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Are There Any Good Alternatives to Test Taking?

In my last blog post, I discussed a few problems with excessive testing in education. For parents who are just starting to homeschool, or for those who feel more comfortable following a traditional school model, regular testing might be a practice that provides a bit of comfort to parents who are worried they aren’t providing a quality education to their children.

There are several ways in which we can evaluate student learning. The beauty of homeschooling is that you have the power to individualize your program to meet the educational needs of your children. Why not individualize your assessment strategies, too?

I love to give students a choice on how they demonstrate mastery of content. I usually present them with three to five options for different types of projects. I try to create opportunities where kids can use their areas of strength (think multiple intelligences). For example, I might give students the choice between writing a song, creating some type of digital presentation, building something, or drawing something.

Some of my kids who struggle are not good test-takers. It’s so defeating for them - they deal with the stress of the upcoming test, they struggle through the test, and then they feel terrible when they see a low score after the test has been graded. Many of these students do well on verbal tests. I’ll ask them questions, have them explain things verbally, and give them an alternate opportunity to prove their learning. It is much less stressful and we get much better results.

Students can create portfolios to show what they’ve learned in a unit. Give your child the responsibility of helping to decide what should go in the portfolio. Different work samples, pictures, and other work samples can be included. The sky’s the limit here. Some even like to create digital portfolios that contain pictures and videos of work.

Teacher observation is one of my favorite forms of assessment. It takes a bit more planning on the part of the educator, but it is much easier on the student. Determine the skills of which you want your child to demonstrate mastery. Create a system of recording that works for you. Some like to record their observations on paper, some prefer to record them digitally. You can create a checklist of skills, or you can write down anecdotal evidence. Whatever you decide, you’ll simply sit and observe your child as he works through his lesson. As you see him demonstrate mastery of a specific skill, mark it off your checklist or record what you observe. You can revisit your charts and observe as often as needed to ensure long-term mastery of the content you are assessing.

Still a bit weary about ditching traditional tests? You can try an open-book exam. Create a traditional assessment and allow your child to use her resources to complete the test.

There are many different ways we can assess student learning, Non-traditional assessment can promote higher-level thinking, is less stressful for students, and can better inform and guide our instruction. I love that we can design assessments in which students can build on their own personal strengths in order to demonstrate mastery of academic content.

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