Assessments: The Fancy Word for The Tests of Old

There are a myriad of reasons for why students don’t “perform well on assessments” or, excuse my french, fail their tests.

Students feel stressed.  Students respond differently to different formats.  The test itself may inadvertently test for something else rather than its objective.

So many reasons.

And, of course, there are definite shortfalls to relying on tests as an assessment to what a child has learned.

With that out there, it’s still just so easy to depend on tests.  It’s so easy to, as we would say in Korean, “daegang”-ly or generally/shallowly/roughly get a gauge of the class.  In fact, I think that if a teacher decided that all s/he was going to do was give tests, that’s actually okay…. buuuut,  I’m assuming here that the teacher knows his/her good test takers, knows that someone will screw up, and will have a variety of question types to hit different parts and reveal weak areas.  I’m assuming this teacher has other projects and other forms of assessment.

Yet unfortunately, therein lies the issue.  Tests usually end up being the only form of assessment and they’re worth so dang much.

I see the effects of that in my school.  Kids have messy handwriting, don’t show their work, and really hate to write.  Why learn to write when the majority of high-stakes tests only require bubbling?  Why explain an answer thoroughly when the answer choices and fill-in-the-blanks do the connecting for you?  Why write neatly or learn to spell at all?  After all, it’s about recognizing what looks correct and receptive memory definitely takes less work than productive memory.

When kids do poorly on tests, teachers respond in different ways.  In my experiences, I remember some teachers just lowering the curve and making the highest grade an A.  I know of colleagues who simply offered an “extra credit test” at the end of the year to bolster a student’s testing average.  I also know teachers who purposely gave hugely hard tests so that we’d study more and do well on the finals and APs.  Some teachers focused on student learning, others focused on making sure that their class didn’t look like failures.

I feel distressed when my kids do poorly because I’m still having difficulty figuring out if it’s the students who didn’t learn the material or if the test format is just incredibly narrow or if they’re just very stressed.  I’d rather read short-answer problems where a student explains to me their thinking than a bunch of multiple choice letters.  It hurts me the MOST when a student does the right work but then circles the wrong letter.  Do I give him/her the point because s/he knows the material?  Do I add a slight penalty because at this age students need a little reminder that process and careful test-taking is important?

Anyway, I was sad because the past grammar test was a pretty big fail – the highest score being an 80% and only 29% of my class passing.  Grammar hasn’t been strong for them and about a quarter of the class always got Ds or Fs.

Well, today I found out that my students’ difficulties are not due to all the aforementioned factors.  Rather, it appears that I’ve been having some resource navigation issues, and long story short, I’ve been giving my 7th grade students 8th grade grammar tests.  So Woohoo!  I laughed in relief, and tomorrow I’m going to give the students a quick retest that should be less painful for both them and me.


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