Assessments In The High School Classroom

High school teachers need to give students grades. Typically the grades consist of homework, quizzes and tests. All too often though, teachers fall into a rut, approaching these assessments in the same way they were taught in school. Shake up your classroom and try these new approaches.

No matter what subject or grade you teach, tests are an evil that are hard to escape from. Over ten years ago, I completely changed how I gave tests. Let me tell you the story. I teach Regents Earth Science, which is a very rigorous course. When it came to tests, I followed the tried and true practice of multiple-choice questions, often referred to as cut and paste because I would just cut up old regents exams. Of course today it is much easier with software such as Test Wizard.

I remember giving a test on Plate Tectonics, and the class got average grades. Several days later, I asked a student what plate tectonics was and he couldn’t tell me, even though he had scored in the 80’s on the test. I proceeded to go around the room and after asking 10 students I flipped out. I realized that by giving them multiple-choice questions I was training them to make educated guesses, but I was not really making them explain what they had learned. I walked over to my file cabinet, took out all the tests for the whole year, and threw them in the garbage. I announced then and there that we would have essay tests from now on. Of course, you can imagine the reaction that I got.

It ranged from shock to protests that I couldn’t do that. Well I did, and from that forward, I stopped the multiple-choice questions. And a funny thing happened, their regents exam grades got even better. I experimented quite a bit and came up with a method that I think works great. In a difficult class such as earth science, I give them a test outline when I start a new unit. In essence I am giving them the questions ahead of time. Some questions are in generic form, especially if they involved graphs or math. Its sounds crazy, but it works.

Did you ever have a college course where you had an exam that you were clueless about ? With my method, it is stated right up front what I expect them to know. Now you would assume that they would all get a 100, but remarkably they don’t ! The best thing is when a parent calls questioning a students performance on a test. When you tell them that the student had the questions ahead of time, the parents get real quiet.

Without a doubt, the most important and effective assessment tool I use is the oral quiz. Let me explain how it works. Each day, I start the class with an oral quiz. I ask questions about the previous days work. In more advanced classes, I will actually ask questions from previous chapters. I randomly pick people and ask them a question. They typically have 5 seconds or so to answer. If they get it right, they get a 100. If they get it wrong, they get a zero, and I will ask someone else the same question. (Using a laptop makes this very easy, as I simply enter their 100 o 0 right as I am doing it) I will usually ask anywhere from 5 to 15 people a question, which wont take much more than 5 minutes.

By the end of each grading quarter, each student in the class will have been asked at least 50-75 questions. This method serves many purposes. It reinforces previous work and acts as an instant review. It quiets the class down on a regular basis. When students enter the room, they know what’s coming and many open their notebooks and read over their notes. If you adopt just one thing from taking this course, let please let it be the oral quiz technique. I used to give the traditional paper quizzes, but my goal is to have fun in the classroom. And fun for me is teaching. Paper quizzes require me to type them, copy them, hand them out, collect them, grade them, and then return them. Lots of wasted precious fun time!

Homework is another area that used to drive me nuts. I would give it out and many students did not do it. And of course, many of them copied it from other students. Then once again I would have to collect it, grade it , and give it back. I realized that this was not very efficient, reliable, and most of all, fun ! So I completely changed my homework philosophy. I tell my students that homework is not a punishment, but a way for them to learn. It is given for them, not for me. To that end, whenever I give a homework assignment, I always give out the answers too. This way, when a student is doing it, they can check to see that they are doing it correctly. The need to cheat is eliminated. At the start of class, I will ask if anyone has any questions about the homework. There are a few students who don’t do it, but of course they aren’t getting away with anything. You know the expression ? You can pay me now or you can pay me later??

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