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.