Assessment

Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect

The decision to allow students to retake exams and every conversation surrounding it should be based on the best path for learning. Always remember that.

 

Lately, I was grappling with the question: "Is a full exam retake necessary and effective for each student whose score is almost perfect?" The question came up because, invariably, every class has those  students who earn a 94% but still want to retake the exam and shoot for 100%. I will always allow this, but recently I was wondering if a retake is the best way to earn that extra 6%. I asked myself, "What would help this person increase his or her understanding from nearly perfect to perfect?" For such a student, I think retaking the exam is too mechanical, an trivial item on a checklist to achieve perfection. By contrast, I've heard it said you've never truly mastered something until you can teach it.

Testing Retesting

About me and my school

When I started teaching AP Computer Science A in 2015, it was easy to approach a subject that was new to me in a way unlike how I had been teaching mathematics. Initially, I allowed students to retake their exams simply because I knew I lacked the experience to write fair exams on my own first try. I kept the policy because it seemed almost natural, the course itself seemed conducive to a policy that allowed students to resubmit code until it worked. At that time, I could not see how the same policy could carry over to my math classroom and a discipline that is notorious as a harsh exam environment. Finally, in 2017, having grown frustrated with feeling that I was perpetuating a culture that rewarded exam performance over learning, (mind the distinction: it’s one thing to take an exam for the sake of one’s learning, I take issue when students perceive they are learning for the sake of their exams) I decided I could try what I was doing in C.S. 

What High School Geometry Could Be

What High School Geometry Could Be

A project that is successful in that regard must embody at least three principles:

  1. It must require student choice. More is better.
  2. It must resemble a real life application.
  3. It must be an end in itself. To superimpose exam questions on the project content is to dilute the meaning of the project itself and redirect the students' attention back to the very falsehood we meant to avoid in the first place: an exam is the ultimate end and indicator of success.

This year, I've come up with the "Geometric Dwelling" project.

Paired Assessments – Creating a Better Exam

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I hate tests. It's not just that traditional exams fail to simulate a real life, collaborative working environment in which one can consult outside resources, it's so much more than that. Traditional exams actually discourage students from developing necessary life skills.  With traditional exams, memorization is prioritized over resourcefulness and individual performance is prioritized over accountability and collaboration.

Despite my strong opinions, over the course of my teaching career and out of pressure to have my students perform well on the State or College Board standardized exams, I have implemented the whole gamut of test preparation strategies and intensities. That my students are accountable to an essentially arbitrary end-of-year examination is something I have just had to accept as a fact of life. My supervisors understand this and more importantly, my students and their parents understand this. Without a massive shift in education, in one academic year I cannot choose to ignore the exam track and change the thinking of my students. I am forced to work with it.

The Assessment That Changed How I Teach

This article is about an assessment called "group quizzes." I titled this article "The Assessment That Changed How I Teach" because the advent of group quizzes is the most definitive and material change that has taken place in my classroom since I've noticed a substantial shift in my teaching. That shift is one in the direction of student-centered discussion, engagement in learning and self-reflection. I know that correlation does not imply causation and I've also been teaching for nearly a decade, so I'm sure this "change" can't solely be attributed to the success of an assessment strategy, no matter how fantastic it may be. Perhaps the strategy is really a catalyst for what was already set in motion by both years of experience and other events outside of my control. But I will offer this: if you are a teacher and you are even interested in shifting the focus of your classroom to center on your students and especially if you are willing or have already tried some new techniques to that end, I would say you are in precisely the position I was in when I discovered an assessment that was everything I was looking for.