Varying Assessments

Steve Hiner * CUR/530 * Dr. Ronnie Laughlin


Instructors and teachers who typically dislike traditional tests often make use of portfolios. Put simply, portfolios are a collection of student work, allowing them to display their skills and what they have learned. As a student's skill set evolves, portfolios must be continually updated (Popham, 2014).

Some benefits of using a portfolio as an assessment include:

  • In ELA, and entire range of material can be included, instead of being limited to what appears on a test.
  • Students self assess portfolios. They can add, edit, make changes, etc. This is in contrast to a computer simply giving a score for a test.
  • Each student can be assessed on his or her own work, not all compared to each other as in a norm-referenced test.
  • Portfolios can have an impact on students improvement and effort, not just achievement.
Classroom examples

Middle school Math 7 - Graphical displays

Students learn about histograms, dot plots, pictographs, and circle graphs. They perform various surveys of fellow students on topics such as favorite candy or color, interests such as watching television or reading, etc. They then create graphs of each. Each survey and each graph is included in a portfolio, which grows as new types of graphs are covered.

Middle school Math 8 - Graphs

Building on the portfolio from Math 7, students now learn about slope, slope-intercept form of equations, standard form, point-slope form, graphing lines, etc. As these topics build from one to the next, use of a portfolio is a logical choice. Students keep all materials together as they learn one topic to the next. At the end of the unit, a complete record of student learning has been created.


Below are nine steps to follow from Kim & Yazidan (2014) to implement the use of portfolios:

  1. Have a good understanding of your district's curriculum.
  2. Understand the Common Core and State Standards.
  3. Identify the goals and learning objectives.
  4. Create lessons that meet goals and objectives.
  5. Review and reflect on delivered lessons by reviewing student work
  6. Design and implement follow-up lessons.
  7. Conduct student portfolio interviews. Make sure students understand the purpose and benefits of the interview process.
  8. Communicate with parents and students.
  9. Collaborate with other teachers.


Performance assessments are used to engage students in real-world, hands-on situations of higher order thinking, which results in meaningful learning (McLaughlin, 2013).

Some benefits of performance assessments include:

  • Develop an understanding of student strengths and weaknesses.
  • Reveal different levels of understanding.
  • Helps to guide instruction in a way that increases student's cognitive levels.
  • Activities are often hands-on and encourages student creativity.
  • Student engage in debate, exhibits, writing, modeling, and giving oral presentations.
Classroom examples

Middle School Math - Grade 7

Students are asked to solve the following situation, described by Parke (1996):

Yolanda was telling her brother Damian about what she did in math class. Yolanda said, "Damian, I used blocks in my math class today. When I group the blocks in groups of 2, I had 1 block left over. When I grouped the blocks in groups of 3, I had 1 block left over. And when I grouped the blocks in groups of 4, I still had 1 block left over." Damian asked, "How many blocks did you have?" What was Yolanda's answer to her brother's question? Show your work.

Students could answer this question in many ways, including by finding common multiples, doing long division multiple times, drawing figures, etc. At right is an example.

High School Math - Grade 11/12

Hampton High School (Allison Park, PA) created a Disaster Relief Mission where students role-play air traffic controllers and pilots to assess their skills. This included learning about practical applications of trig, polar coordinates, angle measures, maps, diagrams, etc.

Implementing a performance task can be quite time consuming. Teachers in the above example (video) mention meeting with each other often, going through the curriculum and Common Core State Standards to see how they applied to the project, and closely monitoring the work the students were doing.

Selected and constructed response

Selected and constructed response assessments measure student achievement over specific material. Selected responses can be true/false, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, circle the correct answer, etc. Constructed response questions typically ask students to solve a problem/issue and explain the steps necessary to come up with a solution. Some constructed response questions can contain multiple parts/steps. Students may be encoruaged to show their work, explain how they knew they were correct, and model the situation with drawings or graphs.
Benefits of selected and constructed response questions:

  • These assessments can be given at the end of any unit, chapter, or daily lesson and are not as time-consuming as other types of assessments.
  • Selected response items can be scored quickly allowing quick feedback to students and parents.
  • Students can use good critical thinking skills with multiple choice questions to eliminate incorrect answer choices.
  • A large amount of curriculum can be assessed at one time (for instance, and end of course exam or midterm).
  • Constructed response questions can be written to ask students to justify their answers and model the scenario, helping teachers to understand their thought process.

Classroom examples

Middle school Math 8 - The Pythagorean Theorem

Selected response

Given the problems below, solve for the missing side:

1. Find the hypotenuse of a right triangle with sides 3 and 4.

a. 3

b. 4

c. 5

d. 6

2. Find the missing side of a triangle with hypotenuse of 10 and one side of 6.

a. 5

b. 6

c. 7

d. 8

Constructed response

You have a ladder that measures 10 feet in length. You want to reach the roof of an 8 foot high building. How far from the edge of the building will the ladder be if you create a 30 degree angle from the ladder to the ground? Show all your work, create a drawing, and label it completely.

Explain a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. Use pictures, drawings, examples, etc.


This type of assessment typically is not difficult for teachers to implement, but certain types can take time to create. Careful attention should be placed on not only testing basic knowledge or depth of knowledge 1 questions. True/false tests typically measure facts and can lead to students guessing. Multiple choice questions take time to create because not only are you looking for correct answers, but you must provide other answers that cannot ever be correct. Having multiple correct answers on a multiple choice question would invalidate that question.

Constructed response questions allow teachers to learn more about how students solved a problem. Consider asking the student to justify his response by drawing models, showing mathematical examples, etc. Students can also be taught to show non-examples, that is, when something does not work mathematically. This type of question takes longer to score, but learning how a student thinks is invaluable. Rubrics must be created and should be shared with the student before giving the assessment.

It's always a good idea to have colleagues look over and proof-read an assessment you created, if possible. Encourage fellow teachers to provide feedback and adjust questions accordingly.


Kim, Y. & Yazdian, L. S. (2014). Portfolio Assessment and Quality Teaching. Theory Into Practice, 53(3), 220-227. Doi:1080/00405841.2014.916965

McLaughlin, C. A., McLaughlin, F. C., & Pringle, R. M. (2013). SIMPLY PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT. Science and Children, 51(3), 50-55. Retrieved from

Parke, C., & Lanes, S. Teaching for authentic student performance. ASCD. (December, 1996), 54(5), retrieved from

Performance assessment: Performance Based-Assessment: Making Math Relevant. Edutopia. Retrieved from

Popham, W. J. (2014). Classroom assessment: what teachers need to know. Boston, MA: Pearson