Alternative Assessment in Science

Every school has a discussion of the best ways to assess the knowledge of their students. The more we learn about standardized tests the more we learn that they are not always the best tool to judge if your students have truly absorbed the material. There are some amazing ways in science that teachers can alternatively assess their students without compromising the paper and pencil test. Science is a hands on subject that allows us to ask our students to use their knowledge in a hands on manner.

An all too familiar cycle!

An all too familiar cycle!

Here are some ways we can determine if our students are mastering material instead of traditional tests:


1) Lab Practicals

  • A lab practical doesn’t always have to be a lab “test”. A lab practical can mean a problem proposed to students they must solve using their knowledge. Inquiry can be a big part of this activity as we encourage our students to critically think out their problem using the scientific method. This is a step away from “programmed” labs that offer the students little opportunity to think on their feet.

2)  Technology Based Assessment

  • Podcasts can offer a window into the mind of a student. Ask them to create a video explaining their topic to their classmates. Be creative and allow their personality to take over as they use video to communicate.
  • Virtual labs and simulations can help students assess pieces of the course that your school’s budget can’t manage. If you want to simulate fly mating experiments or DNA technology – some piece of the curriculum that is unreachable – this form of assessment and learning can help you bridge many gaps.
  • Hand held classroom devices. These systems are expensive but worth their weight in gold. Each student can individually be assessed a little like a game show as they buzz in their answers. You get instant feedback on your laptop and can also see who’s paying attention and who really understands. This is also great when you have a student who needs a little more time to catch on or one that doesn’t like to be singled out. Everyone gets to participate 100% of the time.

3)  Science Fairs/Presentations

  • Students of every age can be asked to come up with an idea and test it. Science fairs are great ways to allow students to demonstrate their mastery of scientific thinking. The students can be restricted to topics that have been covered in the course for further assessment.

4) Field Trips

  • Students love them and we can use them to our advantage because kids love to get out into the open to learn. A well designed field trip can offer more assessment and application than 10 paper and pencil tests. The caveat is of course the amount of planning and organization that must be done.

As we move away from pure paper and pencil tests we can all benefit from having a few different forms of assessment in our grading systems in science. As the students migrate out of secondary school and into college they will be better served if we have taught them to think on their feet rather than to memorize facts.

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