ERIC Identifier: ED360219
Publication Date: 1993-03-00
Author: Nickell, Pat
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social
Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Alternative Assessment: Implications for Social Studies. ERIC
Alternative forms of evaluating student progress are changing testing or
assessment in our schools. From the teacher-made to the standardized test, the
familiar over-emphasis on multiple-choice items is giving way to expanded
generative formats in which students are called upon to demonstrate mastery
through applications in which they use complex processes and webs of knowledge
ISSUES TRIGGERING THE CALL FOR CHANGE
Two general issues
have come to the fore regarding the evaluation of student achievement in
schools: (1) the format of tests; and (2) how test results are used. Accusations
regarding the misuse and overuse of tests are certainly disturbing, but there is
no guarantee that this issue will be solved simply by changing test types.
Whatever the format of the test, if scores continue to be used to classify and
track children, the underlying issues remain unresolved. If the numbers of
standardized tests administered are maintained at current rates, then our
students will continue to be the most thoroughly and frequently tested students
in the world, no matter what type of test is administered. However, the
remaining issue--that of format and whether continued emphasis on fixed-response
testing is valid--is one which reaches directly into the classroom and has clear
implications for teachers.
It is widely recognized that alternative assessments are gaining broad
acceptance. Large commercial test publishers are beginning to revamp
standardized achievement and college entry tests to give greater emphasis to
generative-response items as a result of pressure from proponents of alternative
assessment. The Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student
Testing found that as of 1990, nearly half of all states in the U.S. were
considering implementation of some form of performance assessment in state-level
testing. However, teachers maintain control over the form and structure of
student assessment in the classroom. If students are to succeed on state and
national assessments administered in performance-based formats, such formats
must be acceptable to teachers and used in classrooms.
The familiar "test"--anything from a ten-item pop-quiz to a standardized
achievement test--has, during the twentieth century, come to be dominated by the
presumably "objective" format of fixed-response items, most notably
multiple-choice. Critics, however, argue quite convincingly that traditional
fixed-response testing does not provide a clear or accurate picture of what
students can do with their knowledge. Such testing enables students to
demonstrate recall, comprehension, or interpretation of knowledge, but not to
demonstrate ability to USE knowledge.
Critics also assert that standardized, fixed-response testing may be unfairly
misaligned with instruction. Questions may be "missed" simply because of
unfamiliar language or format--not because the student has no grasp of the
concept. Further, detractors maintain that testing isolated facts in an
arbitrary order confuses test takers and ignores the importance of holistic
"knowing" and integration of knowledge. While it has been strongly argued that
fixed-response tests can assess high levels of thinking, proponents of
alternative assessments contend that traditional tests are a central cause for
the preponderance of low-level cognitive activities in the classroom. In short,
multiple-choice testing--whether used to measure student achievement at the
classroom, state, or national level--is charged with being a non-authentic means
of assessing students' mastery of either high-level educational objectives or
THE TESTING REVOLUTION AND SOCIAL STUDIES
According to the
National Council for the Social Studies, the goal of social studies education is
to promote civic competence. The primary purpose is to help young people develop
the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as
citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.
An outcomes-based approach requires that we test in authentic ways what is
considered to be most important in terms of knowledge, skill, values, and
attitudes. Thus, if civic competence is highly valued, then students should be
able to demonstrate mastery of civic competence through realistic tasks which
match the demands and expectations of society.
Fixed-response testing cannot assess students' ability to function as a
competent participant in society. We can learn a great deal from such testing
about what the students know about history, geography, government, national
policy, global conditions, and the like. This knowledge, of course, is a
necessary foundation for critical thinking and civic decision-making. However,
in terms of how students might go about using knowledge to examine an issue,
make a decision, research an idea and synthesize that research in order to make
a presentation, initiate a project and see it through, or even evaluate the
original idea, we have little to go on. If we really expect students to be able
to do these things, then assessment instruments must be designed to provide
evidence that such is the case.
IMPLICATION 1: THE SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM
The most critical implication of changing assessment types is a curricular
one. Grant Wiggins (Nickell 1992) refers to performance assessment as
"exhibitions of mastery." What is it, within the area of social studies, that is
to be mastered? Can one, in fact, "master" civic competence in the same way that
one can master multiplying three-digit numbers or writing poetry in sonnet form?
Returning to the goal and purposes set forth by the National Council and
reflected in most school systems' goals and missions statements, we are forced
to consider the integrative nature of social studies. If our intended outcome is
to enable all students to become competent citizens, we must give less emphasis
to mere recall and low-level comprehension of facts and concepts, and more
emphasis to applying knowledge to tasks that require high-level cognition.
Competent citizens make informed decisions; offer reasonable solutions to social
and civic problems; and acquire, synthesize, and communicate useful information
An assessment designed to match the goal and purposes of social studies will
evaluate student mastery of knowledge, cognitive processes, and skills. To
enable students to succeed on such an assessment, it is imperative that the
traditional social studies curriculum be reexamined and reorganized to insure
that mastery of knowledge, cognition processes, and behaviors that characterize
IMPLICATION 2: SOCIAL STUDIES INSTRUCTION
A second major implication targets social studies instruction. Students must
venture into the real world in order to know it. They must do so in ways that
will provide real experiences as active and productive members of the community,
structured to allow practice in thinking and acting as a citizen. They must be
given opportunities to make decisions which have real consequences; choices that
affect the success or failure of an idea. They must experience how
problem-solving is enhanced by cooperation, and how planning is enriched by
identifying alternative means to achieve an end. "Doing" social studies, like
doing mathematics, science, or art is imperative, yet it has been lost to the
limitations placed on schools by tight schedules and budgets. The school day
should be restructured in order that authentic social studies instruction,
involving civic learning in the community, replaces that which relies only on
symbols and contrivances. However, the most effective community-based civic
learning activities are tightly connected to classroom-based learning of
pertinent knowledge and skills.
IMPLICATION 3: SOCIAL STUDIES ASSESSMENT
A third major implication targets the way we treat assessment in social
studies. Assessment should no longer be viewed as separate from instruction.
Just as the worker is evaluated on an ongoing basis on the products or services
generated, student evaluation is most authentic and equitable when it is based
upon the ideas, processes, products, and behaviors exhibited during regular
instruction. Students should have a clear understanding of what is ahead, what
is expected, and how evaluation will occur. Expected outcomes of instruction
should be specified and criteria for judging degrees of success clearly
outlined. Where a certain level of knowledge about a particular topic is
expected of all students, it should be understood in advance. Responsibility for
each student's success is initially shared by the teacher and student, but once
teachers have fulfilled their part, ultimate accountability rests with the
student. Thus, the social studies classroom becomes a microcosm of the real
world in which social/civic responsibility and participation is an ongoing
process, uninterrupted by "time-outs" for the incongruity of formal testing.
Social studies, often considered to be the most content-oriented of the core
curriculum areas, is ripe for reform. The call for alternative assessments only
serves to highlight the importance of rethinking current practice in social
studies as we recognize once again the close link between the over-arching goal
of public education and that of social studies. As the nation moves toward
assessments of student achievement which are more closely aligned with what is
demanded of us in the real world and which demand student-generated
demonstrations of mastery, traditional practices in social studies are called
into question. Both curriculum and instruction, often geared toward low-level
recall of facts, must be revisited. Test-teach-test modes, in which assessment
is treated as separate from instruction, also deserve to be reexamined with
regard to how well such practice mirrors how we are evaluated in the real world.
Whether or not alternative assessments take hold at state and national levels,
the trend has brought us face-to-face with our responsibility as social studies
practitioners in schools and classrooms. Traditional practices cannot
effectively prepare young people to demonstrate achievement of civic competence.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are in the ERIC system. They are available in either microfiche
and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For
ordering information, contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield,
Virginia 22153-2852; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742.
Entries followed by an EJ number are annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO
JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), which is available in most libraries. EJ documents
are not available through EDRS. However, the journals can be located in the
periodical sections of most libraries or the articles can be ordered through
Interlibrary Loan by using the bibliographic information provided below.
American Association of School Administrators. TESTING: WHERE WE STAND.
Arlington, VA: Author, 1989. ED 314 854.
Archbald, Doug A., and Fred M. Newmann. BEYOND STANDARDIZED TESTING. Reston,
VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1988. ED 301 587.
Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing. MONITORING
THE IMPACT OF TESTING AND EVALUATION INNOVATIONS PROJECT: STATE ACTIVITY AND INTEREST CONCERNING PERFORMANCE-BASED ASSESSMENT. Los Angeles: UCLA, 1990. ED 327 570.
Haney, Walter, and George Madaus. "Searching for Alternatives to Standardized
Tests: Whys, Whats, and Whithers." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 70 (May 1989):683-687. EJ
Kellaghan, Thomas, George F. Madaus, and Peter F. Airasian. THE EFFECTS OF
STANDARDIZED TESTING. Hingham, MA: Kluwer-Nijhoff Publishing, 1982.
Maeroff, Gene I. "Assessing Alternative Assessment." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 73
(December 1991):273-281. EJ 435 781.
Medina, Noe J., and D. Monty Neill. FALLOUT FROM THE TESTING EXPLOSION: HOW
100 MILLION STANDARDIZED EXAMS UNDERMINE EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE IN AMERICA'S
PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Cambridge, MA: National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 1988.
ED 318 749.
Nickell, Pat. "Doing the Stuff of Social Studies: A Conversation with Grant
Wiggins." SOCIAL EDUCATION 56 (February 1992):91-94. EJ number to be assigned.
Peterson, Kent D. "Effective Schools and Authentic Assessment." THE
NEWSLETTER OF THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR EFFECTIVE SCHOOLS 3 (March 1991):14.
Resnick, Lauren B. EDUCATION AND LEARNING TO THINK. Washington, D.C.:
National Academy Press, 1987. ED 289 832.
Shavelson, Richard J. AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT: THE RHETORIC AND THE REALITY.
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research
Association meeting, April, 1991.
Wiggins, Grant "A True Test: Toward More Authentic and Equitable Assessment."
PHI DELTA KAPPAN 70 (May 1989):703-713. EJ 388 723.