Linking Research-Based Strategies with the Virginia Grade-Level Alternative Assessment

by Tina Spencer, M.S., and Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed.

Teachers often use the nine research-based strategies described in Classroom Instruction That Works by Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock (2001) to teach the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL). These research-based strategies, listed in the table below, have been shown to increase student achievement. They can also be used to assess students' mastery of content. Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans are at times unable to express their knowledge of the standards in a multiple-choice test format and may be candidates for the Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA) Assessment.

The VGLA provides eligible students in grades 3 through 8 with opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of grade-level content. Instead of taking these high-stakes multiple-choice tests, students may demonstrate their knowledge of the SOL by successfully completing a variety of activities aligned with Marzano et al.'s (2001) research-based strategies. Student work is organized in a portfolio as a Collection of Evidence (COE) documenting student proficiency in the assessed SOL. 

The chart below will assist teachers as they collect evidence for student portfolios. 

Nine Categories of Strategies
Student Activities
Collection of Evidence
1. Identifying similarities and differences
  • Comparison of historical events
  • Venn diagram
  • Comparison matrix
  • Student-generated metaphor or analogy
2. Summarizing and note taking
  • Use of note-taking tools to process and record content
  • Student-generated web diagrams and explanation of the connections
  • Teacher-generated anecdotal observation of the student’s explanation
3. Reinforcing effort and providing recognition
  • Set learning goals and write commitment statements to learn the content
  • Student-generated learning contract and products that demonstrate content mastery
4. Homework and practice
  • Play a computer math game to practice skills
  • Copies of computer-generated reports of skill mastery
5. Nonlinguistic representations
  • Analyze a set of data and produce a pictograph
  • Student-generated pictograph
6. Cooperative learning
  • Work with a small group to read a short story
  • Student interview by teacher demonstrating his ability to identify story elements
7. Setting objectives and providing feedback
  • Set learning goals for new content and write learning contracts
  • Student-generated learning contract and products that demonstrate content mastery
8. Generating and testing hypothesis 
  • Under supervision, create a science project depicting the water cycle in the classroom
  • Science board
  • Teacher-completed project scoring rubric
9. Questions, cues, and advance organizers
  • Create questions about a story
  • Copy of the story with student-generated questions attached

Chart categories (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001, p. 7). Evidence examples (The Virginia Department of Education, 2008).

For specific lesson plans, resources, and additional research-based strategies to assist with the VGLA collection of evidence, visit the following websites: (SOL Enhanced Scope and Sequence PLUS Lesson Plans)


Marzano, R. J.; Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The Virginia Department of Education. (2008, July 9). VGLA Implementation Manual 2008-2009 (updated manual). Retrieved September 4, 2008, from the Virginia Department of Education [pdf].

Date: November/December 2008