Kids on STAR tests, multiple choice vs short answer.

May 6, 2010 at 9:24 AM Leave a comment

Kid comments on STAR testing this week…

Lots of press about how terrible this is for kids and for the education system. I agree with much of that, especially the ‘what you measure is what you get’ maxim from business.

But when I polled students about their perception in this wealthy, well-prepared community. They reported that it was really easy (ELA) with most saying they were between a 3 to 5 on a scale of 1 = totally bored, 5 = challenging enough to be interesting and 10 = totally stressed out. Some stuff they said they couldn’t remember learning especially some vocabulary. Some questions were opinion-based they thought, so how could there be a right or wrong opinion?

These tests, because students know they are low stakes for THEM, are not terribly stressed out or upset by the process. The more pernicious effects are that they are habituated to a multiple choice way of testing and expect it as a standard method of assessment.

However, they often do better on short answer tests in science. I think the reading level, the amount of reading and the distractors all contribute to that, especially for special ed students. And in real life, you just have to know the answer (or how to get to it), rather than decide between multiple choice answers. So that’s why I’m mainly sticking with short answer for our science quizes.

How to grade 145 short answer quizes without losing my mind? I do it by sweeping through one or two answers at a time for a class. Then doing the next couple etc. That way I get a sense of how students are doing by question, instead of grading each paper completely. It’s much easier and quicker. Took me years to figure this one out.

And 145 homework assignments?

Used to stack these up and have a big panic before the end of the quarter. Then kids would get work back so much later that they couldn’t use it to study from, the comments were meaningless because we’d moved past those topics before they got the feedback. Oh, plus I really, really hated grading, stayed up late and was grumpy the next day.

I try to be very specific about what I’m looking for now. Maybe a rubric on the page. Front-loading expectations makes it easier on them as well as on me. Perfect work is a win-win.

But sometimes just looking for completion before we go over the answers in class. Then I post the teacher’s notes on our class website for review.

Getting it done fast:

I have kids stack their work at the end of their table. While students are occupied, maybe reading something, working on another sheet as a table group, watching a video clip etc., I check for absences on my grade book and then zoom around, sometimes on a rolly chair for a more entertaining and less back-breaking experience. Look over each student’s work for the one or two things I’m assessing. Give verbal but not written feedback (saves time, less sad than having their work bleed red pen) and suggest redoing for full credit after a little coaching if it’s a real bomb. I record only less than perfect grades. Fill in the perfect scores (or the modal score) later to save time.

If lots of kids are struggling, instead of getting bitchy at later groups and later periods (tempting but ultimately unsatisfying and ineffective), I give coaching to the whole class, let them fix the problem and repeat the next day.

If lots of work is missing, I ask the class what happened. Then make a judgement about extending the deadline or posting a 0 for kids who didn’t turn in work so they and their parents can see it, with suggestions about what to do to improve it. I do that to put some pressure on them to get it done! Talk about the work place value when people “Get It Done!” even in difficult circumstances.

What strategies and grading techniques work for you? Please, please share this mundane but central piece of the teaching puzzle. It’s never in articles, it’s often neglected in teacher training! Looking forward to swiping your ideas :-).

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