What is assessment?

Merriam-Webster defines assessment as: the action or an instance of making a judgement about something, with the word coming into use in an educational context after the Second World War.  A nice definition for assessment and evaluation comes from Barbara Walvoord, a recognized expert in assessment and professor at University of Notre Dame, Indiana: “Assessment and evaluation is the systematic gathering of information about student learning and the factors that affect learning, undertaken with the resources, time, and expertise available, for the purpose of improving learning” (Walvoord, 2010, p.2).    Traditionally in the postsecondary context, assessment and evaluations often consisted of high-stakes events, such as tests and exams, often.

What is alternative assessment and why do we use it?

When we probe further, we uncover an effective description for alternative assessments  by Jon Mueller, a consultant on the development, review and revision of assessments and standards/outcomes and a professor at North Central College, Illinois: “Alternative assessment is a form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills” (Mueller, 2016).

While teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, many educators have discovered that traditional forms of assessment do not always translate well to the online classroom. Educators were forced to quickly identify new approaches to delivering their assessment – an overwhelming task in the midst of the move to remote teaching. Many educators felt forced  into using proctoring software and integrity checking tools that convey a lack of trust in the learner-educator relationship and cause high levels of anxiety. Pre-pandemic: skills and knowledge for success was in understanding how students learn and recognizing the relationship between assessment and instruction. This focus has led to a call for a closer match between the skills that students learn in school and the skills they will need upon leaving school (K.O. Oloruntegbe, 2010).

Alternative assessments also called authentic, or performance assessments are either replicas of or analogues to the kinds of problems faced by professionals in the field. Authentic tasks can range from brief activities to elaborate projects spanning several weeks. Multiple-choice questions can be designed to capture some ability to apply or analyze concepts but not all students are assessed effectively using standard testing. Filling in the corresponding circle on a scantron sheet does not begin to have the face validity of asking students to complete engaging tasks that replicate real world ones (Mueller, 2005).

Studies indicated that many educators have mistakenly equated authentic assessment with extensive assignments requiring considerable investment of time and effort for teacher and student alike (Mueller, 2005). But research has indicated that teachers do have positive perceptions on alternative assessment.  The research conducted by Nasri et al. (2010) found that teachers agree that alternative assessment can promote active learning and self confidence among students and that alternative assessments are suitable to cultivate critical and creative thinking skills.  Alternative assessments do not have to replace traditional assessments entirely but including alternative assessments into the curriculum benefits all students by having the students apply what they have learned in different ways and from different perspectives.

Atifnigar et al. (2020) outlines Brown and Hudson’s twelve characteristics of alternative assessments in that they:

  1. Require students to perform, create, produce, or do something.
  2. Use real-world contexts or simulations.
  3. Are nonintrusive in that they extend the day-to-day classroom activities.
  4. Allow students to be assessed on what they normally do in class every day.
  5. Use tasks that represent meaningful instructional activities
  6. Focus on process as well as products
  7. Tap into higher level thinking and problem-solving skills.
  8. Provide information about both the strengths and weaknesses of students.
  9. Are multi-culturally sensitive when properly administered.
  10. Ensure that people, not machines, do the scoring, using human judgement.
  11. Encourage open disclosure of standards and rating criteria; and
  12. Call upon teachers to perform new instructional and assessment roles.

Findings show that students have positive perceptions towards alternative assessments, and they feel innovative, reflective, and communicative which affects their learning quality in the real-world context.  The study also found that students prefer formative assessment (Atifnigar et al., 2020).  To achieve the outcomes Atifiniger, et al. (2020) mentions, teachers should explicitly articulate standards and goals, which will help them clearly communicate them to their students.  Additional findings, in Atifnigar et al. (2020) research found students to be more motivated by alternative assessment types and that they increase students’ understanding of how their work correlated to a final grade.

Benefits, drawbacks and considerations of alternative assessments

When considering the use of alternative assessments in curriculum, it is important to know the benefits and the drawbacks.  The benefits of alternative assessments include assessing individual students based on course learning objectives , accommodating different ways of demonstrating learning, student choices and aptitudes, and assessing progress over a period of time.  Because alternative assessments take a non-standardized approach, students can be assessed in accordance with their own learning objectives, and if we agree it is common practice to include a variety of different learning opportunities in lessons so that all students can reach their potential, then it makes sense to assess them in different ways too.

And finally, when alternative assessments are used there is the opportunity to assess students on concepts and skills that were taught last week, last month, or last year.  End of year standardized tests attempt to do this, they place a considerable emphasis on what a student can remember, rather than what they can do. (Classful, n.d.).  The ability to assess students on what they have been taught a year later aligns with the Muller (2005), who contends alternative assessments are more likely to address student concerns expressed in the common question “When are we ever going to use this?”  Tests offer contrived means of assessment to increase the number of times students can be asked to demonstrate proficiency in a short period of time.  More commonly in life, as in alternative assessments, we are asked to demonstrate proficiency by doing something.   Students will be able to see the direct application of their learning on an authentic task.

The drawbacks of alternative assessments include a more rigorous process for the teacher because it is harder to evaluate, more effort is required in understanding a student’s work, and alternative assessments are far less economical, because practical applications and project work demand more resources and investments (Kutbiddinova, 2021).  If you have decided to rethink your assessment it is important to contemplate the benefits and the drawbacks of alternative assessments.  A few elements to consider are determining the purpose, selecting the appropriate assessment task, and setting criteria.  And ways to overcome the challenges of alternative assessments such as grading, revising the curriculum, and creating rubrics is introducing peer feedback, for group projects schedule group meetings to assess the group together vs. individual written feedback, and have students contribute to the development of the rubric.

Structure of this resource

This resource includes a compilation of several types of alternative assessments for instructors to consider for use in their teaching.  Each alternative assessment example includes the following:

  • Title (tagged with level(s) of Bloom’s taxonomy, explanation of higher level of learning)
  • Description of the assessment
  • Rubric/How Evaluated
  • Technology Used
  • Facilitation Tips

Strategies to share this knowledge through a facilitated workshop

The resource will soon contain a section on how to facilitate a workshop aimed at guiding educators through the process of reimagining their traditional assessments. The facilitation plan will include a suggested format, content and activities that can be adapted for your use. The proposed “Alternative Online Assessment” workshop will be created using a suggested timeframe of three-hour workshop, which can be offered as one block, divided up, and offered either synchronously, asynchronously, in-person, online or as a blend.

Next steps together

The authors of this resource have started the process of compiling various examples of alternative assessments that can support post-secondary learning and evaluation, however, we recognize there are tons of additional examples of alternative assessment that are not represented here.

In order to continue sharing alternative assessment approaches, we invite you to share your own ideas and suggestion by visiting our website and submitting your ideas of effective alternative assessments.  They will be reviewed and added to this resource, and in time, we anticipate there to be dozens of additional suggestions for alternative assessments.  Please check back regularly for updates.


Atifnigar, H., Alokozay, W., Takal, G.M., & Zaheer, Z.  (2020).  Students’ Perception of Alternative Assessment: A Systematic Literature Review.  International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation, 3(4), 228-240.

Bakar, K.A., Nasri, N., Puteh, S.N., Roslan, S.N., & Sekuan, M.I. (2010).  Teachers’ Perception on Alternative Assessment.  Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 7(C), 37 – 42.

Kutbiddinova, S. (2021).  Advantages and Disadvantages of Alternative Assessment.  Integration of Science, Education and Practice.  Scientific-Methodical Journal, 110-113.

Mueller, J. (2005). The authentic assessment toolbox: enhancing student learning through online faculty development. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 1(1), 1-7.

Mueller, J. (2016).  What is Authentic Assessment?  Authentic Assessment Toolkit.

Oloruntegbe, K. O. (2010).  Approaches to the assessment of science process skills: A reconceptualist view and option.  Journal of College Teaching & Learning (TLC), 7(6).

The Importance of Alternative Assessment.  (n.d.) Classful.  Retrieved December 1, 2021, from

Walvoord, B.E. (2010).  Assessment Clear and Simple.  A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education, Second Edition.  Jossey-Bass.



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