Rainforest Reviews: An Alternative Assessment

Russell Yates


The state of Washington values technology as one of the tools of learning. As such it is important for students of all ages to become fluent in its use. To help meet this challenge I have designed a short unit on the use of the World Wide Web to gather information using search engines. To insure the appropriateness for the age group I teach, I have narrowed the engines to four "kid-friendly" search tools: Yahooligans, AOL for Kids, Lycos KidZone, and Ask Jeeves for Kids. I use an alternative form of assessment with this unit, a rating scale based on appropriate state frameworks and applied to a short website review produced by each student.

Description of Website Review Unit

Technology has become an important tool for learning. As such it is important for elementary age students to learn its use. Potentially one of the most effective tools for retrieving and disseminating information is the World Wide Web. To help students learn the appropriate use of this tool I have created this unit. The unit begins with a short discussion of the World Wide Web to provide background information. Next students are shown some of the basic navigational tools of a web browser (Netscape Navigator) and allowed to practice these by surfing through a linked list of previously determined websites. Students are then engaged in a brainstorm to determine a class topic that they wish to learn more about. When that is decided, students are shown basic techniques for the use of search engines and given the task of searching for websites that match the previously selected topic. After having practiced using the search engines to locate a number of websites, students are given a "Website Review" worksheet and asked to fill it out for the one website that they believe is the best. These website reviews help students make the transition from a focus on the technology to a focus on the content of what they are viewing. The website reviews are then posted as a webpage, allowing for later use by the students. A page of reviews of rainforest websites was posted at the end of March, 2000. The URL for this page is http://www.chimacum.wednet.edu/multiage/studentwork/rainforestreview.html.

These reviews are the product that I assess. From them I can find out if my instruction has been effective, whether I need to reteach, provide further practice, or follow up with an activity to provide more depth. I base my assessment on the following objectives taken from our state frameworks:

Reading EALRs (Essential Academic Learning Requirements, Washington state)

1. The student understands and uses different skills and strategies to read.

1.5 Use features of nonfiction text and computer software (such as titles, headings, pictures, maps, and charts) to find and understand specific information.

2. The student understands the meaning of what is read.

2.1 Comprehend important ideas and details.

2.3 Think critically and analyze authors' use of language, style, purpose, and perspective .

For assessment of the Website Review reading objectives listed above, I have created this rating scale.


Website Review Rating Scale

  • 3 the work strongly exhibits this trait
  • 2 the work partially exhibits this trait
  • 1 the work does not exhibit this trait
. . .  EALR 1: The student uses different skills and strategies to read.



Uses computer menus, searches, and icons.



Understands how illustrations and graphics, including diagrams, graphs, photographs, line drawings, realistic and impressionist art, influence reading and the ideas or information gained.
       EALR 2: The student understands the meaning of what is read.



Summarizes information gained from text and/or illustration.



Considers the validity of information gained from text and illustration.

An alternative or performance assessment is any assessment in which students exhibit their knowledge by producing a product or performing a skill. This portfolio is one example as is the Website Review Rating Scale as described above. I use a wide variety of assessment options as a teacher of students aged 8 to 11 both to gather valid information and to better match the diversity of the children that are a part of my class. (back to top)

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Reading Program: Assessment Informing Instruction

Mathematics Pretest: Paper-and-Pencil Assessment

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