Alternative Assessments: Thinking Beyond the Test
Our goal through assessment is to measure student learning. We want to be sure that the information we’ve been discussing in class is being retained. There are several methods beyond the standard multiple-choice exam that can, not only help us measure student learning, but also provide greater opportunities for higher-level thinking and content retention.
When creating an assessment, it’s important to start with your learning outcomes. Learning outcomes should remain consistent no matter how you’re going to assess for understanding. There are several different levels of learning, and our outcomes dictate the levels we want to include in our assessments.
Bloom’s taxonomy is a structure that outlines the different levels of learning. When developing your assessment, it is helpful to review Bloom’s Taxonomy alongside your student outcomes to determine what kinds of assessment might be best suited to the outcomes you have.
Below are the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, revised, starting with the most basic form and growing to the deepest form of learning:
Remembering is all about retrieving relevant knowledge from long-term memory. Ideally, this involves using knowledge, not just recalling information. Using low stakes quizzes or ungraded quizzes, and providing multiple attempts on these quizzes, allows for mistakes to be made, which can be excellent learning opportunities that reinforce information in the student’s mind. Making it Stick by Peter Brown, is an excellent book that discusses how multiple, low-stakes assessments improve student success on larger assessments.
Remembering can be achieved by having students assist in creating questions. This could be done through blogs, journals, and discussion boards, as well as through many other methods. Another “remembering” focused technique is the memory matrix, which can be done through a wiki or class notes. A great example of what a memory matrix looks like can be found at Rochester Institute of Technology website. Angelo & Cross’s “50 CATs” includes many resources for “remembering” assessments.
Understanding is achieved by constructing meaning from instructional messages, including oral, written, and graphic communications. “Understanding” questions often times include multiple choice questions, but can also include essay questions. We end up giving a lot of these kinds of assessments across higher education as a whole.
Understanding is demonstrated when students are able to explain “why” something is the way it is. You can follow up a multiple-choice question with an essay question that asks students to explain why they chose the answer they did. Rubrics are also very useful for grading when assessing for understanding. Learn more about rubrics in our post “What is a Rubric?”
Some formats for assessing for understanding include minute papers, outlines, diagrams, summaries, and through assignments, journals, quizzes, or wiki entries. As with “remembering” focused assessment, it can be helpful to offer ungraded “understanding” focused assessments (such as the minute paper).
Applying is carrying out or using a procedure in a given situation. Discussion forums, role-playing, group assignments, or other demonstrations of skills are ways to assess for application. Here is a great explanation of role-playing and why it’s beneficial.
In our current HyFlex model, one option to assess for application is having students record demonstrations. YuJa, Blackboard Collaborate, and Zoom are all capable of this. “Applying” is about integrating remembering and understanding.
Analyzing is breaking down information to solve problems. Some assignments, like a categorizing grid or group assignments that explore problems, allow students to analyze. Here is an example of a categorization grid. The analysis part is fully explored when students are the ones figuring out the categories for the grid.
Wikis and Google docs that track change over time can be helpful for assessing progress and change over time with a group. When doing group work, students can analyze their own roles within a group structure to further practice this level of learning.
Evaluation involves making judgments based on criteria and standards. Assessing a student’s ability to evaluate is a bit confusing to discuss, because we’re already discussing your evaluation of the student’s work, and now we’re adding the component of the student doing the evaluating. Confused yet?
Students can practice evaluating by conducting peer reviews, creating rubrics of their own, and comparing and contrasting assignment outcomes. Group leadership, facilitation, and debate are other ways students can be assessed for evaluation skills.
Lastly, we have creation, where elements are put together to form a coherent whole, or reorganized into a new pattern or structure. This is the newest addition to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Creation is a synthesis of all of the previous elements. Design, research, and artistic creation all fall under the category of creation and are great ways to engage students in all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
There are a variety of peer reviewed resources available to help you develop your assessment around all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Some of these include the DPQ Assignment Library, MERLOT, Project CORA, Every Learner Everywhere, and the Effective Research Assignments Guide from the Oregon State University Libraries. What other sources do you go to for ideas on assessment? Comment below with your resources.
About the Authors:
Lori Swinney is an Instructional Designer with NDSU’s Learning & Applied Innovation Center. She joined the department in July 2020 to help provide support as the campus transitions to HyFlex teaching and learning. Swinney retired, after 28 years, from the University of North Dakota in December 2019. Swinney served as the director of the Center for Instructional & Learning Technologies up to December 2018, when several departments were restructured and her position and others became a part of the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy. Lori completed her B.S. in Psychology, and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Higher Education Teaching & Learning, with a focus in Instructional Design & Technology. She has been teaching as an adjunct assistant professor at UND since 2003. The courses include online, hybrid and traditional face-to-face in College Teaching, Web-Based Instruction and Multicultural Education.
Amy Tichy is pursuing her M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at NDSU. She graduated with a Master of Arts in Theatre with a concentration in Drama Therapy from Kansas State University (2014), where she was a Graduate Teaching Assistant, lecturing 6 credits of Public Speaking per semester, and with a Bachelor of Science in History Education and Theatre Education from Dickinson State University (2010). Amy is a licensed teacher and a Registered Drama Therapist. She works in the Office of Teaching and Learning as a Graduate Assistant.