Alternatives to Standardized Testing

Instructor: Marquis Grant
This lesson will highlight alternatives to standardized testing that teachers can use as to assess student achievement in the classroom. A short quiz will follow that will test your knowledge of lesson concepts.


Standardized tests have become commonplace in many districts across the United States. Efforts to reform poorly performing schools have led to more emphasis on accountability. As a result, more schools have pursued standardized testing options to determine whether teachers are really teaching, and what, if anything, students are actually learning in the classroom.

Standardized tests are often referred to as high stakes tests because of the amount of pressure placed on students and educators to perform. These tests consist mainly of multiple choice test items and, in some questions, constructed responses to questions. Students usually take these tests at the end of the year and have one shot to do well or face consequences that may include grade retention or placement in remedial courses. Remedial courses are courses that are intended to correct deficient skills in areas like reading and math.

But standardized testing goes beyond seeing what students know. These tests are also used to measure school districts, schools, educators, administrators and even statewide education systems. Critics argue that having more than one measurement of student achievement would be more of an accurate assessment of student achievement than a single test. Although assessing student performance is necessary in the academic environment, there have been questions about what alternatives could be used in place of standardized tests.

Project-Based Learning

Some schools have chosen to use project-based learning as a way to gauge student achievement. With project-based learning, students are required to successfully complete a specific number of performance-based assessment tasks in order to demonstrate that they have mastered subject area concepts that have been taught in the classroom. Performance assessments, also called authentic assessments, call for students to complete real-life tasks and apply them to the classroom environment.

For example, the language arts teacher may want to use project-based learning to measure student understanding. The teacher may decide, in lieu of traditional testing, to have students complete performance-based assessments. For poetry, she may have students write two original poems that have to be either a sonnet, haiku, ballad or other specific type of poetry. In addition, the teacher may then require each student to use their poems to teach a five minute poetry lesson to their peers. Each student would then be evaluated on both the written product and the oral presentation of the assignment.

Assessments that are authentic focus more on student performance (e.g., experiments, portfolios, and exhibits) rather than using the traditional paper and pencil method of testing. Types of performance-based tasks may include, but are certainly not limited to, a research paper, an essay, completion of community service hours, a PowerPoint presentation, or a science project.

Performance tasks should be related to the overall learning goals for the subject area and should usually include writing, speaking and listening components. Each task should also include a rubric or scoring guide that tells students exactly what is expected in each task and how they will be evaluated.


A common form of assessment is the portfolio-based assessment. Portfolios can include a wide range of options for each subject area, but at a minimum should include activities that cover course objectives and goals. Activities in the student portfolio would ideally incorporate any data that the teacher has gathered for each student, including collections of student work samples, projects, test/quiz scores and anything else that may be relevant to student academic or behavior performance.

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