Thursday, 20 June 2013

What Do We Test For?

Time for a non-Minecraft post. This is one about testing, and the title of the post kind of implies I want to know what to test the students on, but that is not what this is about. Today I had my year 8 Maths class, and for the current topic I have tried a different approach to what I have used in the past. Instead of directly 'teaching' students I gave the students a list of what we call "success criteria", basically these are skills that the students should be able to demonstrate after completing the learning tasks.

Now I gave the students the entire list, broken down into the chapters from the text book that related to those criteria. The students were tasked with giving themselves an initial ranking on their ability out of 10, once they had done this, they then had to work towards getting all of those rankings to at least a 7/10. Once they felt they had achieved this, they were to write a summary sheet on the topic in readiness to sit the test.

Now normally I set a test, the students sit it, at some stage (normally a much longer time than is appropriate, but that is something I am trying to work on) I grade or mark that test and give it back to the students. The students work out their % mark and we move on to the next topic. At the moment a lot of the PD at my school is about feedback, and how to give effective feedback. A lot of the research we are being given, and the training that comes with it, is about not only timely feedback (hence the working on that part) but also about making sure that the students get the opportunity to reflect and act upon the feedback.

Where in the normal way of testing does this come in? Quite frankly it doesn't. As I said we sit the test, at some stage it gets marked, the student get it back and we have already moved onto the next topic. So what to do, here I am not giving timely feedback, nor am I giving the students the opportunity to act on that feedback, most likely they will not get the opportunity for between 6-12 months when that topic is studied again. Who remembers the mark, and more importantly the mistakes they made on a test that long ago?

I had a brilliant idea today, at least it appeared that way, but without gathering feedback from the students I cannot be sure. The students had to assure me that they were confident they would be able to get 70% on the test, theoretically if they truly were at a 7/10 ranking for all of the skills, then by rights they should be getting around the 70% mark on the test right? Only those students who felt they were ready were sitting the test, those who felt they still needed to work on some of the skills were able to do so. However today I spent the entire 90 minutes of my maths class marking tests, giving them back to students almost straight away. The students were then tasked with improving their mark to get it to the 70% mark, if it was not already there.

Some students tests were marks 3-4 times by me today, but here is the cracker, once the students got near the 70% mark, they then had to go back, look at their original answers, decide what mistake they made, and then describe the steps they had to take to get the correct answer. Now this has only just begun, so it will be interesting to see what the students actually come back with at the end of this process, and I am eagerly waiting to see.

The other point of interest, and one that I would appreciate some of your thoughts on, is the students asked what mark they were going to get on their 'report'. Now this is a tricky question, and one I am not quite sure of the 'correct' answer yet. On the one hand, shouldn't I be giving the students marks based on the demonstrated knowledge, this would mean that each student would be getting whatever their 'final' (70%ish) score is. On the other hand, is this equitable? Those students who achieved the 70% or above on the first sitting will be getting the same grade as those who sat it 3-4 times.

So those who took the time to study the skills, practice and accurately demonstrate those skills at the start, instead of rushing ahead or having an inflated belief of their own ability are losing out right? That being said, regardless of how I choose to report on this topic, and the students demonstrated understandings, I am teaching the students (I hope) to accurately reflect on their own level of understanding, and hopefully also starting the students on a path of improving that. I think, just now in fact after writing that sentence, that I need to scaffold this improvement a bit.

So for this test I have allowed students to re-sit say 4 times, for future topics should I be decreasing the number of allowed re-sits students can have, or is that heading too far back towards the issue of students not being able to act upon the feedback they are given?

Now that we have come full circle, it is time to stop writing, please leave a comment below with your thoughts or opinions, I would greatly appreciate them as I try to better the way I test and assess student knowledge in my classroom as well as provide my students with the opportunity to act upon the feedback they gain from these assessments.

1 comment:

  1. seems this type of discussion has gone on for years before we were here...and will probably continue to go on for years after we have left this earth. What is fair? What is equitable?

    I seem to recall when I was in school...a very long time ago, there were no second chances to do the same test. Now it seems like there are infinite chances to do the same test over.

    I think to myself, would I want to be operated on by a doctor that took several attempts to pass his exams? Would I take financial advice from someone that took Elfie's year 10 math test 4 times?

    I don't claim to have the answer to the issue...sorry Elfie, but I can certainly share what I have seen practiced rather effectively at school. Call it our best practices.

    Students are pre-tested on a topic, with a 10 point quiz. Students that pass that quiz with 100% are given enrichment type questions to stretch their learning. Students that do not pass the test will be placed into another differentiated group to get extra support. Everyone else, takes the general route.

    Students are getting feedback from the teacher, and extra support and differentiated instruction based on that pre-test. for the post test, students that pass first try on the test, get the grade. Students that do not pass the test on the first try are re-taught in small groups during some time and are given the test only once more. Considering that the student required extra help to achieve the standard, then that student would not get above a meets for the test. Students that do not pass the second test, will get the higher of the two scores.

    in this example...students get feedback, small group support, and an opportunity to apply the feedback.

    I definitely think that giving your students 4 opportunities sends the wrong message to the students. How will they learn to value things such as grit, perseverance, accomplishment, and self esteem...if they know they can fail and always get another chance. What message are we sending to those students that study and pass first try? Good job, but this other student will get several tries to accomplish and get reported the same score you did?

    Very interesting...