How Should We Measure Student Progress?

There seem to be as many opinions about teaching as there are teachers in the world, so to say that most teachers agree on the uselessness of standardized testing has some gravity to it (just ask the NY Times). The general feeling is that despite the pervasiveness of standardized tests, required by both state and federal laws, many teachers feel they are just treading water when it comes to actually educating students. However, while most people can agree that testing is the wrong way to measure success, the question remains: What is the right way? Below, you’ll find three of the more popular alternative methods to replace standardized testing:

Curriculum-Based Assessment (CBA) – This form of student achievement is centered on testing over a full year’s worth of academic knowledge by using the materials an educator is already teaching. Teachers would create their own year-end test that would measure the progress that students have made in the local curriculum. The idea behind this method comes from the phrase “test what one teaches,” flipping the old axiom about “teaching the test.”

Dynamic Assessment – The opposite of standardized, or static, testing, this method approaches testing with the idea that every student learns and tests differently. Instead of applying the same test to all students at the same time, dynamic assessment essentially treats each student on an individual basis. This allows the examiner/teacher to adjust the test based on learning styles, disabilities and other factors that only they may know about.

Portfolio-Based Assessment – A long-form style of testing, this approach lets teachers and parents sample a student’s body of work over a period of one to four years. Usually, this style of testing focuses not just on the quality of work itself, but on how the student’s learning process has evolved and how the student has grown academically.

The main criticism of these alternative testing styles focuses on the inability to compare results over state and federal boundaries. Since each testing method focuses on a single student’s progress, it becomes impossible to easily compare the results of entire schools or districts with one another.

If you want more detailed information about standardized testing and its alternatives, visit

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