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Alternative Assessment

Definition

Traditional forms of assessment often evaluate a learner’s knowledge of a topic and fail to assess deeper forms of learning such as application, evaluation, or creation. Alternative or authentic assessments, on the other hand, measure a learner’s level of proficiency in a subject by allowing the learner to demonstrate their knowledge and execute tasks in unique and innovative ways. 

Explanation

Unlike traditional assessments, alternative assessments typically require learners to reflect on their overall learning to determine what information and skills they need to use to solve a given problem. These assessments involve real-world tasks that are complex and multifaceted. The focus is on allowing learners to practice, get feedback and refine their performance or products as opposed to just providing a correct answer. 

The table below compares traditional and alternative assessments.

Traditional Assessments
Alternative Assessments

Topics and questions are not tied to real-world contexts

Topics and questions are relevant to the discipline and have real-world applications

Focus on a single skill and favours facts over reflection. There is usually one correct answer. 

Integrate skills and knowledge to solve a problem and favours reflection and justification. There is more than one possible answer.

Questions and assessment criteria are not shared with the students in advance

Questions and assessment criteria are shared with the learner in advance; expectations are clearly established

Learner has one opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge

Involves recurrent tasks. Learner has more than one opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge

Application

There are many alternatives to traditional assessments, which will allow learners to better engage with course material, demonstrate their knowledge and skills and improve their performance. 

The table below outlines some examples of alternative assessments.

Alternative Assessment
Description
Untimed assessments 

Focus on the student’s ability to apply their knowledge and skills rather than their ability to answer questions quickly. 

Retake policies

Provide students with the opportunity to repeat an exam using an alternative format.

Open book exams

Integrate knowledge and skills to answer higher-order thinking questions as opposed to basic recall questions.

Collaborative (group) exams

Discuss material and brainstorm ideas before answering questions.

Multimedia presentation

Use a digital format to demonstrate skills and knowledge in an innovative way.

Concept maps

Organize and categorize knowledge + identify connections between complex ideas.

Case study

Analyze and propose solutions to discipline-specific scenarios.

Annotated bibliography 

Summarize relevant literature on a specific topic.

Summary

Identify and analyze the main points of a lesson.

Critical reflection

Apply theory to practice or real-world situations.

Proposal

Present and justify an idea, solution or plan.

References

Indiana University Bloomington. (n.d.). Authentic Assessment. Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. https://citl.indiana.edu/teaching-resources/assessing-student-learning/authentic-assessment/index.html

University of Minnesota. (n.d.). Alternative Assessment Strategies. Center for Educational Innovation. https://cei.umn.edu/support-services/tutorials/integrated-aligned-course-design-course-design-resources/alternative

Wiggins, G. P. (1998). Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.