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Alternative assessment


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Alternative assessment

  1. 1. ENHANCING ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE AND POSITIVE ATTITUDE OF STUDENTS IN MATHEMATICS WITH ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT By Godfred, Kwame Abledu - Koforidua Polytechnic godfredabledu@yahoo.comIntroduction The purpose and scope of formal education have undergone various changes overthe years since the time of the Castle schools. Consequently, assessment has alsoundergone a massive reform. This has led to a wider range of assessment now than therewas twenty-five years ago (Gipps, 1994). Evidence has shown that educational systemshave undergone assessment reforms, which are coincident with curriculum reforms(Nitko, 1995). A number of assessment methods have been applied in the Ghanaianeducational system since the introduction of schooling in the country (MOE, 1987). The educational reform in Ghana began with the hope that learning was to bemore practical and examinations should be based on practical oriented syllabus. Whathad emerged was that the cost and difficulties involved in assessing students’ practicalwork and the unreliability of teachers’ assessment had resulted in a return to the statusquo, that is pen and paper tests. Currently, Ghanaian teachers tend to monitor students’ understanding throughpen-and-paper tests and exercises in class, and move through the syllabus and textbookwith little or no attempt to use new instructional strategies if students do not understandthe material. The use of pen-and-paper tests has been used almost exclusively by schoolsto monitor students’ achievement. These tools have also dominated examination for the 1
  2. 2. professional certification of teacher and college admission. These strategies of assessingstudents have come under severe criticism by many educators (Wolf, 19891). The perception that much of what gets tested is not relevant or has not been taughtto students has been a source of concern to many educators and parents. Such concernshave made educators direct their attention to a new approach to testing variouslydescribed as “performance assessment”, “authentic assessment”, portfolio assessment”,and “alternative assessment” (Winzer, 1992). The Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM,1989) call for significant change in the way mathematics is taught. In conjunction withthis demand for change in mathematics instruction, a change format for assessingstudents is needed. To document these new expressions of teaching and learning,alternative assessments have emerged as the vehicle by which students and teachers canorganise, manage and analyse life inside and outside the school. One of the most exciting and liberating things about the current interest inassessment is the recognition that numerous assessment tools are available to schools,districts, and states that are developing new assessment systems. These tools range fromstandardized fixed-response tests to alternatives such as performance assessment,exhibitions, portfolios, and observation scales. However, in Ghana, alternativeassessment is relatively an unknown concept and only few researches have beenconducted in this area. Each type of assessment brings with it different strengths and weaknesses to theproblem of fair and equitable assessment. Recognizing the complexity of understandingperformance or success for individuals, it is virtually impossible that any single tool will 2
  3. 3. do the job of fairly assessing student performance. Instead, the National Center forResearch on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (1996) suggests that anassessment system made up of multiple assessments (including norm-referenced orcriterion-referenced assessments, alternative assessments, and classroom assessments)can produce "comprehensive, credible, dependable information upon which importantdecisions can be made about students, schools, districts, or states." Since the influence of testing on curriculum and instruction is now widelyacknowledged, educators, policymakers, and others are turning to alternative assessmentmethods as a tool for educational reform. The movement away from traditional, multiple-choice tests to alternative assessments, variously called authentic assessment orperformance assessment, has included a wide variety of strategies such as open-endedquestions, exhibits, demonstrations, hands-on execution of experiments, computersimulations, writing in many disciplines, and portfolios of student work over time. These terms and assessment strategies have led the quest for more meaningfulassessments which better capture the significant outcomes we want students to achieveand better match the kinds of tasks which they will need to accomplish in order to assuretheir future success. Billions of dollars are spent each year on education, yet there is widespreaddissatisfaction with our educational system among educators, parents, policymakers, andthe business community. Efforts to reform and restructure schools have focused attentionon the role of assessment in school improvement. 3
  4. 4. After years of increases in the quantity of formalized testing and the consequencesof poor test scores, many educators have begun to strongly criticize the measures used tomonitor student performance and evaluate programs. They claim that traditionalmeasures fail to assess significant learning outcomes and thereby undermine curriculum,instruction, and policy decisions. The way in which students are assessed fundamentally affects their learning.Good assessment practice is designed to ensure that, in order to pass the module orprogramme, students have to demonstrate they have achieved the intended learningoutcomes. To test a wide range of intended learning outcomes, diversity of assessmentpractice between and within different subjects is to be expected and welcomed, requiringand enabling students to demonstrate their capabilities and achievements within eachmodule or programme. The aim of this paper is to provide a guide to the range of alternative assessmenttools available, to discuss the potential benefits and difficulties in using the approach andsuggest a process for its use.Alternative Assessment Alternative assessment is a generic term referring to the new forms of assessment(Winzer, 1992). It includes a variety of instruments that can be adapted to varyingsituations. The teacher and the students can collaboratively decide which procedures areto be used for assessment (Huerta - Macias 1995). Individual students are also oftengiven the responsibility of selecting specific products of their work on which they will beassessed. It provides the students with the opportunity to reflect on his/her learning 4
  5. 5. experience, pointing out what he/she understands, and the factors that contribute tohis/her lack of understanding. The main goal of alternative assessment is to gather evidence about how studentsare approaching, processing, and completing “real-life” tasks in a particular domain(Garcia and Pearson, 1994). Alternative assessment may include interviews withstudents, journal writing by students, developing portfolios of students’ work and writingof reflections. Also, students are encouraged to engage in small co-operative grouplearning and may be assessed individually and jointly. Alternative assessment, most importantly, provides alternative to traditionalassessment in that it; i. does not intrude on regular classroom activities; ii. provides multiple indices that can be used to gauge students progress; and iii. provides information on the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student (Huerta-Macias, 1995; p. 9) One of the major advantages of alternative assessment as a tool for assessingstudents is that it empowers students to become partners and decision makers in theirlearning (Smolen et al 1995). Curran (1997) in his study with middle level educatorsfound that alternative assessment is most valuable for students’ involvement in meta-cognitive learning. Vlaskamp (1995) found that alternative assessment processes engagestudents to become active in learning. The processes offer them opportunities forreflection and to be thoughtful respondents and judges of their own learning. Lee (1996) 5
  6. 6. found that the real value of alternative assessment is an information source for teachersand a learning tool for the students. Alternative assessment includes a variety of instruments that can be adapted tovarying situations. These instruments include the use of checklist of students’ behaviouror product, journals, reading log, videos of role plays, audio tape of discussions, selfevaluation, questionnaire, work samples and teacher observation of anecdotal records(Huerta-Macias, 1995, p.12). According to her, the teacher or instructor and students cancollaboratively decide which procedures are to be used for assessment in a given class.Individual students are also given the responsibility of selecting specific products of theirwork on which they will be assessed.Portfolio Assessment The concept of portfolio assessment comes from the field of fine arts in whichportfolios are used to demonstrate the depth and breath of an artist’s talents andcapabilities. A portfolio is a systematic, well organised collection of evidence used tomonitor the growth of a student’s knowledge, skills and attitudes (Bonnestetter, 1994). Itis a purposeful collection of students work that exhibits to the students and others thestudent’s efforts, progress or achievement in (a) given area(s) (Reckase 1995). This collection according to them should include: Student participation in selection of portfolio contents The criteria for selection, and evidence of student self-reflection (p.12) To fulfil the purpose of portfolio assessment as a methodology based on multiplemeasures and high content validity, the portfolio is to be composed of materials that 6
  7. 7. should be selected jointly by the student and the teacher to reflect the students work overthe entire schooling period. All work are to be taken directly from the classroomactivities. To help the students select materials for the portfolio, a set of guidelines shouldbe made available to the students. The guidelines include how the content of theportfolio is to be selected and the criteria that would be used to assess the portfolios. The contents of the students’ portfolios are to include the following:i. individual assignments (homework and tests);ii. group assignments;iii. self reflection on each selected student or group workiv. group reflection on group work. The reflections are to indicate evidence of learning mathematics in the school,what they know and can do. They are also to explain what they have understood and theaction that contributes to their understanding. They are to identify what they still do notunderstand and explain the cause of their lack of understanding and what they can do tochange the situation.Journal A journal is a daily or weekly record of occurrences, experiences or observations(Berenson and Carter, 1995). Journal writing by students can be used to record the dailyand weekly mathematics learning experiences and the attitude of students towardsmathematics. The journal can be used to keep track of the students’ progress inmathematics and to gain insight into the understanding and misunderstanding of the 7
  8. 8. student. The journal can also be used to document the students attitudinal changes duringthe project. Students are asked to write three sets of journals in each semester (term). Thefirst one is to be written during the first week of the semester (term), the second in thefourth week and the third journal in the last week of the semester (term). At the beginning of the semester(term), the students should be asked to writejournals to indicate their previous and current feelings about mathematics. They are alsoto assess their strengths and weaknesses in mathematics, pointing out the factors thatcontributed to their failure or success and describe what they need to do. During the fourth week of the semester, the students would be asked again towrite journals to identify ideas they understood easily during discussions with the teacheror their colleagues, and then explain why it was easy for them to understand such ideas.They are to identify ideas, which are still difficult for them to understand, and explainwhy they thnk they are having such difficulties in comprehending these ideas. They areto comment on a homework or class test they did, and explain why they thought they didwell or did not do well. They are to identify aspects of their work that neededimprovement. They are also to explain what they learned from doing homework ortaking a test and state what they would do differently if they are to do the homework ortake the test again. During the last week of the semester(term), students are to write another journal.They should be asked to express their feelings of the test, classwork, homework etc, andtheir feeling about mathematics. They are to state whether there is any improvement in 8
  9. 9. their learning or understanding of mathematics, and identify things, which contribute totheir understanding or lack of understanding. Journal writing can be used as means of regularly focusing on course progress andpossible modifications. The journals are the first step in placing the responsibility forlearning with the students. Research had found that the journal was an importantdiagnostic tool in three important ways. First, as a writing sample, it provided information about students’ strengths andweaknesses in mathematics. Second, the journals gave an indication of how the studentsperceived themselves, and finally, the journals revealed students’ perceptions of themathematics learning process. The journal the students write will help teachers to know early in the course howstudents perceived themselves as mathematics learners and how they understood thelearning process entailed. Whenever their work was seen, evaluations were made whicheither corroborated their assessment or highlighted their misconceptions. With thisinformation, the students will be helped to become better more efficient learners. Whenmisconceptions are discovered, students will be helped to establish realistic expectationsabout what mathematics skills they need to achieve their goals. In fact, the first journalthey write is an important point of reference when working with individual students andhelping them to identify their objectives during the learning process. Research findings show that journal writing provides the opportunities for thestudents to reflect on the learning process, and to develop new learning skills. Theseopportunities will help the students to identify differences between their schoolexperiences and those they are encountering at college. 9
  10. 10. Challenges Testing for accountability purpose is essentially large scale testing and for thisreason it relies on tests that are relatively cheap, brief, offer broad but shallow coverage,are easy to score and reliable (Gipps, 1994). Alternative assessment by contrast is time-consuming, tends to provide detailed multi- dimensional information about a particularskill or area; (and because of time factor, depth may be exchanged for breadth), scoring isgenerally complex and usually involves the classroom teacher Standardisation of theperformance is not possible and therefore reliability in the traditional sense is not high(Mehrens, 1992). However, alternative assessment in general, has become the cornerstone ofeducational reform movement. The arguments for using these forms of assessment tosupport instructional practice are that;(i) they engage students in tasks that are more comprehensive and consistent with the goals of a discipline or resonant with the desired outcomes of educational process;(ii) they provide detailed evidence about student’s thinking that enables more specific instructional decision making; and(iii) they encourage students to take active role in their own assessment enabling a sharing responsibility for learning (LeMahieu, et. al. 1995, p11) Many educators are of the view that alternative assessment must be held to thesame stringent standard of reliability, validity and objectivity as those achieved bystandardised norm - referenced assessment, if it is to provide credible and legallydefensible measure of learning and performance (Linn and Burtin, 1994). 10
  11. 11. Objections to alternative assessment are often voiced in terms of validity,reliability and objectivity. Questions that focus around these issues are: i. Does the instrument measure what it is supposed to measure? ii. Is the instrument consistent in its measurement? iii. Is the instrument unbiased? (Garcia and Pearson, 1994). Alternative assessment represents the best of worlds in that it looks at actualperformance on real life tasks, such as writing, self-editing, reading, participation incollaborative work, and doing a demonstration in front of a group. These procedures arein themselves valid (Garcia and Pearson, 1994). As regards reliability of alternative assessment, Huerta - Macias (1955), mentionstriangulation as a means of ensuring reliability in a qualitative research. In qualitativeresearch, triangulation refers to the combination of methodologies to strengthen a studydesign. When applied to alternative assessment, triangulation refers to the collection ofdata/information from three difference sources/perspectives - teacher, student, and parent. On the question of objectivity of alternative assessment, research findings showthat, standardised tests merely represent agreement among a number of people on scoringprocedures, format or content. These individuals are not objective; they just collectivelyshared the same biases. In this regard, Huerta - Marcias (1995) says that standardised testis not more objective than an alternative assessment. Other challenges of alternative assessment have to do with curriculum andinstructional practice. Torrance (1993) reviewed the impact alternative assessment has oncurricular and instructional practice in the context of the National Assessment in Englandand Wales. Among the concerns raised were exorbitant demands on teachers, adding up 11
  12. 12. to two to three hours of extra work daily. Teachers also reported dissatisfaction withmanaging assessment interactions with small groups of students while trying to maintainthe focus of all students. Torrance (1993) concluded that teachers treated assessment as aspecial activity set apart from teaching, and they felt obliged to do this by the instructionsthey received, a vision at odds with the integrated assessment and instruction offered byalternative assessment advocates. The question of relative practicality of alternative and traditional assessment interms of time consumption has been raised by many authors (Linn, 1993; Gipps 1994).Research results indicate that alternative assessment is not more time consuming thantraditional assessment on the part of the students. Research has shown that students cancope with the time demands of the alternative assessment(Eshun & Abledu, 2000). Educational Implications and Recommendations The following educational implications and recommendations are made forimproving the academic performance and enhancing positive attitude of students inmathematics:i. Through alternative assessment processes, the teacher is given the opportunity to know from the students’ journals and portfolios the positive and negative points of his teaching process and work out strategies for his subsequent teaching.ii. Alternative assessment processes offer a chance for the development of better student- student and student-teacher relationship. During their group work and discussions of their journals with the teacher a friendly climate is generated which helps them to get to know one another better. 12
  13. 13. iii. With alternative assessment the teacher is given a chance to break the everyday monotonous teaching routine. Activities are organised for the students that create a pleasant and motivating atmosphere in the classroom, which revives the interest of the pupils for the subject.iv. Alternative assessment processes lead to discovery learning and planning. Thus, it is valuable for increasing and maintaining the efficiency of the skills and concepts that the students learn. However, it makes heavy demands on the teacher to plan activities for the students.v. Students who have language problems will be unwilling to communicate in writing with the teacher. Teachers who use alternative assessment processes should rely more on oral interview than the writing of The positive benefits of alternative assessment lie not only in its implementation but also in the teachers’ ability to extend and enrich the curriculum through the activities he/she arranges for the students. Thorough planning and understanding of the skills students must develop are prerequisite to successful implementation of alternative assessment processes. Teachers must be trained to live up to the task. It is recommended therefore that pre-service teachers be introduced to the alternative assessment processes. In-service and induction courses on alternative assessment can be organised for teachers who are already teaching. This training is worthwhile since teachers will have the means to bring about higher achievement in mathematics and higher attitudinal changes in female pre-service teachers towards mathematics. 13
  14. 14. vii. Teachers need to provide many opportunities for students to explore and reflect on mathematical concepts. Having students talk and write about mathematical concepts and how these ideas are applied in various problems situation can strengthen their understanding and provide valuable information to the teachers. It is therefore recommended that mathematics concepts be presented to students through the alternative assessment processes. This will then enhance the current programme of promoting the interest of girls in Science, Technology and Mathematics Education (STME).viii. To evaluate our programmes and the progress students are making, me must look beyond the current traditional assessment alone, and find better ways of assessing students’ creativity, ability, and sensitivity in mathematics. The point is, continuous assessment ought to provide a more comprehensive view of pupils’ all-round performance. The Ministry of Education (MOE), the Ghana Education Service (GES) and other policy makers on education must adopt alternative assessment to improve female students’ performance and attitudes in mathematics.Conclusion Knowing mathematics is doing mathematics. We need to create situations wherestudents can be active, creative, and responsive to the physical world. I believe that tolearn mathematics, students must construct it for themselves. They can only do that byexploring, justifying, representing, discussing, using, describing, investigating, 14
  15. 15. predicting, in short by being active in the world. Alternative assessment is an idealactivity for such processes.ReferenceBrady, R. (1991). A Close Look at Student Problem Solving and the Teaching of Mathematics: Predicaments and Possibilities. School Social Science and Mathematics. 91(4), 144-150.Eshun B.A and Abledu, G.K.(2001): The Effects of Alternative Assessment on the Attitudes and Achievement in Mathematics of Female Pre-service Teachers. African Journal of Educational Studies.Vol. 1.p.21-30Garcia, G.E. & Pearson, P.D. (1994). Assessment and Diversity. In L. Darling Hammond (Ed.) Review of Research Education .337-391.Huerta – Macias, A. (1995).Alternative Assessment: Responses to Commonly asked Questions. TESOL Journal. 5 (1) : 8-11.Smolen, L. et. al. (1995). Developing Student Self-Assessment strategies. TESOL Journal. Vol. 5(1) 22 - 27.Gipps, C.V. (1994). Beyond testing: Towards a theory of educational assessment. The Falmer Press, London.Lee, T. W. (1996). Mathematics portfolios. NCTM’s goals and students perceptions. A complex analysis. Abstract International 57 (6).Vlaskamp, D.C. (1995). Encouragement of Student Learning through a Portfolio Process. Dissertation Abstract International. 55(1).Mehren, W. A (1992). Using Performance assessment for accountability Purposes. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice. 11, (1), 3-9. 15
  16. 16. Linn, R.L. & Burton, E. (1994). Performance Based Assessment: Implications of Task Specificity. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice. 13 (1) 5-8.Torrance, H. (1993). Combining measurement –driven instruction with authentic assessment: Some initial observations. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis,15, 18-90. 16