Efficient Assessment, Part 1: The Questions

Assessment is one of those aspects of education that even good teachers can take for granted.  We prepare our students for state and local high-stakes tests, but we also write our own tests and quizzes.  We use student work to gauge mastery, and we question students during class to ascertain their weaknesses.

We do all of this on a daily or weekly basis, but how often do we really think about what we are doing and why?

Along with my obsession for grading practices, I have a little “problem” with assessment.  While some teachers reuse their tests from year to year, I always start with a blank page and create them anew.  I perseverate over the minutiae of each quiz.  I write and rewrite and re-rewrite each question.  It’s not healthy.

Would you like a glimpse inside my crazy head?  Let’s assume you’re nodding your head.

When I’m planning an assessment, I try to consider several factors:

  1. Validity: How closely does this match what I want students to learn?
  2. Reliability: Would all students with the same level of mastery get the same score?
  3. Authenticity: Are students asked to demonstrate the actual skills that I want them to master?  Will the results really tell me what they know?
  4. Efficiency: How much time and effort will it take to capture these data relative to their utility?

For me, validity is the biggest reason that I create my own assessments.  I know what is on the state curriculum and I know how I have interpreted it for my class.  I can ensure that my assessment provides useful information about my students’ mastery.  Reliability comes from removing bias and making the questions as clear as they can be.  Assessment isn’t about playing “gotcha” and rewarding those who can decipher the clues.  It’s about measuring curriculum mastery.

Authenticity is a spectrum that extends from super-simple, multiple-choice quizzes on one end to performance assessments (like lab practicals or oral questions) on the other.  In my experience, authenticity and efficiency are constantly in opposition.  The most authentic assessment that a classroom teacher can reasonably use is going to consist of short-answer or essay questions in which a student must demonstrate their understanding (with no lucky guesses possible).  But, this is exactly the type of assessment that is incredibly labor-intensive to score.  Ask any Language Arts teacher and you’ll hear horror stories of grading essays that take 10-15 minutes each.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, the easiest type of assessment to grade requires no teacher judgment, it’s just a multiple-choice test.  This assessment provides quick data, but at what cost?  How much can you trust in the results of an assessment like this?  How many responses were just the result of good luck, not true understanding?

These questions or more run through my head whenever I plan lessons.  So, why does assessment keep me up at night?  In my next post, I’ll explain how new assessment tools like edmodo, MasteryConnect, student responders, and Socrative fit into my assessment strategy.

photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc


Engagement through Digital Conversations

I’ve started using edmodo again this year.  I had played with it years ago when it was little more than a discussion platform for students.  I gave up on it when my district made it clear that social networking was evil inappropriate for educational purposes.  Soon after, the folks at edmodo decided to change the look and make it much more Facebook-like, and then began to add more features at an amazing rate.  It has become much more of an instructional tool than ever before.

This year, in a strange twist, my district decided to purchase a district license for edmodo. The social networking policy hasn’t changed, but edmodo is now a de facto exception.  As I began to use it and train others in its use, it was clear that this would become an integral part of my classroom this year.  In fact, you can expect a future post about the assessment tools and their usefulness for classroom teachers.

As the year began and I introduced my students to edmodo, I knew that they would find it engaging (although we require that all discussions be “school related”) for its social interactions and the taboo of 11-year-olds using their own “Facebook”.  What I didn’t expect is the level of self-motivation that this medium would provide.

I posted on edmodo several items to help my students prepare for an upcoming quiz, including Quizlet flashcards and reminders of the date of the assessment.  One evening last week, just prior to the quiz day, I noticed that one of my students had posted a study guide for the quiz.  He had created his own outline of the content and a fill-in-the-blank practice quiz, and then posted it online for all of his peers to use!

In my wildest imagination, I had not expected that I would have students volunteering to do extra work and share it freely without any reward in the first month of using this tool.

Obviously, my experiences might be unique.  Your students may not take to it as mine have.  You might need to use the “badge” feature as a sort of intangible reward system, offering badges to students who show citizenship, leadership, effort, etc.  But, this is definitely a tool with lots of potential, and a great example of how digital conversations can be powerful ways to engage your students.

How do you engage your students using online tools?

photo credit: timsackton via photo pin cc