Sunday, February 7, 2010

No More Tests Update II

I was having a discussion with some teachers about my 10 Weeks Without Tests earlier this week and was bothered by one of the comments. One teachers said, "It sounds like you have the kids doing you job." The comment was made near the end of lunch and I didn't have the time to fully refute that statement. I was compelled to make a few comments about the educational value of using the same dittos in the classroom since 1983, but I decided to take some time to develop some sound reasons for  trying this in class. For my fellow teacher and those who are wary of student created assessments, here are some answers to your questions.

"Isn't this just an excuse to make your job easier?"

As an English teacher, I know the definition of "easier" and it does not apply to to student created assessments (SCA). First, the placement of SCA in a class is a difficult process. I had to look at my different lessons and see where SCA would most benefit the students and fit the time allotted for each lesson. The organization of the SCA needs to be very detailed. You might have a student create a video, another might paint something and another might sculpt an interpretation. All of these assessments need to be organized in such a way that will allow you to grade them and allow students access to them for peer comments.

Teaching students how to create meaningful rubrics is also important and time consuming. As teachers we know how tough it can be to create a good rubric. Teaching students how to self-evaluate is an important concept for students to learn, but they will not pick it up in a 15 minute review in class. It will be a course long process were students will learn abut the important parts of an assessment and how they can reach the goals they set for themselves. By using SCA in class, I've actually added another item (rubrics) to teach to my kids.

Using SCA for a class will actually require more work upfront for the teacher, not less.

"How can you help a student who created their own assessment?"

I'm not an artistic person. I came to grips with this fact at an early phase. If you need a stick figure, I can help. If you need a straight stick figure, I am of no use. Helping students with assessments is not about assessment itself, it's about the information the student is trying to share through the assessment. I can talk to a student as they work on a computer graphics representation of the theme of a novel without telling him what colors to use or shapes to create. It's about listening and providing leading questions to allow the students to answer the questions they came up with in the first place. The discussion alone is more valuable than a MC test. If the student can verbalize their work to help me "see" their work, that is huge. A student needs to understand a concept very well to be able to explain it to another person. That alone shows knowledge. Again, I might not be able to help a student carve a representation of theme out of oak, but I can help the student understand the nature of the theme and listen as the student shows me their interpretation. It's shared learning.

"Don't all students need to learn to write essays?"

Yes, students need to learn how to write. As an English teacher, I still teaching writing and assign essays. Writing is a skill that students need to master to be prepared for later in life. SCA do not replace all assessments in the classroom. The replace those assessments that were created to make the teacher's life easier when it came time to see if a student memorized information or could pick one answer out of a field of four options. It's important to find the right place to put all lessons and assessments to make sure students get the most out of them. If I need to assess my students essay writing skills, I will have them write an essay. However, if I want to assess my students understanding of essay structure or format, what's wrong with letting a student create a song or poem explaining how to use proper MLA Citation in a research project?

"How is this going to help them prepare for the ACT/MME?"

(The MME is the Michigan Merit Exam. All students have to take it their Junior year in high school. It is currently paired with the ACT. So, all students in Michigan get one free shot at the ACT their Junior year.)

How does it directly prepare the students for that specific test? It doesn't prepare them directly.  Students have plenty of experience taking MC tests. The have been filling in ovals with No. 2 Pencils for years. I think that is why Kindergarten teacher stress coloring in the lines. It's preparing them for a life of test taking. However, if a student is sitting in the desk reading a passage and they have to decide what the theme or allusion is, they might be able to think back to the project they created regarding theme or the song another student preformed for class where he identified all of the allusions. Those connections will have a longer impact on a student than writing an essay about a specific theme.

For essays or MC tests, students have very little interaction with the work other students complete. I usually have a peer editing stage to essay writing, but that only exposes the students to one or two other papers. SCA has the chance for many students to view and experience the learning process of another students. Now, instead of covering the content in one way, they have seen it in multiple ways that can have a lasting impact on the them. In that way, it can prepare a student for a standardized test.

"How is a painting of a theme or song about motif going to help a student in college?"

I actually heard this statement. Information is not only retained through the memorization of facts. I ask you to watch this video and tell me this had no influence in your educational life. I still use it today and I'm a 30 year old High School English teacher.

I'm sure there will be more questions from other teachers as this experiment moves forward. Feel free to send me questions or post them below for everyone to debate. I don't claim to have all of the answers, but this has been something that has made people talk. As an educator, what more could I ask for?


  1. Good for you for not immediately firing back a snarky comment as I would have been ready to do! I can't tell you the number of times that teachers have said to me "technology just makes your job easier," as if I don't have to teach because I use technology. I have found the same to be true, if we are using tech properly (or SCA) the work load and prepartation is generally increased. I usually answer with a, "you should come and see how it is working in my class, listen to a few lessons and then make your judgement."

  2. Learning is messy and tinkering is important. It's ok for students to be creators and participants in their own learning considering that they're neither blank slates nor empty vessels. We're redefining the roles of teachers and students and in this definition, students sometimes take on roles that are traditionally seen as that of the teacher. This is a crucial component of student centered classrooms.

  3. With regard to the first comment ("Doesn't it just make your job easier?") you could simply point out that no one blames a coach if he is standing and giving guidance while all his players are running around and working out. In fact, we expect the players to do the work while the coach guides them. Why not the same with teachers and students?

  4. I swore off tests a long time ago for two reasons: I wasn't any good at writing a good one, and it only tested memory. Since then I have decided to ASSESS learning...much more difficult and time consuming because in designing projects that require application of learning, I have to be open to learning to evaluate ideas other than my own. The rubric helps but I find it can stifle kids who have otherwise good ideas, so I've had to learn to write those more effectively as well. Less work for me? Hardly. But a better opportunity for the kids.

  5. Your answers to these questions show a great level of critical thinking, which is one of the skills your students are improving by doing (or not doing) things in your classroom, and that is not easily done or assessed with multiple choice tests. I used PBL and rubrics with my enrichment classes last year, and using test would have been easier for me but not as beneficial for the students. Good luck and keep going!!

  6. It's teachers like the one you encountered that are not pushing students towards the type of learning, creating and collaborating that needs to be occurring in classrooms today in order for students to be prepared for the workplace of tomorrow. Kuddos to you for embracing the educational philosophy of today! Don't give up on your quest to impact student learning in a positive, thoughtful and meaningful way! Your students appreciate you more than you will ever know!


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