Challenge of Alternative Assessment in Adult Education:
A Teacher's Preference
Recently, on the National Literacy Advocacy (NLA) listserv, lively discussions on the use of standardized and alternative assessment tools gave way to complex issues. My experience has been that most programs use standardized testing for placement and exit purposes, leaving classroom assessment up to the instructor. However, since "assessment is linked to the way a program operates" (Wrigley, 1995), I believe assessment should be tailored to the goals of your program. By doing this, assessment should come directly from the goals of the students within that program.
When I posed the question of student assessment to members of The El Paso Association of Adult Educators, the outcome was varied and broad. Some of the assessment tools mentioned were portfolios, individual interviews, teacher observations, self-evaluations, peer teaching, peer evaluation, and performance-based assessment. Each instructor had a style that was adapted to the classroom environment of that teacher.
Some forms of student-based assessment are self-evaluations, peer evaluation, and peer teaching. These assessments allow students to demonstrate their abilities and knowledge. Since they are student-based, the student becomes responsible for their learning progress. When students are in control of their assessment they are motivated to showcase their talents; therefore, improving self-esteem, integrity, conflict resolution, and teamwork in the classroom. The instructor's goal is to create an environment where this type of assessment can take place. The difficulty with this assessment is that the students must be willing to take risks and leadership roles in the classroom. Because this assessment depends upon student cooperation, it is most difficult to use in low level classes.
Interviews and teacher observations are other valuable assessment tools. During an interview or observation, the teacher is able to evaluate a student's comprehension or familiarity with the target language. The instructor is able to determine possible barriers to student progress and develop an individual relationship with the student. One of the downfalls of this type of assessment is the lack of empirical data that can be reported to funding sources.
An important goal of adult education is that the students are able to transfer the knowledge obtained in the classroom to the real world. In the past, instructors had no way of proving a student had developed the skills necessary to perform in the outside world. However, that knowledge can be measured concretely by performance-based assessment. These assessments allow students to show the skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom through a variety of projects such as school newsletters, science experiments, journals, research projects, etc. These projects not only assess the learner's ability to know the subject, but also gives them the opportunity to show their higher order thinking skills and their individual talents.
Another form of assessment is the student portfolio. Many instructors feel portfolios give them the ability to assess the student's progress from beginning to end, thereby giving the instructor a starting point from which to develop more detailed lessons. However, one concern teachers mentioned is that portfolios are a high maintenance assessment tool. The advantage to the student is that student portfolios give them the opportunity to take ownership of their work, making them more responsible for and more aware of their progress.
After having studied the different forms of alternative assessment, the most comprehensive and tangible form of assessment I have found is the student portfolio. The student portfolio can include all types of assessment tools (tests, student evaluations, interviews, etc.) while still containing valuable examples of students' original works. However, of all the assessment tools discussed, the instructor is ultimately the truest judge of a student's performance, since the instructor must be sensitive to the student's needs. For this reason, the instructor judgment is the best assessment tool the adult education field has on hand. Instructor judgment is the gauge through which the "whole student" is measured and the program goals met.
Burt, Miriam and Keenan, Fran. (1995). Adult ESL Learner Assessment: Purposes and Tools. National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education. (ERIC Document No. EDO-LE-95-08).
Guth, G.J.A., & Wrigley, H.S. (1992). Adult ESL literacy: Programs and practice. Technical report. San Mateo, CA: Aguirre International. (EDRS No. ED 348 895).
Wrigley, H.S. (1992). Learner assessment in adult ESL literacy. ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education. (EDRS No. ED 353 863).
Wrigley, H.S., & Guth, G.J.A. (1992). Bringing literacy to life: Issues and options in adult ESL literacy. San Mateo, CA: Aguirre International. (EDRS No. ED 348 896).
About the Author
Noemi Aguilar has been teaching in the field of adult education for ten years and has taught in a variety of areas such as: ESL, Workforce, ABE, and Family Literacy. As one of the original developers of Project FORWARD and recently a Project FORWARD Master Teacher, she has had the opportunity to work with many different programs throughout the state. Currently, she is a member and co-founder of The El Paso Association of Adult Educators. Noemi can be contacted at Socorro Community Education 915-860-6351 or emailed at Noemi111@flash.net