Standardised testing
All over the world, alternatives to standardised testing are already in place - and bearing fruit. Source: Shutterstock

Standardised testing has long been the measure of academic excellence, but the diversity of modern classrooms begs the question: Should this be the only way to assess students?

Using standardised tests as the only measure of learning outcomes alienates students who learn differently or cannot access better preparation via private tuition or learning materials.

All over the world, alternatives to this method of assessment are already in place – and bearing fruit. Here’s a look at six other ways to gauge academic achievement, and how they can be applied practically.


In her book The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardiszed Testing, But You Don’t Have To Be,”  Anya Kamenetz outlines alternative assessment methods that could work in combinations.

According to the American education author, sampling applies the model of standardised testing on a smaller group of students who statistically represent their cohort, rather than to every student every year. It is used in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), where groups of 15-year-olds are selected for testing from a shortlist of eligible schools around the world.

In the US, scores in the “Nation’s Report Card” are obtained by testing a different sample of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 each year, which reduces the burden on examination resources.  

Stealth assessment

As the name suggests, this testing is done subtly through data analysis of ordinary, repeated learning engagements.

Kamenetz points out that software to practice maths and English already have a log of answers from each student, which when passively collected over time, can offer insights into their learning trajectory making further tests unnecessary.

With the rise of big data across industries, this stands out as a very probably replacement to standardised testing.

Assessing the school, not student

Finland has a yearly test that focuses on either maths or the mother tongue and literature. Unlike standardised testing, these tests are sample-based and the scores are used to assess the school instead of individual students.

These scores are then given to the school administrators for evaluation and development, instead of being tied to funding or a country-wide ranking system.

standardised testingUsing standardised tests as the sole measure of learning outcomes alienates students who learn differently or have limited access to resources. Source: Shutterstock

Portfolio-based assessment

An effective means of presenting a visual body of work, portfolios are often required for entrance into journalism or art school. Portfolios can be a great way to present projects and reports because they show a candidate’s full range of abilities, which have been nurtured over the time of their learning.

Game-based assessment

It’s not just Charades or Hangman, computer games like SimCityEdu collect data-points that clearly outline the improvements of each player. They’re interactive, fun and tease out latent qualities such as creativity, teamwork and perseverance.

In fact, adaptive testing models that use software in the classroom would benefit greatly from this quality of engagement. Even graduate employers like Vodafone and Unilever use short rapid-response games in their entrance tests.


In her book, Kamenetz uses Scotland’s education system as an example that alternative assessment approaches can and have worked. Instead of the government-mandated tests in neighbouring UK, Scotland prioritises presentations, performances and reports in measuring higher-order skills, thus placing control of evaluation on teachers, students, and school inspectors.

The role of the latter is to maintain accountability of each institution by observing lessons and reviewing student work.

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