Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How I do Assessments

It's Week #4, and I am finally ready to tackle writing about how I do pacing and assessments. I'm no expert at this, but I've got a system that I think works pretty well for me.

I did a lot of blog reading this summer about other people's ideas of math teaching. I'd say that a majority of them are keenly interested in writing about their venture into what's called the Standard-Based Grading, which is basically re-testing/remediating the hell out of every kid until they get every concept right -- even if that means you've already tested that same kid 10 times on the same topic. Also, it seems like SBG believers don't count homework into the student grades, furthering the strength in their belief that they assess only knowledge, not effort.

Personally, I decided that this would not be the right time for me to implement SBG. Knowing myself, I fear that it would take my focus away from my own planning for content and focus my energy on the logistics of assessments. Likewise, I am not sure my freshmen have the responsibility it takes to only have optional homework assignments. Maybe some day SBG will happen in my classes, but in the meanwhile, I decided that it would still be feasible for me to incorporate some nice features of SBG into my weekly planning.

Here are the things I already implemented throughout last school year (2009-2010):

  • I consistently give the kids time in class to work on practice quizzes and practice tests, at least one day before the real assessment. This serves two purposes: it helps kids who have trouble decoding instructions to see them once, the day before an exam; it also helps all kids to focus in on the topics and skills I think are the most important; it also helps me do last-minute troubleshooting of conceptual issues before the actual graded assessment.

  • I consistently give kids opportunities to make up points from the quizzes, by doing corrections the day after. I typically allot 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of class to allow kids to do corrections on a couple of questions (and I cap the number of points/questions they can make up, in the interest of precious class time). I circulate during this time and kids can ask me or each other for help.

  • Every quarter, before the end of the quarter, we spend a full day in class making corrections for the tests we've taken that quarter. This way, kids can make up some more points and they also spiral back to some material they didn't get along the way.

Changes I've made this year (some are inspired by SBG):

  • Every week, the kids will have either a quiz, a test, or a project due. So, every week, I am formally assessing them in some way. Some weeks, like this current one, they have multiple things due.

  • We are still consistently doing practice quizzes even with the near-weekly quizzes. I only see the kids 4 times each week because of a hybrid block schedule that we have, so that means that we're spending about 30 minutes one day reviewing for a quiz, and 20 to 30 minutes another day taking the quiz. That sounds like a lot of time spent on assessments alone, but the truth is that I get to walk around and give them feedback during the "practice quiz" time, so I see it just as any other regular mixed-review work time, except with more focus on the exam topics (and therefore, more urgency from the kids).

  • I no longer spend time in class doing quiz corrections. Instead, the quiz correction option is always available to all kids to complete on their own time, and I make kids who fail a quiz stay with me during that week to make up the quiz points after school. This concentrates my efforts on the kids who really need the remediation on those particular topics, and ensures that the remediation happens more-or-less right away for those kids.

  • Instead of doing quiz corrections as a class, each quiz (and corresponding practice quiz) I include one problem from the materials of the previous quiz. I only re-test the one type of problem that I feel that as a class, the kids struggled with the most. In reviewing for the new quiz, I can highlight again that old skill, and they have a new opportunity to show me that they now understand this topic.

  • We're not that far into the year yet, but I plan on re-testing most commonly missed problem types on subsequent tests as well.

A brief note about why I make these choices: I feel that assessment needs to come in many forms, and be constantly happening. Part of the reason I don't make homework optional is because when I go around and check kids off for homework each day (during their Do-Now), I am actually looking at their work and giving on-the-spot feedback on major conceptual errors. I agree that we should re-test kids on certain topics so that kids feel like they are responsible for old material, but I don't think there is a point in re-testing something to the whole class if 85% of the class got it right the first time. (Example: Well more than 80% of my kids got both algebraic problems completely correct for Segment Addition Postulate vs. Bisected Segments on the last quiz. It's not an efficient use of our class time for me to put it again on the next quiz for everybody.)

I also think remediation is important, but I struggle with spending too much class time remediating all the time. Pacing-wise, my preferance is to have the quiz a few days after I've finished teaching that chunk of material, to allow kids time to ask me questions after class or during lunch, if they still need help. So, pacing-wise, this looks like I will teach something until Friday, give a short practice quiz in class on Monday, and give the actual quiz on Wednesday. Meanwhile, I'm teaching new material the rest of Monday, all of Tuesday, and the rest of Wednesday and Friday. (Remember I only see each kid 4 times a week.) This leaves me in a pretty good situation to quiz again the following week. Projects don't conflict with that schedule either, because I give kids plenty of in-class time to work on projects, and for the most part, they shouldn't need to see me outside of class for help on projects. So, my own outside-of-class time is carved out to help only those kids whom I've identified as needing remediation on the most recent quiz.

I like a lot of things about the SBG, but I don't get how SBG teachers can convince their kids that remediation needs to happen immediately, if they allow their kids the option of re-testing all the way through a quarter. Also, I don't get how they manage to keep their own sanity in place near the end of a quarter, with all the student requests for re-testing. So, until I can answer those questions for myself (in a satisfactory manner), I'm going to work on continuously revising my own assessment system so that it adopts more of the good things I see in SBG...

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