Alternative teaching methods and standardized tests

One of the major things that bugs me in education today is the role of alternative teaching methods used in conjunction with the over-reliance of standardized tests as an indicator of student success. As teachers we constantly hear that we need to use alternative methods of teaching using such methods as cooperative learning, hands-on activities, manipulatives, alternative assessments, science experiments, etc. that motivate learning and encourage student creativity and achievement. I love incorporating these various creative, hands-on teaching activities and assessment strategies into my classes. For example, I can more clearly understand whether a student understands how a hinge joint works in the arm when I have her build one using various materials rather than simply regurgitate the answer from the textbook to me on paper. And for many students, these alternative methods work best!

However, our country relies more and more heavily on standardized test scores as an indicator of student achievement.

  • These tests do not display student creativity.
  • These tests do not measure how many times the student’s hypothesis was wrong and how many subsequent times the student tinkered with her experiment to gather more data.
  • These tests do not measure how well the student can build a prototype and explains its use and function using the prototype.
  • These tests do not measure students’ abilities to toy with manipulatives in order to understand a mathematical equation.
  • And so on and so forth…

We have two opposing messages: 

1. Use alternative teaching methods because not every student shows his or hear learning best through paper and pencil!

2. The standardized test scores that are “paper and pencil tests” are the only thing that matter! They also are a reflection of your success as an educator!


We need to find a middle ground–a place where student creativity and alternative teaching methods can blossom and where we can have a true measurement of student success.


One thought on “Alternative teaching methods and standardized tests

  1. What would you suggest? The messages teacher’s in Wisconsin have said loud and clear they do not want to be held accountable for student achievement nor do they think they should be. Wisconsin is one of those states that ” dumbed” down the W.K..C.E.. So when our district this year had to use a ” real ” test I was dismayed and disgusted to see that my son went from being proficient in reading and math on the old W.K.C.E. tests to just basic or minimal scoring on the new tests. The old tests were most certainly deceptive. The only area he has really gained in in the last couple of years is reading and that was over the summer. . The M.A.P.S. tests showed from spring of 2012 to September of 2012 he took a big jump in reading. Who gets credit for that gain? WE the parents do. We kept him reading over the summer. Some years he has actually gone back words. Teacher’s have to be held accountable. Every other profession is held accountable for maintaining/meeting certain goals. Teacher’s can be no different. Most people if they can not meet goals and show improvement they do not have a job. Teachers have been exempt from that for way to long.

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