9 Ways to Assess without Standardized Tests

9 Ways to Assess without Standardized Tests

Caine's Arcade

You don't assess innovation with bubbletests.
You got the message.

Standardized tests are not what's best for learning. Not only are they not best for learning, but they have become an insurmountable obstacle for innovative educators like me to do my work in schools because helping kids become good and filling in bubbles on a piece of paper is anything but innovative!

Unfortunately, many politicians, parents, and even students don’t know a world without testing and wonder...

“If we don't use standardized tests how will we measure learning, teacher effectiveness, or school effectiveness?”

When people ask me that question, I usually respond with this question:

“How do we assess learning in real life?”

Think about it, learning is rarely measured via a test in real life. For instance, as a educator I had to take a few meaningless tests that no one bothers studying for more than a decade ago but that's it. A few tests 15 years ago and not another test is required the rest of my career. Our elected officials who often impose these tests upon children so they can claim they care about learning don't take tests. My Dad who was a cinematographer never took a test. My boyfriend who is in sales doesn't take tests. My girlfriend who is a professional photographer doesn’t take tests. My best friend who owns a successful fundraising business doesn’t take tests. The reality is that for most of us, success in life has little to do with how well we can fill in bubbles.

School life, needs to take a look at real life measurement tools and consider making the school world, look more like the real world with meaningful and authentic assessment. In short, we should measure individuals by how well they do stuff rather than how well they do the meaningless work of memorize, regurgitate, and fill in bubbles on demand.

9 Ways to Assess Students without Standardized Tests

  1. Look at student’s school work - Students are doing work across the year. Let's assess that, rather than a bubbletest. For instance, we can look at a piece of writing and use a standardized rubric to measure that. We can listen to a recording of a student's reading and retelling and use a standardized measure to assess their readIng and comprehension level. The great thing is that teachers already do this. No need to fork over millions to a publisher and grading staff.
  2. Games -More and more games are being created that allow us to determine a student’s level mastery by their ability to progress in a game. Simulation games/contests and games like Tabula Digita, Manga High are examples.
  3. Challenges - In real life we’re assessed by how well we do, not how well we fill in bubbles. Instead of bubble tests, support young people in in tackling real challenges to demonstrate their capabilities and get scouted for awesome apprenticeship/internship/career opportunities. This is exactly what companies like Rad Matter (life is rad, make it matter) do.
  4. Badges and Points - Folks like Tom Vander Ark (Author, Getting Smart) predict badges will be big in education and I agree. A badge (think boy/girl scouts) is an award for demonstrated mastery of a skill that has become popular as a reward mechanism in games and social networks like foursquare.com.In education a badge could be awarded for successful completion of an activity. An example of this is Code Academy co-founded by Columbia U dropout (school got in the way of learning) Zach Sims. Code Academy is a site where you learn to program by actually coding and as you do you receive points and badges as you complete each exercise. I'm a newbie learning Java and html. I have 22 points and 2 badges.
  5. Real World Work - Encourage students to get out of the classroom and into the world doing work in an area of interest. The iSchool is an example of a school that does this well with their Areas of focus Program. Staff supports students in figuring out what it is that interest them and them helps them go out into the world and do it via an internship, apprenticeship, job. Just like in the real world, their work is assessed by their supervisor.
  6. Real World Projects - I talk to so many students who are doing amazing work...just not in school. They're making viral videos, writing for publications or publishing their own blogs, engaging in public speaking, etc. The problem is, in today's paradigm of school, when we do work worthy of the world, this just doesn't matter. Let's change that! When kids are doing amazing things in the world, let's give them credit for it.
  7. Real World Accomplishments - Why is it that in most cases, school will only provide credit for that which is done during their hours on their terms. Why can't students get credit for accomplishments achieved outside of school if they provide evidence. For example, complete a marathon, win a dance contest or volleyball tournament, get physical education credit. Compete in a pig competition, get science credit. Write a travel review, get social studies credit. Perform in a recital, get music credit. In these cases, the assessment doesn't come from the school, it comes from the real world, and that's a good thing.
  8. Personal Success Plans - Assessment should be customized to the student, not standardized to the system. This is exactly what happens with a personalized success plan with measurable goals. Teachers work with students to help them identify their goals then develop a real plan to achieve them. This involves input from teachers, mentors, family, friends, and community. The teacher, students, family. mentors, etc. can see at any time the student’s progress at anytime and provide scaffolded support as necessary.
  9. ePortfolios - ePortfolios provide a great way to capture, document, make meaning, and share with others what we learn. They are a wonderful assessment tool that tells much more about a child than a letter or number on a piece of paper. Not only that, they form the basis of what can lead to academic and career success. There are numerous ways to create free, student-owned ePortfolios. Knowit App is a new site that is helping students do this work, but as ePortfolio guru Helen Barrett explains, Google Sites and Wikispaces are also great resources.

This isn't that hard and it's better for everyone (students, parents, teachers, school leaders) except the mega-billion dollar testing industry. Now that we've saved millions of dollars and saved countless hours wasted on testing and prepping, how do you think we can better serve students? I have my ideas!

Cross posted at The Innovative Educator

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Tech & Learning.  

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.