Change Your Grade, Change Your Mind!

Last year, when Mrs. Lane gave her English classes a vote on choosing between an alternate assessment and a test, they voted for the test. While the test may have been easier, they voted against their best interests.

In the long run, students should embrace alternative assessments because they help you learn and absorb more information, which is what school is all about.

Alternate assessments require a student to apply critical thinking skills, apply his/her knowledge of the semester’s information, and truly learn the information. Whereas, with a traditional examination, students are memorizing the information to just throw on paper and then forget all of it directly following the exam.

To combat this practice, a balance of some regular exams and some alternate assessments, could allow a student to operate at maximum efficiency and gain the most knowledge. Students may reach burnout if there are too many assignments happening at once. For example, if a student has an english alternate and a history alternate that involve essay components simultaneously, that could be a lot of writing! But, with a balance of assignments, students can enhance different skill sets while maintaining time efficiency.

Alternative testing has proven to stimulate/exercise different parts of the brain that regular exams cannot. And it has been shown that students often get caught up in the performance related goals or mastery goals. Therefore, students are more concerned with how their grade will turn out as opposed to truly mastering the information.

Recent research from Karpicke and Roediger suggests that actively retrieving information produces significant long-term benefits for learning compared to passive studying. While any assessment requires some type of active retrieval, having students reconstruct what they know through alternative assessments leads to deeper understanding and consolidates learning in more powerful ways than traditional testing. For example, in English we had an alternate assessment where we had to revise past essays and creative writing pieces to apply different analytical methods and learn from our past mistakes. This assessment was a true test of our knowledge and how much we could learn from our errors, which is the ultimate form of learning.

Active retrieval is crucial as students prepare for assessments. Too often, when we ask students to reflect on their study strategies, they say they simply reread class notes. Without actively practicing math problems or discussing the material with a peer or a teacher, one cannot and will not recall the information they are trying to learn.
Although there are numerous benefits to alternate assessments, I worry about reaching student burnout. If we have all alternate assessments then there would be a heavy amount of work for a student to put in all at the same time.

Therefore, a solution to this problem of student fatigue would be for alternate assessments to be mandatory as a midterm or final with departments alternating: science/language/history one semester and math/literature/electives the other semester.

In the real world, there are numerous professions where testing is a part of certification. Almost every profession requires a test. For example, in medicine, for a doctor to maintain certification, they must take the board exam every ten years. Therefore, they must have an efficient test-taking strategy where they retain the information learned over the course of a decade. To enter medical school, one must score high enough on the MCAT in order to receive admission. In order to become a lawyer, one must pass the bar exam to be able to enter that bar of jurisdiction.

Ultimately, in life everyone will have to take tests as qualification for their professions. Therefore, if we have them in school, we might as well learn how to properly take them and how to learn from our mistakes.