Breaking Tradition: Alternatives to Tests



We had a great chat on Monday night, sharing ideas about breaking the traditional format of “tests” @informed_members @Certified_Educators , what are your thoughts? Here is Question #1 from Monday night, look forward to hearing your responses!Q1


To me, a ‘traditional test’ is a cumulative, lengthy pencil-paper test given in silence to students sitting in rows. Our standardized tests are semi-traditional only because they are completed 100% on a computer, but they are still cumulative, lengthy, and given in silence to students sitting in rows.

That being said, all my initial math tests are ‘traditional’ in format. It’s the retest that is different. Sometimes I use a highlighter to indicate incorrect problems, return the tests with a small stack of sticky-notes, and students perform a ‘sticky-note revise.’ They place sticky notes on top of the problems they want to redo and rework the problem on the sticky note. They earn back 1/2 the points they missed on that problem. (For example, if the problem was worth 2 points and they originally scored 1 out of 2 points, and corrected it to 100%, they would have a final score of 1.5 out of 2 on that problem.)

I have also done ‘matching’ tests. One example is assessing if students know if students can identify the different types of graphs, equations, and names for those graphs. Instead of a pencil-paper test, I put each ‘part’ on a separate index card. For the student test, I call students up one and a time, shuffle the cards, and lay them out. I instruct the students to match the correct name (quadratic, linear, absolute value, exponential) with the correct graph and the correct equation. It’s hands on and literally takes about a minute per student.

I have several ESL students. One alternative I am exploring is giving those students an oral retest, where they tell me/show me how to work out the problems.

I’ve done presentations in the past. Students are able to work with a partner or a small group if they choose. They gather data, and then calculate the statistics and make graphs/charts to present and explain to the class.

It really depends on the math topic being assessed. Many times, the traditional test is the most time-efficient assessment. For too many concepts, the non-traditional assessment takes way more time to give and it covers less topics/concepts.


Usually a ‘traditional’ test has limited ways to respond and many times Ss focus on what they think the T wants for an answer. Alts include open ended activities that allow for variety of ways to show deeper understanding. Use oral, media, and other medium.


I was reading your response and thinking oh my goodness those are the kinds of tests I took for years and also had given my students…at least until I knew better. Although one thing I do wonder about is if your students are silent during tests. As far back as I can remember, students have gotten used to commenting during the tests, wanting to carry on a conversation or something else distracting. It has gotten better, but I did notice an increase in this over the years until about middle of last year. Has anyone else experienced this?
I do like your idea for the ESL students, having them tell you rather than write it out can be really beneficial for so many different reasons.
Thanks @tricia.mintner :smile:


I have also tried more open ended questions and sometimes even having different sections and different prompts/formats and have the students decide how to respond, show their learning. Thanks @d.vendramin :smile:


I’ve taught middle and high school. In both levels, students always try to push the envelope and ‘get away with something’ during a test. I learned very quickly to verbalize my testing expectations before handing out the test (talking, looking at others’ papers, phones, etc.) I even post these expectations on the board while the students are taking the test. I try to minimize my talking and my noises while they test. I communicate via facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language as much as possible to maintain the silence. If I speak to a student, I whisper very close to their ear so no one else is disturbed.

When I distribute tests, I walk up and down the row, placing tests on desks of students who are complying with all the expectations and bypassing those who are not complying. After a second sweep around the room anyone still not complying is either asked to step into the hallway (if they are talking) or asked to clear their desk in order to obtain their test. Some students take a few extra minutes to ‘study’ and I let them, but I don’t give them any extra time. I remind them that tests will be collected at ____. I’ve been known to collect tests for those not complying with the expectations, sometimes right after I put it on their desk. I’ve also ripped up a test when a student was talking during the first few minutes of a test, or writing a note at the top of a students’ test while they work as a reminder to follow the rules. I’m pretty vigilant on monitoring my testers and I usually catch them quickly before any answers are exchanged. During non-crucial ‘tests’ I give a stare-down while writing a note. The kids are usually freaked out that I can watch them and write a note without looking. I follow up later with a mini-conference about what I wrote down, the rule that was violated, and what happens on a ‘real’ test if they should do it again. Of course, I’ve also learned to ‘practice’ the expectations a few times before the first test. If I have students work silently on a worksheet, I will point out violations quickly and remind them of the consequences during a test. My students tend to be ‘trained’ to be silent fairly quickly, and I find that after awhile, I can grade papers, standing in front of the class, while students are testing, without kids trying to cheat.

The biggest thing I emphasize is that I want students to learn in my class. I don’t know what they’ve learned if they don’t show me and they can’t show me what he/she knows unless it’s silent and they do their best work. “It needs to be as silent for the last person testing as it was for the first person testing.”


Thanks for this information @tricia.mintner , so many good ideas! I really like what you said at the end, about the emphasis on learning and I may have to borrow this next year :):grinning:


Traditional tests tend to have a correct answer and time limits. I like to use them for basic knowledge checks and GoFormative is great for this cause it marks for me. I like to go past this though into more open problems requiring communication and application of knowledge as well as problem solving. These are assessments rather than tests which can be in many forms.


This chat has gotten me thinking about time limits more. Back when I was teaching, I believe that the main reason I had them was not to ensure that my students could respond to a question in a specific amount of time, but for logistical purposes (to return grades in a timely manner, to prevent a test from carrying over to another day). If we eliminate those logistical concerns by using a different kind of assessment, is there value in doing away with time limits? One benefit I could possibly see is allowing students to demonstrate DOK Level 4 (extended thinking). Tasks that support this complexity of thinking usually take place over a series of days (so students can process and reflect on learning differently). Here’s a cool video by Norman Webb where he explains the different levels. I’ve cued it up to that specific part about DOK Level 4 and the need for it to happen over time:

What to do if students already know the content

I had forgotten about the time limits, as a student we had time limits in elem and high school. There are tests that have time limits for older students, when I took the bar exam, it was 2 days and 8 hours each day. Also in undergrad, when they said put the pencil down, it had to be down. I prefer that most students finish the test during class, and I make a really good effort to create a format that enables this to happen.
I do have students who tend to not finish, and sometimes it is because they give up during it and it takes a bit to get them to try again.


Here was my response during the Twitter chat:

A1 Traditional tests tend to be fill in the blank, multiple choice, short answer with an occasional essay. Nowadays I use more problem based, real world issues that require the Ss to come up w/ practical solutions and require them to express their opinions.


As a school we are looking at ways to build this idea of more “authentic thinking” (as our admin likes to call it). What was a good starting point for you to begin this?


Jillian I just started looking differently at what I already did. For example when covering weather vocabulary with my ELs I decided to do a whole unit on natural disasters. My students read multiple articles in Newsela on different events happening around the world (earthquake in Mexico, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, fires in California). We used Microsoft Teams to collaborate on questions we would ask someone who had been through a natural disaster and then we asked those questions using Flipgrid videos. The culminating project was having the students participate in a Skype conversation with students from a school in Puerto Rico. We still covered the typical vocabulary but used real world events and connected with people who had experienced them. It was very powerful. Another example is while learning about animals we once again had a Skype Virtual Field trip to the Tucan Rescue Ranch in Costa Rica. My students spoke to and learned from a biologist who spoke to them about the wonderful things they are doing at the Ranch to safe endangered animals. After the event my students couldn’t stop talking about the importance of protecting the environment and our world. Awesome way to teach the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. For me it has been about changing my mindset. I still cover the curriculum topics that are required but I have changed the way that I cover them.


Traditional test usually are more structured in form. They may be given by the district or by a PLC to measure learning as a whole group. They are usually timed and set well in advance. Alternatives to this form of assessment is usually a game or even stations where you can see in smaller groups what they know.


Very seldom do my learners need to sit standardised tests thank goodness. There are so many different alternatives. I tend to give my learners a choice as to how they demonstrate their learning. Whether it be by a Google form, a video they have created (using the success criteria that has been co-constructed), google slides to show their learning journey, a powtoon presentation or a more traditional approach in a paper form. My learners, to be fair are still coming to grips with the choice but love that they can.


I love the different options that you offer learners! I agree that choice can sometimes present an obstacle in and of itself. I’d love to hear what others are doing to help learners become comfortable with making choices about their own learning.


Maybe you can do what I do which is to use verbal testing of knowledge of students individually. I dont generally find testing as a useful tool for all. I was a terrible test taker so I keep them short and to the point or verbal so they can be completed. Or in some cases I use google classroom and drive and make google forms so I can control how long they have in class to do them, I also reopen them and allow for “redo”


thanks for sharing, definitely was a great chat the other night. I do agree the more that we can give students real-world opportunities and problem-based issues to work through, it will definitely benefit more them in the future


Just what I said something that I think might tie into this, in my Spanish courses I taught me class. That has levels 3 4 and 5 which made it quite challenging because they all use different books. But I did tie it in, as much as I could have in terms of vocabulary content or related things, and verbs. the way I started was actually using some Choice boards and giving students opportunities to decide how to show their learning, they knew what the theme or Focus was and I wanted them to come up with some more authentic ways to think about it


Wow these are really tremendous ideas especially for giving opportunities to connect with real-world learning experiences and also to develop different technology skills that enable them to collaborate and communicate more. I love when we can use the technology in a way that builds on authentic learning experiences and those that can be done student-driven or based upon student interest. And the collaborative feature of using Microsoft teams would be really great and now with the tie-in with flipgrid that’s another option to actually talk to if time schedules do not coincide
Doing project-based learning this year a big part of our Focus was connecting globally using different tools like Skype Microsoft and flipgrid and connecting initially through Edmodo. But a bigger part of what we did was having students learn about the sustainable development goals and selecting one or a few that coincided with their project-based learning or problem-based learning topics. All of the students benefited by this and I definitely learned so much and I feel as a class we were able to teach each other so much more than the traditional format has been.