It is widely known that testing and assessment have become critical components and indicators for success in today's educational system. This process is widely considered as a feasible means to improve student success and achievement as well as educational outcomes and future potential in educational pursuits and the workforce for millions of students with widely varying levels of skill and ability. Therefore, standardized assessment does not often reflect the true talents and abilities of the existing student population. Furthermore, assessment standards and testing procedures are often scrutinized for their ineffectiveness in accurately evaluating student promotion and skill development, which lead to future educational pursuits and workforce placement. The primary argument against the current methods of testing and assessment is that the established standards do not accurately reflect the true talent, skills, potential, and problems within the student pool at any given period of time. Therefore, alternative methods of assessment are a popular topic for debate in today's public schools across the United States and beyond. Specifically, alternative methods of assessment in mathematics will serve as the focal point for the remainder of this study.
Statement of the Problem
Today's assessment methods and standards are not living up to the expectations that were established when they began to be used as measures of student performance in schools across the country and in U.S.-owned territories. As school environments continuously change as a result of both external and internal conditions, their students also continue to evolve in terms of skill development and abilities. Therefore, some students may not fit the mold that is generally assumed through typical assessment standards. As student performance for many individuals continues to decline or remain stagnant at the average level of achievement, it is time to reevaluate current assessment and testing methods to identify ways in which they can be improved to better reflect how students are truly performing in their academic endeavors. As the debate rages on, a number of alternative methods have been proposed, which will be discussed in detail later on in this research study. In particular, the researcher anticipates the identification and evaluation of alternative assessment standards in mathematics at the secondary school level. Furthermore, an additional component will identify the difficulties and behavioral outcomes that are encountered when alternative assessment methods are introduced into schools where teachers are accustomed to traditional instruments and may not be tolerant of such substitute methods, perhaps as a result of tradition as well as indolence to new techniques that may ultimately make a significant difference in student learning and performance.
Purpose of the Study
The proposed independent study will identify the primary methods that are currently under consideration in today's public schools as alternative means of assessment and testing, particularly in the subject of mathematics, an often difficult subject for many students to comprehend and master. Mathematics will be evaluated because in general, it is probably one of the most difficult concepts of all for students to sustain. Specifically, the proposed research will be performed in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where only a handful of secondary public schools exist. Several of these schools are currently in a state of transition and turmoil, as they have recently lost their accreditation and are attempting to identify ways to regain this status. The study will discuss the new methods of assessment in detail and will evaluate their potential effectiveness against the current methods already in place. Furthermore, the study will isolate the potential repercussions and reactions from teachers in these schools to such alternative assessments, as many of these professionals are acclimatized to the traditional methods of assessment and testing, and may not consider these new methods as effective indicators of student performance, regardless of the transition to a new student paradigm in today's public secondary schools. These issues will be evaluated in order for teachers and administrative staff at these unaccredited schools to identify ways to regain accreditation as well as to improve student learning and performance as well as future outcomes.
The primary research question that will be evaluated in this study is how the identification of the most effective methods of alternative mathematics assessment that will accurately reflect the talents, skills, and potential of the student population in two secondary schools located in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Background information regarding the primary methods of alternative assessment will be collected and identified in the Review of Literature section. Then, various methods of alternative assessment will be presented to the faculty and administrative staff at the two participant schools through a survey design method. All responses will be collected and evaluated, and judgments regarding teacher attitudes towards alternative assessment will be presented. The final outcomes will present the most feasible alternative methods of assessment that will make a difference in how students are tested and evaluated in order to promote student success and academic achievement.
Definition of Terms
The following set of terms will be referenced throughout the study:
Alternative assessment: A form of evaluation that allows teachers to individualize assessment, to mimic strong teaching practices, and to involve teachers more intensely in the assessment process (Glass, 1995)
Group tests: Structured much like normal classroom activities, but typically presents a more difficult question or set of questions that must be answered http://www.springfield.k12.il.us,4/25/03)
Journals and writing: A form of assessment that utilizes student journals as a means of communication and evaluation of daily progress http://www.springfield.k12.il.us,4/25/03)
Non-standardized assessment: The traditional form of assessment found in classrooms, whereby teachers develop questions, evaluate responses, assign homework, monitor projects, and informally make assessments throughout the school day (Glass, 1995)
Open-ended response items: A form of alternative assessment that asks students to construct their own answers to questions that may possess a number of possible answers (U.S. Department of Education, 1996)
Performance-based items or events: Activities, tasks, or questions that require students to perform a specific action (U.S. Department of Education, 1996)
Projects and experiments: Performance tasks with extended deadlines that may take up to several weeks to complete (U.S. Department of Education, 1996)
Portfolios: Student collections of work that can provide assessments of the quality of work over a longer period of time (U.S. Department of Education, 1996)
Questioning and documentation: Observing and talking with students as they work on mathematics tasks http://www.springfield.k12.il.us,4/25/03)
Short tasks: A form of alternative mathematics assessment in which students are required to form their own answers by showing their work http://www.springfield.k12.il.us,4/25/03)
Student presentations: A method that is used to assess student understanding of a particular topic http://www.springfield.k12.il.us,4/25/03)
Test validity: The degree to which the inferences based on test scores are meaningful, useful, and appropriate (Rudner and Schafer, 2002)
Review of Literature
An extensive body of literature exists from a wide variety of sources that is directly related to the discussion of alternative assessment, including such federal agencies as the United States Department of Education.
Only a small portion of this literature will be presented in this section, primarily as a result of space limitations. The most significant information that was identified during the preliminary phase of study development will be presented to provide support and evidence related to the research question and problem presented earlier.
To begin the review of literature, it is most feasible to discuss the current state of affairs in mathematics in public schools across the United States and its territories. The publication The Facts About...Math Achievement by the U.S. Department of Education (2003) provides the following statistical information regarding mathematics education:
According to the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only a small percentage of students in grades four, eight, and twelve have improved their math scores
Only 25% of fourth and eighth graders possess scores at or above the average, and twelfth grade math scores have not improved since 1996
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2001, was developed to improve educational excellence, particularly in math and science education, across the spectrum through a variety of partnerships and collaborations, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education (p. 1). In addition, the act is designed to increase teacher salaries for those that provide instruction in science and mathematics in order to attract a wide range of talented individuals to the profession.
A formal definition of alternative assessment is quite significant to the proposed research study. According to an article by Silbermann (2003) in a publication entitled The Guide to Math & Science Reform by Annenberg/CPB published on the website www.learner.org,"Alternative assessment techniques measure students' understanding of a subject differently than traditional approaches (e.g., standardized, multiple choice, or closed question tests). Typically, students solve problems that allow multiple approaches to the correct solution; a problem may even have several possible solutions. Students are assessed both on their performance and on their thoroughness in communicating their thought processes" (p. 1). Past studies have demonstrated that when alternative…
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