Aiming for Success Using Traditional & Alternative Assessment Methods
Assessment in Teaching English
- Formative versus Summative Assessment
- Traditional versus Alternative Assessment
Alternative Assessment Methods
- Performance-Based Assessment
- Portfolio Assessment
- Projects and Project Based Learning
- Peer Assessment
- The Pre-test Stage - Transparency & Clarity
- Test Time - How to give a test
- Evaluation - Rubrics, Grades and Feedback
- Post-Test - Reading & Learning from Test Results
Section 1 – Assessment in Teaching English
Assessment refers to how we measure our pupils' progress. As English teachers, we assess how much language our pupils have learnt. Since there is no one-to-one correspondence between teaching and learning, we cannot assume that our pupils have necessarily learnt everything we have taught them. Hence, we use various methods of assessment to determine what they have in fact learnt.
Formative versus Summative Assessment
There are many reasons why a teacher may need to assess her pupils' progress. If a teacher wants to know how much the pupils have learnt in order to determine what to teach next or in order to decide who needs extra help in a particular area, she will carry out a formativeassessment. Thus, formative assessment refers to an evaluation of the pupils' current knowledge which serves as a guide that the teacher (and pupil) uses to make necessary changes to the teaching/ learning activities.
On the other hand, if the teacher is concerned with determining how well the pupils learnt a particular unit of study or with assigning a final grade, she will carry out a summative assessment. Whilst formative assessment is tied to the pupils' ongoing learning, summative assessment deals with the final outcome of the learning process.
Traditional versus Alternative Assessment
There are many ways in which a teacher can assess her pupils' learning. None of these ways are suitable all of the time, but most of them will be suitable at some point. In order to best assess the pupils' progress it is essential to use a variety of assessment methods. However, it is crucial to understand which method should be used when.
Traditional assessment refers to tests and examination which are traditionally used to evaluate the pupil's knowledge. However, tests are usually poor indicators of the pupil's ability to use language in authentic situations. Moreover, external factors such as stress and anxiety on the one hand, and guessing or cheatingon the other hand, often interfere with test results, so that they do not truly reflect the pupil's level or abilities.
Alternative assessment methods focus on evaluating language use in authentic real-life situations. Thus, the aim is to assess what pupils can actually do with the language they have learnt rather than evaluating how much language they know. Alternative assessment is usually concerned with the learning process itself and not just the final product.There are many alternative assessment methods, as will be discussed in the next section below. As mentioned above, before using any method, it is important for the teacher to determine whether that particular method will indeed serve the purpose she intends it to serve.
Section 2 – Alternative Assessment
As mentioned above, there are various methods of alternative assessment. One example is "performance- based assessment":
What is Performance-Based Assessment?
Performance-based assessment […] enables pupils to demonstrate specific skills and competencies by performing or producing something. It can help English teachers in Israel assess both what pupils can do (specific benchmarks) and what they have achieved within a specific teaching program based on the Curriculum standards. Besides focusing on the quality of the final product of a pupil’s work, performance-based assessment also rates the pupil’s learning process. Assessing both product and process provides an accurate profile of a pupil’s language ability.
(From the Ministry's "Assessment Guidelines, 2001")
Performance-based assessment can include the use of rubrics, checklists, reflections and peer reviews.
A sample rubric:
Rubric for the benchmark ‘Interacting for purposes of giving and following directions’Criteria / Quality/Levels of Performance / Grade
Product / 5
Did not get message across; did not find place on map / 10* / 15
Followed part of route / 20* / 25
Got message across: found place on map
Fluency / 5
read out answers / 10 / 15
Fairly fluent / 20 / 25
and question form) / 5
Incorrect or no expressions and question forms used / 10 / 15
Some correct expressions and question forms used / 20 / 25
Correct expressions and question forms used
Process / 5
No evidence of cooperation and practice / 10 / 15
Some cooperation and practice / 20 / 25
Took turns, listened to each other and practiced
* This rubric allocates points at five levels. The in-between columns (10, 20 points) are to be used when a pupil’s performance falls between two of the descriptions.
A sample checklist:
Pupils’ ChecklistActivity / Yes / Partly / No
We found the places on the map.
We spoke clearly and did not read out our answers.
We used the expressions we learned in class.
We practiced before we recorded it.
We listened to each other and took turns.
Poor Good Excellent
We grade ourselves:/
4/ 6 /
As will be explained below, I suggest that these assessment tools be integrated into the traditional testing method. Pupils should be provided with rubrics, checklists and the opportunity to reflect at both the pre- and post-test stage.
What is a Portfolio?
"A purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student’s efforts, progress and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit and evidence of student self-reflection."
(Paulson, Paulson, Meyer 1991)
Portfolio assessment focuses on the learning process. The pupil selects entries that reflect her growth. Portfolios can be used to assess various skills such as writing, reading and speaking. Portfolios should include a cover letter, drafts, entries and reflections. Assessment tools include checklists and rating scales (as with performance-based assessment). Self and peer assessment tools can also be used (see below). Portfolios can provide students with a sense of achievement and can be used to showcase their work in addition to assessment.
Projects & Project-Based Learning
What is a project?
A project is a carefully planned and designed body of work, which takes pupils out of the classroom in order to investigate their chosen topic.
Mann, Shemesh & Shlayer, 2002
Projects and project-based learning are good for motivating pupils. Based on the principle of "student choice and voice", projects should investigate pupil chosen topics. Through projects, pupils learn and use language in an authentic context. Rubrics, checklists, reflections and self-assessment tools are all used to assess project work. Although project-based learning emphasizes the importance of the learning process, a final product is an essential part of project work.
Self-assessment can be used for any learning activity. Pupils can use checklists (see above) to assess their own language skills and abilities. Self-assessment promotes the pupils' awareness of their learning and achievements. This is a reflective process which encourages learning and boosts confidence. Teachers should teach pupils how to assess their abilities and reflect on their progress. Furthermore, teachers should respond to the pupils' self-assessment.
Peer assessmentinvolves pupils using clearly defined rubrics to assess their peers' work. It is imperative that teachers train their pupils how to assess and to provide their peers with constructive feedback. Teachers must know their pupils well before initiating peer assessment. Peer assessment can be used to improve interaction and collaboration among pupils.
Section 2 – Traditional Assessment
As mentioned above, traditional assessment involves evaluating student progress by means of tests and examinations. Tests can often be stressful and intimidating. The following guidelines are intended to help teachers administer successful tests.
The Pre-Test Stage: Transparency & Clarity
Whether a test constitutes formative or summative assessment, the ultimate goal remains the same. We test our pupils in order to assess their progress. How much English do they now know? What are they able to do with the language they have learnt?
In order for pupils to show what they are capable of, they must feel comfortable and well-prepared. Anxiety affects test results. The key to eliminating anxiety is transparency and clarity.
Teachers must make pupils completely aware of what they can expect to see on the test and of how they will be assessed.
- Provide the pupils with a clear list of the language/ content to revise for the test.
- Provide the pupils with sample/ practice questions. This entails giving the pupils (at least) one example of each question type as it appears on the test. The examples are of the same form as those on the test. The exact same questions will not appear on the test. This point must be made clear to the pupils. If the test includes an unseen, the revision page should include a similar level unseen. A listening activity can be included for in-class revision. An answer sheet can be provided for home revision.
- Provide the pupils with the grading rubric to be used to grade the test.
Sample rubric:Unit 4 Test - Grading Rubric
A. Comprehension (*Pre-taught Content)
Ticks correct boxes: Understands content / 15 points
B. Comprehension (*Pre-taught Content)
Matches sentences correctly: Understands content / 10 points
Uses correct word / 10 points
Uses correct form / 3 points / 5 points
Uses correct verbs / 2 points
E. Reading Comprehension (Unseen)
Understands content / 22 points / 25 points
Language / 3 points
E. Reading Comprehension, Question 7 EXTRA (5 answers)
Understands content / 10 bonus points
F. Listening Comprehension
Understands content / 15 points
G. Writing Task
Content (vocabulary use, clarity, coherence) / 7 points / 10 points
Language (grammar, spelling & punctuation) / 3 points
- Provide the pupils with a checklist and reflection template.
Sample checklist & reflection template:When studying for the test I… / Yes / Partly / No
Learned the meaning of the words on the word list
Learned how to spell words on the word list
Practiced using the words in sentences
Did the practice questions
After studying for the test I feel … good / confident / worried / scared
I think my grade will be … excellent / good / not so good / not good
Feelings I want to share with the teacher:
- Teachers can provide pupils with a similar reflection template at the end of the actual test. Teachers should use this feedback from the pupils when preparing future tests.
Test Time: How to Give a Test
When a teacher decides to use a test to assess her pupils' progress, she must have a very clear picture of exactly what progress she intends to test for.
Which vocabulary items are the pupils expected to know? Are they expected to use accurate spelling of those vocabulary items, or is the focus on the meaning of the words and/ or how to use them in context? Should the pupils be using accurate grammar? Do you expect the pupils to be familiar with a particular sentence structure…?
These expectations will guide the teacher as she writes (or chooses) an appropriate test. The teacher must ask herself: Will this test assess what I want it to? Will it provide me with an accurate picture of the pupils' progress in the specific area I intend to test for?
These expectations must also guide the teacher in writing a grading rubric and in the process of point allocation. If you are more interested in learning where your students are holding with their writing than with their reading comprehension, point allocation should reflect this. If spelling is not important right now, don't include spelling in your rubric (or assign fewer points for spelling).
Transparency and clarity are essential at the pre-test stage; they are just as essential at test time. Imagine yourself sitting at a desk in a crowded classroom about to take a test; wouldn’t you want every effort to be made to relieve your anxiety?
How can teachers relieve anxiety at test time?
- Pupils must be provided with clear written and oral instructions before beginning the test. Verify that they are completely sure of what you want from them!
- Point allocation should be clearly stated on the test. Percentages mean very little to elementary school pupils. Write how many points you are allocating to each question, not what percentage it is worth of the final grade.
- The grading rubric can be added to the end of the test so the pupils can remind themselves of what they should be focusing on.
- Use differentiation techniques to ensure the test caters to all the pupils needs. For example, if need be, specific pupils should be given fewer test items. Teachers do not need to write separate tests; rather they can reduce the material and subsequent test items for weaker pupils. Rubric parameters can be altered to cater to specific needs also. If the teacher allots points for spelling, for example, dyslexic pupils should not be graded by this measure. Where differentiation is used, pupils must be completed aware of what is expected of them.
- Allow pupils to raise their hands to ask for assistance. In assisting them, remember what it is you are testing for. If they do not understand something other than the focus of the test, they will not be able to show their abilities on the actual test items.
- Do not answer the test for them. As frustrating as may be, you cannot clarify items you are actually testing for. When a pupil asks for too much help, provide the pupil with words of encouragement.
- Allow dictionaries for writing and reading comprehension tasks.
- Wish your pupils "good luck"! Encourage them! Let them know you have confidence in them!
Evaluation: Rubrics, Grades and Feedback
In grading a test the teacher is essentially evaluating the pupils' progress in relation to the test items. The grade will inform the pupil of the value of their knowledge of the material. To the pupil it will often be interpreted as how much they are actually worth!
With this in mind, the teacher must tread carefully as she grades the test. The evaluation she provides can either boost the pupils' confidence, stimulating motivation for further learning or it can lower the pupils' self-esteem, creating an emotional barrier towards learning English.
How can positive outcomes be ensured?
- Use a rubric to ensure transparency, but make sure the rubric reflects what you are testing for. The rubric should allow for flexibility. The teacher can reserve the right to afford bonus points where necessary.
- Do not use a red pen to mark the test. Red can be daunting - try a more neutral color.
- Indicate points gained and not points lost for each question.
- Do not write lengthy explanations of why an answer is incorrect – they probably will not be read anyway!
- Provide positive written feedback alongside the grade – stickers and smiley-faces are often appreciated too.
- Provide positive oral feedback when returning the graded test.
- Allow pupils to correct their tests if they want to. Praise their efforts!
Post-Test: Reading & Learning from Test Results
One of the advantages of using a grading rubric is that it enables the teacher to easily identify pupils' strengths and weaknesses. So long as the teacher includes relevant parameters in her rubric, she will be provided with an accurate assessment of the pupils' progress in specific areas of subject matter.
The teacher can use a flipped rubric to compare pupils' achievements in specific areas.
Sample flipped rubric:Name:↓ / Test Grade / Extra Points / Comments
Comprehension (pre-taught content) / Vocabulary / Grammar / Reading Comprehension (Unseen) / Listening Comprehension / Writing
Ultimately, the teacher's goal in reading the test results is in order to learn from them, to draw conclusions and to determine the course of future action based on the results. As teachers we yearn to see our pupils succeed. The test results should be used in a way that nurtures success.
If all pupils found difficulty on a particular test item or in a specific area, this material needs more revision. The teacher might also reconsider teaching methods in relation to the specific subject that requires reinforcement.
If a specific pupil (or a few pupils) is weak in a specific area, the teacher must endeavor to find the reason for this weakness. The pupil may need extra help or alternative teaching methods in this area.
Finally, successes should never be overlooked. Teachers should let the pupils know when they excel! Let them enjoy this success and look forward to the next one!