Alternative Assessments Term Paper

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¶ … students classified as ESL (English as a Second Language) learners has increased dramatically. Demographic changes in the general population have created a situation in which many children do not utilize English as their first language. Although efforts to improve services to ESL students have increased in recent years, educators and students continue to face notable challenges when it comes to both academic achievement and overall assessment.

The challenges currently facing educators in assessing bilingual children have lead to the development of new assessment methods such as portfolios, multiple intelligence projects and rubrics. Specifically, these methods have been used in the bilingual science curriculum in an effort for educators to effectively evaluate what students have learned. With the realization that these alternative assessment methods have become such a prominent means for assessing student learning in this area, this investigation seeks to provide a review of alternative assessment methods used in bilingual education classes of middle school students -- i.e. sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Through a careful review of what has been noted about these assessment methods, it will be possible to elucidate the complexity of assessment of bilingual children as well as the efficacy of these tools for providing comprehensive assessment.

Literature Review

Assessment of Bilingual Students and Science Education

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The central focus of this investigation is a review of alternative assessment method for bilingual science students. In an effort to elucidate the challenges of assessment in both of these areas -- i.e. science curriculum and bilingual education -- it is first important to consider what has been noted about the development and utilization of assessment methods for this group. By examining what has been noted about the challenges of assessment in these two groups, it will be possible to demonstrate the importance of alternative assessments for accurately measuring outcomes in both of these populations.

Term Paper on Alternative Assessments Assignment

Assessment in Science Curriculum critical review of what has been reported about assessment in the science curriculum indicates that this area is one that has received considerable attention in recent years. According to Mamlok-Naaman, Hofstein and Penick (2007) instruction in science curriculum is unique because it requires the student to interact with information and new ways of learning that are often not present in other disciplines. As a result of these differences, measuring learning in the science education classroom can be a notable challenge, as traditional assessments may not provide a comprehensive means for determining the extent of the knowledge garnered by the student. Mamlok-Naaman and coworkers go on to argue that the challenges of measuring learning in this environment have lead educators to consider the development of new assessment tools for student evaluation.

Other scholars examining this issue have made similar observations. For instance, Bybee and Van Scotter (2007) argue that the specific types of learning the take place in the science classroom are often much different from those that take place in other subjects. Specifically, these authors report that science education often requires students to engage in critical thinking and problem solving as principle means to carry out classroom discourse. Although critical thinking should be highlighted in other areas of the curriculum, science is one of the few areas in which it is actively applied. The change in the learning environment will prompt a wide range of responses, which must be effectively and uniformly assessed. Thus, it is not surprising to find that science educators are considering alternative assessments to understand student learning in this environment.

Assessment of Bilingual Students

While the issue of assessment in science education is one that clearly demands alternative assessments for students, it is also important to consider what scholars have noted about the use of assessments with bilingual students. Craig (2001) in her review of assessment practices for ESL learners argues that notable variations on ESL competency in various subjects have been reported in the literature. Because of these variations, Craig insists the assessment of the ESL learner must be a dynamic process that takes into consideration the needs of the student as well as the unique educational environment in which the student receives education. In this context, Craig asserts, ESL assessment must not just consider the mechanics of language and content learning; rather assessment must consider issues such as critical thinking development and analytical skills.

Barlow and Coombe (2000) have also considered the use of alternative assessments for ESL students. In their review of this topic, these authors report that, "In the past decade, educators have come to realize that alternative assessments are an important means to gaining a dynamic picture of students' academic and linguistic development" (p. 2). Barlow and Coombe go on to argue that alternative assessments are especially important to ESL learners because they "focus attention on students can do with the language rather than what they are able to produce or recall" (p. 2). Given that second language acquisition and content learning both require the student to demonstrate a high level of understanding, it Barlow and Coombe contend that the utilization of alternative assessments simply provides educators with a more integral understanding of what students have learned and how they can apply this learning for further educational development.

Alternative Assessments for Bilingual Science Students

With a basic framework for examining the issue provided, it is now possible to consider some of the alternative assessments that have been proposed for bilingual students in the science classroom. Medina-Jerez, Clark and Medina (2007) observe that "A rich amount of research suggests that native-English speaking and linguistically diverse students are equally capable of learning scientific concepts and terminology through collaborative inquiry-based experiences" (p. 54). While the use of these methods can promote increased learning in science, these authors go on to note that the most effective means for assessing outcomes is to use alternative assessments. "Implementing multiple forms of student assessment (e.g., portfolios, performance assessment, community projects, laboratory activities, and presentations) can be good indicators of students' understanding in science" (p. 54). Medina-Jerez and coworkers assert that these assessments may provide the most viable means to access student knowledge and learning that has occurred in the classroom.

Portfolios for Assessment

Given the importance of applying alternative assessments to ESL science learning, it is important to consider what has been noted about the utilization of specific assessments for evaluation. Considering first the use of portfolios for assessment in the science classroom, Gibbs (2004) provides a general overview of the scope and context of portfolios and their application in the classroom. According to this author a portfolio is "a folder -- paper or electronic -- containing a student's work from start to finish" which "allows the teacher and the student to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of various works" (p. 27). Gibbs goes on to argue that "A well-kept portfolio mirrors the comprehension and performance of a student" (p. 27). In the context of assessment, Gibbs asserts, the portfolio enables the educator to effectively evaluate other dimensions of learning such as performance and overall understanding of the material.

Other scholars examining the use and function of portfolios in the process of assessment report that these tools are often diametrically opposed to traditional methods of assessment. Specifically, Luescher and Sinn (2003) make the following observations about the utilization and portfolios: "The portfolio model stands in opposition to a value system that favors the individual measured against his peers. This is the world of standardized or quantitative experience. Instead, the portfolio represents a value system which emphasizes that which is immeasurable: the qualities of experience" (p. 70). Thus, in settings where measurement of applied learning is needed, the portfolio can provide a valuable assessment tool that provides an accurate assessment of student learning. In the context of ESL science students, the challenges associated with assessment in these areas can clearly be aided by the use of an assessment tool that evaluates applied learning and performance.

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers have also been noted as a prominent tool for assessment of science learning. Struble (2007) in her review of graphic organizers provides a general definition of the scope and function of these tools. Specifically, this author observes that:

graphic organizer is a "visual representation of knowledge" on a concept or topic. This information presented in a graphic organizer is arranged within a certain framework so that a student's understanding of science concepts can be assessed at a glance. Graphic organizers also reveal students' prior knowledge and promote active participation of students to facilitate comprehension (p. 69).

Struble goes on to report that there are four types of graphic organizers, each which focus on a unique dimension of educational performance and assessment. These include:

Conceptual Graphic Organizers: Conceptual graphic organizers can be used to assess a student's understanding of a core concept or idea. These organizers allow the student to provide detailed information and supporting facts that can be used to assess overall understanding of the concept.

Hierarchical Graphic Organizers: These organizers also assess the student's understanding of a core concept by requiring the student to break information down into basic… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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