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Alternative Assessment Techniques

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Excerpted from Reading Teacher's Book of Lists.

Standardized tests, criterion-referenced tests, diagnostic tests, cloze exercises, unit tests, worksheets – these are some of the assessment tools frequently used in evaluating reading proficiency. The following four alternative assessment techniques build on classroom activities to provide insight to student learning.

  1. Retellings

    After students read a story or have one read to them, ask them to retell it as if they were telling it to a friend who never heard it before. It is important to let students know in advance that they will be asked to do this. To analyze the retelling quantitatively, use a checklist of important elements in the story (setting, plot, resolution, etc.) and assign a score for each.

    Qualitative evaluation focuses on students' deeper understanding of the story and ability to generalize and interpret its meaning. This type of evaluation can be noted in the form of comments at the bottom of the checklist. Retellings can be done individually or in groups. Teacher prompts may be required to help lead some students through the story.

  2. Portfolios

    Portfolios are systematic collections of student work over time. These collections help students and teachers assess student growth and development. It is essential that students develop a sense of ownership about their portfolios so they can understand where they have made progress and where more work is needed.

    • Portfolio Content
      • The content of portfolios will vary with the level of the student and will depend on the types of assignments they are given in class. In addition to completed reports, poems, letters, and so forth, portfolios often contain first and second drafts. Reading logs and audiotape recordings can also be included. As portfolios are assembled, it is important that students keep them in a place where they have easy access to them. Students should be encouraged to browse through their portfolios and share them with classmates.

    • Criteria for Selecting Items for Portfolios
      • Although almost all work may initially be included, portfolios can quickly become unmanageable if they are too large. Portfolios that will form the basis for assessment can be assembled at the end of each term and at the end of the school year. A specific number of items for inclusion (often five or six) and criteria for selecting them should be agreed to by the teacher and students.

    • Evaluation of Portfolios
      • Portfolio evaluation often occurs at three levels: the student, the student's peers, and the teacher. For each piece selected, students may be asked to describe briefly why they chose it, what they learned, and what their future goals are. Students can also be asked to prepare an overall evaluation of their portfolio.

        Classmates are frequently enlisted in portfolio evaluation. Their evaluation can focus on what they see as the special strengths of the portfolio, their personal response to some item in the portfolio, and a suggestion of one thing their classmate could work on next.

        Portfolio evaluation by the teacher should build on that of the student's and peer's. Although the teacher evaluation may result in a grade, it is important that an opportunity be found for discussion with the student. This discussion should culminate in agreement on future goals.

        Although not a part of the formal evaluation process, it is helpful, particularly for elementary school children, for parents to review the portfolios. Portfolios can be sent home or they can be reviewed at the time of the parent-teacher conferences. It is essential that teachers take steps to help parents understand that their role should be to provide encouragement and that they should focus on the positive and not be critical.

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