Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Marking Period Without Testing

I read this article on cheating and assessments and it got me thinking. In it, the article says that cheating increases as students get older because learning becomes more and more about testing and less and less about the mastery of skills. As a high school teacher, I spend my time telling students they need to learn this format because it will be on the ACT or the State Test. The reason I tell that to students is because the Administration tells us that these students need to learn these facts because they will be tested on them during the State Test and we need to make AYP to receive an "A" or NCLB. Our tests need to be designed to look like the State Test so students can become familiar with the look of the exam. Test taking strategies, although helpful, have become the focus of too much class time. As teachers, what are we teaching? Are we teaching kids how to be a part of the system? Take information and fill in a bubble? Success is measured by one score on a test that you can take multiple times? Information is only valuable until the assessment then it can be deleted from the mental hard drive? As I sit here peering over midterm exam scores, I realized that things need to change and I'm going to start today.

For the next 10 weeks, I am not going to give a test. All assessments will be project based and created by the students. If I'm really after finding out if they have mastered the material, why not let them show me how they mastered it. They might want to make a PowerPoint. One student might create a movie and another might write a poem or some. Heck, one student might choose to write an essay to show me how they mastered the skills. As long as the students know what skills they are expected to master, this should not be a problem. Right?

Here is how I think the process will work.

1. Teach Lesson that includes Skill Set X

2. Give a detailed explanation of Skill Set X

3. Have students create a project in a specified time frame that will demonstrate Skill Set X (A few suggestions will help kids see where I want them to go)

4. Students need to create a rubric for me to use when I grade the project

5. Students submit or present projects.

6. Skills Mastered

7. Nobel Prize in Education awarded (I'm sure there are a few steps in between, but I just skipped ahead for brevity's sake) :)

As an English teacher, I'm not suggesting that I will never have students write an essay ever again, but I think the essays I have students write that is more for structure than content could be replaced with a student led project. Instead of multiple essays to teach students to use transitions in paragraphs or the correct order of a Persuasive Essay, why not a song or comic book?

What do you think? Want to join me in this new campaign to change assessments in America? The change needs to start somewhere and why not help start it in your classroom. I'll keep everyone posted on the ups and downs of this rollercoaster ride. As always, thanks for reading and please leave feedback.



  1. I never give written tests. I do a ton of informal assessment and projects. I'm curious to see what kind of rubric your students will come up with...I've never been that brave.

  2. Good luck on this venture. With two kids in high school, I almost always feel like they are being taught to be good test takers...without actually being taught a lot about the subjects. The focus on mastery testing, ACT, etc, etc seems to have taken the focus off learning and just turned many schools into test machines chasing a better score.

  3. I look forward to reading about what happens. I am a big fan of problem/project-based learning. I think I can assess a student much better that way. Good luck!

  4. As long as your students set criteria for their project which both of you agree will cover the requirements, they'll be fine. AND, they'll be driven to learn more than they were with the old standard essay. Kudos! I love doing project based learning, just like Melissa, and, as artistic as the students sometimes get, I don't feel bad about holding them to the criteria that they have set for their own project.

  5. I cannot wait to see how this turns out...you are trying something I would love to test! Good luck to you in this venture.

  6. I think this is a fantastic idea! I always think students do better at sharing their true understanding and knowledge of concepts when pushed to "create" something, rather than fill in bubbles. You will also get to see their creativity and personalities come out this way. Can't wait to hear the results!

  7. Yeah I really think this can work. Check out my post on Authentic learning experiences. http://davidwees.com/content/authentic-learning-experiences

    I've only given at most 2 tests in my classes so far this entire year, and I'm pretty sure the students are still learning the material I'm covering based on what they are submitting for their projects.

  8. Thanks for all of the great feedback. My first unit is The Woman's Voice in American Literature. The best part of the process in the early stages is going over my units and re-writing the focus questions for the students. It has made me look at some old stuff and ask, "Wait, what was I thinking?" I think this is going to be good for everyone involved.

    I will be using this for The Woman's Voice, The Great Gatsby and possibly the Harlem Ren. I'm freaking excited!

  9. This is great! I am doing much the same in my social studies class this quarter and you have reinforced my belief that I am on the right track. Check out my documentation at http://folmerica.net.

  10. As a business teacher, I find I do many more projects to judge what the kids know. It gives them freedom and choice. I have found most recently, last week actually, when I assigned a paper on pop culture with the following guidelines - either compare the current decade with a pre-1990 decade or explore the influence of an item of pop culture on society. That was it! At first, they really struggled because as they said they were used to having a full set of questions to answer and a limited scope. Once they got over it, they really shined. My car guy compared modern and classic cars, my art major explored the changes in "art", my reality TV girl discussed the influence of the media on teens, my never interested student compared the 60s and today because he really likes that decade, well you get the idea - and they all had to make conclusions, analyze data and report it out. It went really well and they used their time really effectively and the majority had it ready on time. What blew them away even more - I asked them to put pictures in their papers to support and enhance the writing. I also do project finals in 3 of my 5 classes but there are some set guidelines. I might have to try to student created rubric idea!!!

  11. It's an interesting idea. I've wondered about tests. Aside from professional certification tests (e.g. lawyers, financial planners, etc), there aren't a lot of tests once you leave school, and there's something tautological about saying you have to take tests to be prepared to...take tests.

    What you're trying sounds vaguely similar to what I'm about to try with the seniors in my comparative religion class--give students a set of standards they need to meet (in my case, a certain amount of course content, and a certain variety of multimedia), and they'll work with me to design their own rubric. Hopefully, it will satisfy both sides--they'll get independence and a say, and I can be satisfied that their meeting my standards.

    I also wonder about focusing exclusively on skills. Is that what you intend to do? I'm off the school of thought that, internet notwithstanding, you still need to have some facts and ideas in your head. But that's a different conversations.

  12. David,

    Facts and Ideas are still going to be a part of the units. I'll still cover the authors, their histories and the different aspects of the story. It is important to know those ideas, but they can express those concepts in their presentation where they demonstrate the skills. At least that is what I'm thinking so far.

    At the same time, students will be using discussion boards to share topics and thoughts and that, in theory, will help reinforce some of those facts and ideas every kid should know regarding a text.

    I think that this approach will allow me to focus more time on the skills and the facts will come along with them. Hopefully they will relate those skills to the facts and information they piece together from lecture and self-created projects.

  13. Woot, woot! Noble prize on it's way I am sure. Can't wait to hear how this little trial turns out for you, please keep us posted. I never give tests in my classroom (easier in my field). I will be interested to hear what your students think and how you measure the success of no testing.

  14. Well, it sounds interesting, and I'm looking forward to hearing how it goes. Let us know!


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