My Assessments Have to Change

In my previous seven years of teaching, my class looked like this:

  1. I teach half of the chapter.
  2. I give a quiz.
  3. I teach the second half of the chapter.
  4. I give a test.
  5. Next chapter – return to step 1.

Throughout those seven years, I feel I was fairly successful with about two-thirds of my students. The problem with my class, though, was that the other third never had a second chance to learn the material. Most of the time, the students that earned a low grade on their mid-chapter quiz, also earned a low grade on the chapter test. This trend then continued chapter after chapter until the semester final, on which those students really never had a chance.

During each chapter, I had very little information as to what any of my students knew and didn’t know. Then, once the quiz or test was graded and returned to the student, I did very little with the data I had obtained. The students had no opportunity to learn the material and retake the assessment and I did very little to change my lessons to reach those that had not yet learned the material. Basically, my belief was that a bad grade would motivate those students to try harder and do well on the next assessment, which rarely happened.

So, with Common Core bringing about change in the way I teach, I felt it was a great time to change the way I assess and use assessments. Thought Twitter and other websites I read, formative assessment has become a buzzword. I knew I would first have to get some information about formative assessments and how to implement them. I was fortunate enough to come across a great book Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan William. I was also shown the website New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning(NJCTL) by my colleague Wendy. From this site, you can download SMART Notebook lessons with SMART Response questions within each lesson.

The last month or so of last school year, I used the NJCTL lessons and I feel the students did much better on the mid-chapter quiz and end-of-chapter test. About four or five times per lesson, I could assess student understanding of the lesson and move on or reteach if I needed to. I used 80% as the marker for whether or not I would move on. I saw two problems with my process, though:

  1.  It was usually the same students who were in the 20% that didn’t get the question.
  2.  Because I was using SMART Response, most of the questions were multiple choice. There were some students that guessed on every answer, or, used the multiple choice to eliminate bad answers. When asking for explanations of answers, some students told me they knew what the answer wasn’t, so they could then determine the correct answer. They were unsure about the right answer, so, they may not have known the correct answer or how to get the correct answer.

First, I’ve decided this year to use much more formative assessment during my lessons. I’m going to try to use less SMART Response and more cooperative learning for my formative assessment. Within those cooperative learning groups, I’m going to require more explanation and much less “just-give-me-the-answer” types of questions. I’m going to try to take some very basic notes each day through Google Docs to keep track of which students struggle with what concepts and strategies I tried to help them. This will help me year after year when teaching those lessons.

Second, I’m going to allow students to retake any assessment that I give this year. The past three years, I’ve offered credit recovery to students who have failed a chapter test. They would have to complete a folder on Compass Odyssey and then I would change their grade from an F to a D-.  I’ve only have a few take me up on in though. This time, I wanted to find a way where a B could become an A or a D could become a C. While reading Embedded Formative Assessment, I found a great matrix that encourages students to do well the first time, but to also to improve on the second try.

Grade Table

I have never tried this before, so this will be interesting for me. I will be sure to share how I feel this worked this year.

Lastly, I’m going to stop putting a grade on student assessments. I’ve made my first two assessments(Unit 1 – Interim Assessment 1-3 and Unit 1 – Interim Assessment 4-6) and made an area for me to comment on each set of questions of the same type. I want students to actually listen to my feedback instead of just focusing on their grade. In Embedded Formative Assessment, there is discussion of a study done by Ruth Butler and her colleagues in which students were given a grade, feedback, and both on an assessment. The students who just got feed back had the most improvement. The students who got a grade and the students who got a grade and feedback both improved much less and at the same rate. Dylan William also had a very interesting point about this study: 

“When students were given both comments and scores, which did they look at first?” Everyone realizes, of course, that it was the score. What is more interesting is what the students looked at next: somebody else’s score.

-Wiliam, Dylan. “Providing Feedback That Moves Learning Forward/Practical Techniques.” Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2011. N. pag. Print.

Once students have been given their assessment and we have talked about their feedback, I will then post their grades by ID number so they will then know their grade. Again, I’ll share the results of this practice as well.

Overall, my class will look different in every way next year. I’m pretty worried about how I’ll adjust, but that comes with teaching. I’m hoping as I create more lessons, I’ll feel more comfortable with this new style of teaching and assessing. By Christmas break, I’m hoping to be able to post on here how successful everything has been and how I should have made these changes years ago.


3 thoughts on “My Assessments Have to Change

  1. I really like the idea of giving students a chance to “redo” items that they earned a poor grade on. I have always given students a second chance (or sometimes more). I rarely learn something perfectly the first time and students are no different. Also, I think that by assessing where a mistake was made, and fixing it, the student creates a stronger understanding of the concept. Good luck!!

  2. Thank you! Even though I teach SPED English, I have enjoyed reading your blogs. My school’s PD this year will be on assessment, formative and summative. I find your experiences and comments informative and helpful as I decide how to format my English classes this year. I look forward to your future posts and how things are going in your classes this year.

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