Cross-posted at How to Use 65 blog.
Last Wednesday’s divisional discussion of PG&E goals was useful to me in a number of ways. I appreciated the chance to bounce ideas off of the small group of teachers that gathered to discuss assessment and classroom practice. It was encouraging to hear how other teachers deal with the same question, and also to hear some of their goals for improving their teaching practice over the course of the year. One of my professional goals this year is related to assessing my assessments. Are the elements that I think are important for students to know about a particular curricular unit that I teach (like photosynthesis) reflected in the assessment that I give them at the end of the unit? What do I want them to take away from a process like photosynthesis? It’s a broad question, sure, but an important one to ask. I have tests from previous years on file, and they vary a bit in their format from year to year. Some contain more short answers; some are more open-ended. In other years I’ve assessed mastery of content through projects, oral reports, and student-made videos. But which one is the best? Do I just grab last year’s, or do I revise and rewrite, considering this year’s particular group of students? And am I committed to doing that each year?
One of the tests that I’m most proud of this year was quite different than ones I’d given in previous years. For a unit on cellular respiration, I asked the students to take a few days to write a study guide that would be useful to any other student taking a biology class that would be preparing for a test on cell respiration. We talked about what they should know: general principles of synthesis and decomposition reactions, various forms of energy “currency” in the cell, overall goals and outcomes of the process, etc. etc. It was fairly open-ended, and open-book. Put this guide together. Make it detailed and clear. Go. That was the test. I actually think that preparing that document would have put them in good shape for a more conventional test. So going through the extra step in this case wouldn’t have been terribly useful. They didn’t all get As, in case you were wondering. With access to class notes, text, and the internet, it’s still a difficult topic to explain, and they did that with varying degrees of success (and detail). It’s not something I do for every unit and every test, but I think it’s a really useful way to test their understanding of a topic from time to time.
Some questions for the group:
What do you want your students to demonstrate?
What constitutes a good assessment?
What constitutes a bad assessment?