One of the things I’ve struggled with this past year is assessment. I am not satisfied with the standard multiple choice test as a way of measuring students’ learning. They, as I did, often memorize information for the test without processing it enough to make it knowledge, as Janet Allen used to say.
So, I’m thinking of questions:
- What is mastery?
- How do we know when students have mastered the standards?
- Do we say the standards are mastered when more than half the class passes the assessment? Or does 100% of the class have to show mastery?
- How do we assess mastery?
I haven’t found all the answers. During the summer, I am working on choosing priority standards for the units I plan to teach. Fortunately, the South Carolina department of education does have a list of priority standards for ELA for each grade level, and that helps me determine what might be the most important standards to focus on. From those priority standards, I can assign each standard to my units.
I am also working on unpacking the standards. I’m learning how to analyze the standards so that I can cut through the extra verbiage! I’ve found this process to be helpful:
- Begin by highlighting in one color the verbs: these are the processes students will need to do.
- Highlight in another color the nouns: these identify the knowledge students must have. This often involves the vocabulary students need to know.
- Identify the skills students will need.
- Identify what else students need to know and be able to do.
It sounds complicated. It sounds intensive. I think it will be worth the effort, though, to ensure the students are learning.
But still, it comes down to assessment. I know I need both formative assessment and summative assessment.
So, my next “project” is to continue to research ways to assess standards rather than content. In my school, it is a bit of an unpopular way of thinking, but I suppose in all of education, it is unpopular. We are used to thinking of our subjects in terms of content: what is Romeo and Juliet about? What are the metaphors in this or that passage?
But I think the goals should be larger: can students understand any Shakespearean play? Can they recognize and understand the metaphors in some other piece of text? Can students take those skills into new situations?
Last year, I gave a different kind of exam. It was multiple choice, but it also assessed the skills I had been teaching. Students were asked to identify figurative language in selections they had not read before. They were asked to interpret the texts as best they could with a multiple choice test. Some students did well; others did not.
I suppose for a final exam, the multiple choice test made sense. But does it make sense for assessment during the school year? This is my challenge for the year: to develop assessments that help me see whether students are simply recalling information or whether they are moving up the ladder of Bloom’s Taxonomy or Depth of Knowledge toward mastery.