outside of school (Worthen, 1993). Using examples in sport skill assessment, Hensley describes these characteristics and the distinction between the alternative skill assessment and the traditional skill assessment.

Following Hensley's introduction, the feature moves to two most popular formats of alternative assessments - authentic and portfolio assessments - by Lund and Kirk, respectively. Using a real-life and familiar example, Lund first reminds readers that, again, many of our test practices are already authentic, although the term "authentic assessment" was not used and it was not intentionally developed for such an assessment. To purposely develop and apply authentic assessments, however, their characteristics must be fully understood. For a good authentic assessment, as addressed in Lund's article, the task must be meaningful and demonstrate higher-level thinking; students should know how they will be evaluated in advance; assessments are firmly embedded in the instruction; and finally, students must be actively involved. Concerns and challenges related to the authentic assessment are also addressed in Lund's article.

Portfolio assessment, in which evidence of students' learning and achievements are self-collected and evaluated, is one of the most flexible assessment formats among alternative assessments. The flexibility, however, could create challenges to both students and teachers when implementing the portfolio assessment in practice. To help teachers meet these challenges, Kirk's article provides a detailed overview of the major characteristics of portfolio assessments and the major steps in developing and implementing the assessments. For example, while all work collected can be used in a portfolio assessment, only the best work should be selected and evaluated by a predetermined rubric or standard. …