Alternative Assessment: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is Alternative…
  • 0:45 Characteristics
  • 1:37 What Assessment Is Not
  • 2:27 Examples
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jesse Richter

Jesse holds two masters, a doctorate and has 15 years of academic experience in areas of education, linguistics, business and science across five continents.

Are you looking for a better understanding of what alternative assessment is and how to implement it? This lesson defines the term and provides tangible examples of how to use this powerful methodology in the classroom.

What Is Alternative Assessment?

Are you craving more organic and genuine ways of observing and documenting student achievement and progress? Many educators are, particularly in our modern world of overwhelmingly restrictive and prescriptive standardized testing requirements. Fortunately, education sciences support several alternatives to traditional assessment by leveraging creativity, student involvement, and strategic curriculum development.

Alternative assessment is any classroom assessment practice that focuses on continuous individual student progress. Perhaps the best way to define alternative assessment is to say that it's the counter to traditional forms of standardized assessment. Let's take a closer look at what alternative assessment is and isn't.


Alternative assessment is also known as formative assessment and portfolio assessment. The characteristics of alternative assessment may include:

  • Usually teacher-generated, as opposed to being passed down from an administration, government, or third-party organization.
  • Takes into account the individual background and needs of every unique learner.
  • Considers the big picture of individual student progress over an extended period of time.
  • Flexible, responsive, and continually developing according to curricular objectives.
  • Takes into consideration different learning styles and preferences.
  • Allows language learners to demonstrate content knowledge and skills mastery without language barrier difficulties.
  • Highly effective for use with students who are entitled to accommodations and/or modifications.
  • Normally documented with qualitative data, such as performance descriptors, comparisons with previous work, and skills demonstration.

What Alternative Assessment Is Not

Now, let's take a look at what alternative assessment is not:

  • Not standardized. Similarly, alternative assessment is not what is sometimes referred to as 'large-scale' or 'high-stakes' assessment.
  • Not intended to replace or otherwise diminish the importance of traditional assessments. In fact, it's intended to serve as a complement to school and/or state-mandated standardized assessment programs.
  • Not implemented in one specific moment in time, such as at the end of a lesson, unit, or semester.
  • Not a measurement of how a student performs compared to peers.
  • Not normally reported with quantitative data (such as percentage scores or statistics).
  • Not presented in traditional formats, such as multiple-choice, true/false, and fill-in-the blank questions and answers.
  • Not perfect, comprehensive, or appropriate in every situation.

Examples of Alternative Assessment

Examples of different kinds of alternative assessments include:


These may be physical (e.g., a binder) or electronic (e.g., a personal website or software). In both formats, portfolio assessment involves the collection, organization and ongoing reflection, analysis, and synthesis of student progress. Portfolio artifacts may include hand-written notes, drawings, photos, voice recordings, artwork, projects, and teacher feedback. They may also include even more structured components, such as the student's self-described learning goals and qualitative rubrics co-designed with classmates and/or the teacher. Portfolios are a great way to see the big picture and share student progress with parents and administrators.

Student-Produced Demonstrations

These are particularly useful in science classes. Students may prepare and present a small group, whole group, or teacher-only demonstration of learning through the use of props, equipment, and other relevant materials.

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