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Functioning well in a second language requires much more than understanding isolated grammar and vocabulary. To be proficient in a language, it is also necessary to understand how language functions and to be able to use the language communicatively in different settings and for a variety of purposes. (Brown, 1994 cited in Pascoe & Wiburg, 2003)

The above view helps explain the growing trend in recent years among educators to push for changes in the assessment of learners and a shift away from traditional testing methods. In standardized, traditional testing, students are evaluated more on their ability to memorize and regurgitate information they have been given specifically for this testing, rather than their ability to use language in any meaningful way in real world contexts. As Darling-Hammond says, this kind of “testing without investing in organizational learning is rather like taking a patient’s temperature over and over again without taking the necessary steps to promote greater health” (Darling-Hammond, 1997 cited in Pascoe & Wiburg, 2003).

The constructivist approach to learning and teaching, which has gained popularity in recent times, argues that language should be taught and tested in a way that guarantees learners are able to use it in real world contexts in meaningful ways. The term alternative assessment is hard to define, but all alternative assessment methods share a move away from traditional testing techniques, focusing not on what students can recall, but rather giving them the opportunity to illustrate what they have learnt, rationalize their choices and use their knowledge in context. Importantly, alternative assessment advocates also stress the importance on teaching what is deemed important for the students to learn, rather than teaching what is needed to pass an exam; in other words, they “reverse the emphasis on testing over learning” (Pascoe & Wiburg, 2003).