Saturday, April 17, 2010

Assessement Options: A Rant

I'm currently working on my Masters in Educational Technology. It has been interesting to from time to time. I'm currently in an assessment class. My biggest problem I have is that I'm being "taught" the importance of the Multiple Choice test and things of that nature. I recently wrote about my goal to go 10 weeks without tests and it was a huge success. The problem though, is that it goes against everything I'm being asked to do for this class. My philosophy on testing changed during this experiment and now I ned to smile and jump through the hoops. I can put on the good face, but the recent Discussion Board posts by fellow students annoyed me. Here are some excerpts from the posts.

Question: Is providing options for student performance assessments a “good” idea for classroom teachers? Explain your answer.


"is it really preparing students for the future?  Many times in our lives something is asked of us and we have to do it.  Our boss tells us something is due or needs to be presented and we have to do it.  If we allow students to choice the way they get assessed, we are not expanding there knowledge of how to do or take other assessments.  My students would love to be able to not have to take a test or quiz, they would so much rather give an oral exam about some math topic, then have to do it."

"I also think that sometimes giving kids the options allows for many of them to simply take the "easy" way out.  It is true that when giving a list of options for performance assessments, students will usually choose what they think is the easiest."

These are just two of a few teachers that are not big fans of the options approach to assessment. In fairness, the 2nd response did say some options could be good, but...

I love giving my students options and I work very hard to make sure that all of the options are difficult in their own way. I'm not asking for students to choose between drawing a picture of a book and creating 20ftX20ft mural  for a school wall. All options are equal in work, assess the same thing, but require different skill sets. That is what options in assessments should look like. If there is an easy way out, don't fault the student, fault the assessment. I would take the easy assessment as well if I was a students. Who wouldn't? It requires more work from a teacher to review their assessments and make sure that there are options for most students and that they are equitable in the work load. I would prefer to take the easy way out and assign one assessment for every unit and move on to the next one. However, I'm a teacher and I need to teach students to be creative and grow as learners.

I tried to respond as nicely as I could to these teachers. I told them that taking tests is not the rest of their lives. Teaching students to be creative and solve problems in new ways is how we have innovation in the future. If we don't teach students to look at problems in a different light and come up with alternatives to solve them, we will never progress as a society. We need to stoke the fires of creation by giving students the option to create. Those options are crucial the building of a life long learner. Without options, we will be a nation of people that are really really good at filling in an oval with a #2 pencil. I refuse to create those people!

Thanks for reading this rant.

- @TheNerdyTeacher


  1. I definitely share your feelings on this. And while students do need to sometimes be given the "must do" assignments, I cannot get on board with the idea that our job as educators is to ensure that our students become "yes men", never thinking creatively or coming up with their own ideas. The statement that "our boss tells us something is due...and we need to do it" applies in some lines of work. But it doesn't apply in MOST lines of work most of the time. Is there an effective teacher out there who simply opens up a text book, reads the script, and follows the directions? Are the best business people in the world the ones who don't take risks, don't think creatively, and don't try new things? Absolutely not. Giving students options, and allowing them to come up with their own evaluation options (with teacher support) helps build skills that students will need if they want to work anywhere but a factory or a fast food restaurant.

    I also found the "easy way out" part interesting. Sometimes when I build assignments with choice, I think that most students will pick one option because, to me, it seems the easiest. But then my students surprise me by choosing ones that I thought were the most difficult. It's because my area of strength is different from that of most of my students. Being able to effectively communicate your learning through an artistic medium, for example, takes a very different skill set than being able to communicate it through a presentation or essay. All of those things are difficult in their own way. So while creating a photo essay that demonstrates understanding may SOUND like the "easy way out" compared to an essay, it's only the easy way out if that's your area of strength. You'll always have students who choose the essay because, for them, that's the easy way out.

    I've added enough to your rant that I could have created my own blog post on the topic!

  2. Wow, thanks for the support. That was one heck of a comment, but I understand. I wanted to rant for so much longer after reading those comments. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

  3. I, myself, have never used choice assessment in my classroom. However, this is not because I disagree with it, but because I’m not yet sure how to do it with 8 yr olds! But, I am exploring and learning. I think that there needs to be a balance. I think that although multiple choice tests do not always (and maybe even rarely) assess the knowledge we are seeking to assess, I am also aware that in order to play the education game, my students need to have the skills to be able to do these kinds of tests. So, I feel that it is my responsibility to teach my kids how to do them. (Sad as that is!) Now, one of the comments you posted really really bugged me. It was the comment about a boss asking me to do something. While it is true that there are going to be tasks that you won’t want to do, but will have to do in your position, these tasks will always be related to the job that you were hired for. So, you will have the skills to do it! From what I have read of your assessment, that is what you are doing with your choice assessment. You need certain things from your students, but you are using their particular set of skills and talents to show you those things. So, I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing! You are inspiring others (though they might not be in your class!)

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  5. It's not that traditional assessments aren't useful, but I've discovered over the past several years that they've just sort of dropped away from my classroom practice. The types of thinking and engagement I want from my students is easier to get from them w/projects and other activities. (Part of the issue may be that I'M more engaged and interested in these assessments than traditional tests.)

    I like to give students some element of choice in every assessment we do, but I your "They'll take the easy way out" colleague does have a point; students, especially the high achieving ones we really want to push harder, tend to go with something they already know they're good at and don't take risks, unless they are prodded. That's straight-forward enough to deal with though. A musician can submit ONE rock opera about the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act, but then he's done w/that type of project for the year and has to explore some other way of presenting his knowledge, like the Brown Vrs. Board of Education Decision diagrammed in cupcakes or something.

    - John (woodenmask)

  6. As I reflect back on the things I learned in school, the things really learned, as in still remembered, few of them are actually from a test. They include knowledge from project based assessments.

    I also agree with what Sharon said. If I had a creative option over doing a regular essay, the creative option would take hours more time, yet it would be time more enjoyed and without sacrifice of learning.

    I am constantly prodding my students into flexing their creativity wings. I could narrow the guidelines, but then I would be depriving them of so much potential.

  7. I really enjoy reading your posts and follow you weekly. I too, have moved away from tests of any kind. I used to have students in my 7 and 8th grade classes write a lot of essays as well as fill in the blank and multiple choice tests. I still do use some multiple choice tests but I always give a very detailed preview of the test as it is really just regurgitation. I like to have them write lab reports where they have to model real science experimentation and reporting for publishing. By incorporating a background writing section, drawings, equations, graphing, synthesizing, and using your analysis to draw a conclusions I am trying to have students work through the scientific process and do more than regurgitate memorized information that they can Google later in life when they have forgotten the definition of something or a fact. I also, try to have them create digital content with glogs, blogs, digital story telling, or power point presentations. I still use some old fashioned methods like posters, model building, and experimentation. I do recognize that students still need to be able to take a multiple choice high stakes test in real life and we need to prepare them for these situations as well. Getting a drivers license, teachers license, and quite frankly many professions make you pass a test to get your license these days. Taking the ACT and the SAT or AP tests. Just to be a classroom aide you have to take a test in my state. I have also found that when you apply for jobs these days companies will pre-assess you in the application process to see if they want to interview you for a position. So we cannot ignore the value of preparing our students for these high stakes situations and we do them a disservice if we do not provide them opportunities to practice and figure out how to be successful in these situations. Even though I do not believe testing really gives you a clear picture of what a student knows or how they learn we have to get a snapshot of where our students are so that we can create a useful time line of events and activities to move our curriculum along. My rant is that I find most of the teachers in my district and those that teach my children to be unadventurous, to be unwilling to try new things, to be unwilling to trust that students will make good choices, to be unwilling to engage students where they are at and to challenge them to be more then they think they can be. Even new teachers and teacher colleges are not thinking to the future. I want my students to think outside of the box, to work collaboratively together, to have innovative ideas. I want you to put a twist on my assignments, to teach me something new, to inspire me to be a continuous learner and better educator.

  8. I just read this post: Now if you are going to give a traditional test, this is the way to do it. Talk about making assessment authentic...doesn't get more authentic than true collaboration!

  9. Nick, perhaps yo might get the opportunity to share the 21st Century Fluency Project with your fellow students ( measures equally fluencies (even better than literacies really)in information, media, collaboration, creativity and solution (problem solving). Not many tests can measure all of those attributes!

    Good luck!

  10. Nick,

    I realize I am reading this post a bit late but my RSS reader has been bursting at the seams. Reading your post brings two questions to my mind:

    1. What graduate school of education in 2010 is promoting the value of multiple choice assessments over authentic, problem and project-based, student-centered, constructivist approaches to teaching and learning? Are you taking courses from BF Skinner or Margaret Spellings?

    2. What have been the responses from your classmates to you posting their comments on your blog? While you didn't identify them I think this still potentially raises an interesting dilemma. Are what we post on discussion boards behind a walled garden confidential? I am not trying to be critical here (in fact, I probably would have posted the comments on my blog too), just posing the question for consideration.

    As for ten weeks with not tests, I bet you still did assessment. I have come to a point in my teaching that I will never give another test again. As a result I have found that I do much more assessment, both formative and summative.

    I also believe there is a difference between giving kids choices and giving kids options. One hints to a finite number of potential outcomes and the other infinite. The key is finding ways to give kids infinite choices. We do this by giving kids problems to solve that don't have correct answers, are relevant, and for which the outcome of the student's efforts will have a lasting impact on others. These are the kinds of tasks student will be given by their employers when they enter the work force, not multiple choice tests.

    Great Post!


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