Monday, May 13, 2013

This is what standardized tests fail to assess #EdChat #PBLChat

Since I made the switch to Project Based Learning, I am always amazed at the different projects I receive from my talented students. These projects manage to show me a depth of understanding that a multiple choice test could never reproduce.

Recently, students were asked to create their own project and rubric for The Great Gatsby. I received some really good projects, but this one struck me as something really special. All projects needed to be approved before the students were allowed to start work, but I never expected this when my students asked to write a song for the book. Here is Maddie V's completed project,

Maddie wrote the music, played the piano and wrote the lyrics for this song. She did all of this while rehearsing and performing in the school's Spring Musical. For me, this is one of the best projects I have ever received for this unit. She gave me permission to post this on my website and tweet it out. I had to share this with all of the other teachers out there wondering about the value of projects over tests. 

There is no doubt that Maddie could take a test on Gatsby and get an A. She is very bright and it would have been very easy for her. However, what would she have walked away with after acing the exam? With the project, she still has an A, but she has something she accomplished. A beautiful song she will have with her the rest of her life. When she thinks about Gatsby or the green light, she can think about a song she wrote and shared with the world. I'm always looking for reasons why people should dump their tests, and this is one of the best examples to date. 

Maddie is going to go on and do some amazing things out there. How many kids are not being given the chance to express what they have learned because the multiple choice test is the "best" way a teacher can think of to assess? As teacher, we need to look for better ways to get the most out of our students. For me, projects have opened my eyes to the very different talents my students have and they have made me look at assessments in a different light. I hope this song is a light bulb for teachers considering Project Based Learning in the future. 

If you liked the song, take a moment and leave Maddie a comment on YouTube or send her a tweet at @MADdy_skillz.


  1. Love this. I totally agree with you as I love seeing my students express their creativity in their projects in my class. Great job with this assignment.

  2. Beautiful. I love to see what kids come up with. Thanks for sharing.

  3. My son is currently reading this book, and i am sure will take a test afterward. If only there were more schools that embrace learning the way you do. Every year, on the last day, he dumps out his backpack and a mound of meaningless paper pours out of it.... into the recycle bin. bravo to you for making learning MEAN something.

  4. Completely agree that our standardized testing drive an inordinate amount of class time that could be better served by fostering this type of creativity and individual expression. I think you would appreciate this post by @plugusin Bill Ferriter on how testing is narrowing his classroom.

  5. Precisely. Excellent post. When students use their talents to show their learning, everyone learns more.

  6. Kudos to Maddie. Here's another example of a Gatsby student project:

  7. The first thing that struck me in this post was that teachers are using mutiple choice test as their summatives -- wow this is so bad --- there should be multiple modalities to evaluate students.

    The second thing that struck me was -- that you are turning over the project for the students to design and getting them to develop the rubric to mark it. Projects are great but the rubric although could be done with the students should be the final product of the teacher who determines what the outcomes are that are being evalutated. Otherwise, how can the students be fairly and equitably evaluated. In her song, this young lady has done a brief summary of the novel and identified one theme -- this is a complex, social commentary novel. How does this song reflect this?

    As a teacher of literature, how would you feel competent to judge the music??

    or the lyrics?

    The project is only as good as the assignment handed out. I once had a teacher read some myths with her students and the assignment she gave them was to write a myth of their own. She had not taught them about myths per se but just read some with them. She did talk a bit about the moral of the story but not about the structure, etc. There were kids who gave it a good shot but others who were totally overwelmed and did not even try .

    Students should have been taught, practised and been given feedback on whatever evaluation tool is being used for a summative evaluation. Has this been the case with this project?

  8. "she has something she accomplished. A beautiful song she will have with her the rest of her life. When she thinks about Gatsby or the green light, she can think about a song she wrote and shared with the world." Amen!

    Most of us read The Great Gatsby in high school. It's been 35 years ago for me. I probably got on A on the unit, but I guarantee Maddie will remember more about it 35 years from now than I do.

    I give Nick credit for letting go of the need to assess everything a student could learn in a unit. You have to give up some of that to make time for students to internalize and connect to the content.

    I love Cindy's comment above about the mound of meaningless papers her son dumps out at the end of the school year. I see the same thing. Kudos to Nick and other teachers willing to take a risk and allow their students to create as they learn and learn even as they are assessed.


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