Parent’s Guide to using Alternative Assessments

The purpose of this blog is to inform parents about assessments used in education. Specifically, I am introducing you to Alternative Assessments, and how using a combination of assessment types is likely the most effective way of keeping track of your child’s progress.

As you have probably already observed by parenting your child, there are other personal qualities that determine how well your child will do in school or with learning. Things like their outlook, belief in themselves, determination, perseverance, ability to pay attention, and impulse control are just a few of those factors.

How do we measure these factors? Through alternative assessments, of course.

What are examples of alternative assessments?

There are a wide variety of alternative assessments. Scoring them and interpreting them should be done using a rubric or an answer key, or a combination of them depending on the type of alternative assessment. Determining what it is that you want to have assessed would guide the type of assessment used.

When assessing personality and/or behaviors, questionnaires might be the way to go, but to be the most valid observation possible there should be a minimum of three questionnaires addressing the same behaviors, attitudes, or mood. One should be filled out by the student (about the student), one by the teacher (about the student) and one by the parent/guardian (s).

When assessing a student’s knowledge, you can use traditional assessments and you can make adaptations to make the assessments more interactive and ongoing learning experiences by making the exam “open book” or “open notes” which would reduce anxiety levels (in theory). Preparing for these sorts of exams encourages the student to use their study skills and apply their knowledge rather than just memorizing facts,

Another combination of learning experience and assessment is called collaborative testing. Usually these are multiple choice or short answer tests. Students are placed in groups and work together on the assessment. They can either each turn in their own answer sheet, or there could be a group sheet. In this scenario, the students help “teach” each other while discussing the assessment.

Performance tasks and portfolios are assessments that encourage the students to further develop their autonomy and sense of responsibility. These activities tap into the student’s creativity and foster further reflection on the topic. Performance tasks include oral presentations and projects. Portfolios are a collection of a student’s work samples and can be applied to any subject the student is learning.

Validity of Alternative Assessments

To be valid assessments of the student’s knowledge and potential, the assessments need to be well written and need to have well written rubrics. No one assessment should be used to categorize a child’s knowledge or ability, a comprehensive look would incorporate the results of several different types of assessment. These tools are also an excellent way to determine where additional support may be needed or what learning style is most effective for the student.

Whether you are home-schooling, un-schooling, using public or private school, knowledge of assessments is an important and useful bit of information for parents. I hope this helped.


Parent Resources:


Duckworth, A.L. & Yeager, D.S. (2015). Measurement matters: Assessing personal qualities other than cognitive ability for educational purposes. Educational Researcher, 44(4) 237–251.

Flores, M.A., Veigo Simao, A.M., Barros, A., & Pereira, D. (2015). Perceptions of effectiveness, fairness and feedback of assessment methods: A study in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 40(9), 1523–1534.Preview the document

Popham, W. (2018) Classroom assessment: What teachers need to know. Pearson.



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