Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to Make Tests Meaningful

I just finished proctoring the second day of the PSAE--the Prairie State Achievement Exam-- a test given to juniors is Illinois.  At the same time, several hundred students in Chicago Public Schools boycotted to protest school closings and, what they say is the over testing of students.  I'm sure many more students--mine included--would have preferred to skip the test along with the boycotters.

Because Lesson Lady and I are committed to keeping our blog focused on providing resources for teachers rather than providing political commentary, I will not comment (though, to be sure, I have strong opinions).  I will say this, though: tests in life are inevitable. And, since tests are so much a part of what we do as teachers, it is imperative that we make them as meaningful as possible.

Therefore, let me offer some tips to help teachers and students make the most of them:

1-Look for growth....We should always be trying to move students to the next level.  That could mean pushing them to apply what they comprehend or evaluate what they can apply.  If they can do something with assistance, the next step is them being able to do it alone.  We are all works in progress.  Looking for growth and recognizing it reinforces this truth.

2-Push/Allow for mastery...Testing students and moving on whether or not they demonstrate mastery is too often a destructive approach to test taking.  What happens if a student does not do well?  Do we move on?  What does that communicate?  That we don't think they will ever get it?  That we don't care whether they get it or not? We should be giving students chances to demonstrate mastery before moving on.

3-Tie grades to skills...Grades should be more skill driven than content driven.  If we are teaching them to memorize and regurgitate facts on tests, then they are not being prepared for the age we live in.  Information is at their finger tips, but what can they do with it?  Skills should be the focal point of the work.

4-Immediate feedback...The quicker students get feedback, the more meaningful it is.  Giving students feedback as soon as they are done is ideal.  In order to help me give them quicker feedback I have them grade their own work, grade each other's work, give them scantron tests that can be scored immediately, use smart boards and educational applications to obtain and graph students responses instantaneously, conduct students conferences, etc.

5-Prepare them...Students need to be prepared to take exams.  Exams that are sprung on students often result in poorer outcomes, especially for students with test taking anxiety.  Test students on what you've taught them and have them practice using the testing format so they are familiar with what to do.

6-Don't make everything about the test...There is a fine line between encouraging students to take it seriously and encouraging students to take it too seriously.  As teachers we walk that tightrope, relying on our knowledge of our students to do so.  If tests only serve to make our students feel unintelligent, than they are not useful to anyone.

7-Make them part of the process...Have students help write rubrics and exam questions when possible.  If they can think like a test maker, they will become better test takers.

8-Assess in multiple ways...Use multiple ways to assess what students know.  Assessments can be oral reports, projects, exit tickets, etc..  Part of differentiation is the product students generate.

9-Allow them to track their own growth...Have students keep track of their growth through reflections, grade sheets and the like.  It makes their learning more meaningful when they can see their own progress.

10-Use data to guide instruction...enough said!

Best wishes as we enter into May and the final stretch!

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