In the field of education, student assessment is important at all levels. Assessment allows individual schools to chart their progress working with students. It also helps college admissions committees weigh individual student performance and aptitudes. Finally, it allows schools to make decisions regarding teacher hiring and budget allocation. Traditional assessment methods offer benefits and drawbacks compared to other assessment options available to educators.

Definition and Alternatives

Traditional assessment refers to standardized testing that uses questions with a limited number of answer choices. It includes multiple choice, true or false and some short answer responses. Other testing methods, sometimes known as performance-based assessment, alternative assessment or authentic assessment, focus on the process by which a student arrives at an answer in addition to the final response. Alternative assessment includes long-form responses and essay questions.

Ease of Analysis

One of the primary benefits of traditional assessment is the ease with which administrators and admissions professionals can analyze and compare student scores. Standardized testing that relies entirely on quantifiable responses produces an assessment that is easy to score. Test makers can categorize questions to determine which areas students excel in and which they have difficulty with. Students' results are comparable over time and across a large, diverse group of students.

Lack of Context

Traditional assessment methods have the disadvantage of lacking real-world context. Students answer questions one by one without the need to apply long-term critical reasoning skills. They also lack chances to demonstrate their reasoning skills despite a lack of knowledge about a question's specific subject matter. Alternative assessment methods allow students to apply their skills and knowledge within a context that more closely resembles problem solving and knowledge application in most jobs or daily tasks.

Impact on Teaching

Traditional assessment also has both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the way educators teach. Traditional assessment forces educators to spend time teaching students how to manage tests, including strategies for selecting correct answers from a listed group. Alternative assessment allows educators to focus on critical reasoning skills, which students will be able to apply naturally to long-form test questions. However, in situations where alternative assessment replaces traditional assessment, this means teachers need to learn new methods of test preparation and schools need to develop alternative forms of performance assessment for their students and teachers. These changes to accommodate a new form of assessment mean added cost for schools and a disruptive change in teaching methods for current students.