Category Archives: Testing

The Identification Test

I tend to give my students identification tests where the students must do three things with each person, item, or idea:

  • (1) identify the person, item, or idea and its place in the story;
  • (2) explain the importance of the person, item, or idea; and
  • (3) connect the person, item, or idea to a major theme in the story or to a literary device.

An excellent student example for The Bastille would be:

(1) The Bastille was a famous French prison known for its harsh conditions and for the number of prisoners unjustly sent there. (2) Dr. Manette was unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years, and when the prison was destroyed Monsieur Defarge ran to 105 N. Tower looking for a buried paper. (3) The Bastille became a symbol of the nobles’ power and cruelty before and during the French Revolution; when it was destroyed, it became celebrated like our Independence Day.

Generally, the students do an excellent job of this, and this type of test hits on all sorts of state and local standards.

However, I gave four classes a test of identifications and three classes had an average of a B+ or better, but the fourth had a C average. This fourth class was one of feast or famine with A grades or F grades up and down the roster. The reason for their low scores is obvious; namely, most of the students in this class refused to study and did little to nothing to prepare.

Now comes the hard part: what do I do about this? Do I force them to keep their scores knowing that they did little to study? Do I provide an opportunity for the students to earn back some of the points by retaking the test?

I tend to vote for a chance to retake the test, but I need the students to prove they have prepared prior to taking the second exam.

What would you do?

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Great Day After School

No, it wasn’t the meeting I attended that made my day. No, it wasn’t the excellent day I had today teaching. No, it wasn’t the new teacher who showed me a fantastic set of rubrics she created for a unit she’s teaching. It was dinner.

As I was eating some pizza and reading a book in a booth, one of my former students–now in his 20s and an ambulance mechanic–brought over his six year-old son to meet me. He wanted to show his son, who had his first day of kindergarten today, his teacher from high school. I chatted with his son for about five minutes and heard about his day painting and playing with hula hoops and holding a gerbil and a stick bug and having lunch with his dad in the cafeteria. It was adorable, especially with his inability to pronounce the letter ‘r’ in his words.

His dad then told him it was time to go, and he told his little boy, “If you’re lucky, you’ll get to be in Doc’s class someday.” Warmed my heart and (almost) ended a fabulous day.

I say ‘almost’ because two other former students caught me as I was leaving to tell me how their college classes were going and how well they’re doing. What a super end to an already good day. 🙂

P.S. If you want one more article about why I’m not a fan of the way standardized tests are used, read this article.

Sunday Working at the School

I try to separate my work life from my home life, and most often this means not bringing work home. However, I violated my own rule today to save myself a trip.

Before watching football on TV I spent about 90 minutes updating my calendar and creating a couple lessons for my students. Because I did not want to drive to the school and possibly miss the first kickoff of the day, I brought my computer home to do this work. No guilt today though since it worked, and I got see the games in their entirety.

But, I did have to go to the school to read and assess my students’ initial reading/writing assessments. 140 students, each with two assessments, means I feel absolutely swamped by the work. I did not quite finish them and have one more class to complete. I’m going to work early to get it done.

Besides, I get my best work done in the morning and love the early mornings at the school when it’s just me and the custodians. No one interrupts my thoughts, and there are no students or colleagues needing help. I love helping other people, but sometimes I just need to get my own work done.

Still, it’s a bit sad that three hours on a Sunday only allowed me to complete 80% of the assessments, but that’s part of the job of teaching. Endless paperwork seems to be the norm, especially in this age or standardized tests and assessment-happy administrators.

Standardized Tests, the SAT, and the ACT

Washington State is #1 in the U.S. in SAT scores in states where at least 50% of the students take it, and my state is #7 in ACT scores where at least 25% of the students take it. However, the feds are telling my state we don’t accomplish enough unless we tie the state test to our evaluations. All this despite a poll showing that Americans are tired of standardized test scores being used; plus, most Americans have no idea what the Common Core even is despite states being forced to double down on new standards and new tests.

This was the topic of conversation during a get-together today, and a general feeling of frustration seems to dominate every conversation dealing with evaluation, test scores, or student achievement.

However, in the blessed sanctum of my classroom, all is right with the world. I am about half-way finished decorating my walls, and I am feeling ready for the first day of school: copies to come and students to arrive.

One thing I love about teaching is that I can close my door and create a safe haven for students and a place of enjoyment for me. Teachers really do have quite a bit of control despite all that is going wrong with education. We can create the environment and atmosphere of our rooms, and no one can take that from us. I close my door, design engaging lessons, and make learning fun. No day is the same as the one before, and I control that.

Teaching is a great gig. 🙂

Wall Decorations, the ACT, Evaluations, and Common Core

I met with a colleague for about an hour discussing some literature that we commonly teach, and I think we have some good ideas for a couple common assessments. I also scheduled another session with one other teacher for this weekend.

There is no professional development like meaningful collaboration time with another teacher. I get more out of it than any staff meeting, all-district training, or conference. The free flow of ideas, the new points of view, and the discovery as a tandem or team truly allows me to grow and to better my practice.

Once this discussion ended I started setting up my bulletin boards and completed a couple. Institutional cream just doesn’t inspire me and seems to dull the senses of my students. If I am going to spend 8-12 hours at a stretch in my classroom, I need some color and something to keep me comfortable without being put to sleep.

I spent about an hour reading education articles, and these were my favorites:

  • If you have not been the last few posts from here regarding the feds’ short-sighted mandates, then you’re missing an important series of conversations.
  • Washington State is #1 in SAT scores, but this report indicates that nationwide ACT scores could be a canary in a coal mine.
  • If you want to know what I’ve been discussing with my district (about how alarmed I am about the new tests aligned with Common Core standards), this article writer explains it better than I did.

Entering the Classroom and AP Classes

Yesterday I finally got into my classroom. I worked on (and finished!) a couple presentations and then began to plan what I want my room to look like this year. The presentations took about four hours to create, so I was fairly tired of being hunched over my computer and decided to call it for the day.

However, looking around my classroom really got me excited to begin a new school year!

I tend to try and include a few things each year that help make the room interesting to students and help students navigate the courses they take. Some of these items are:

  • a bulletin board that includes something to encourage reading good books,
  • a center for classroom supplies which students can use whenever they wish,
  • a bulletin board that allows students to know me better,
  • posters that help students know the class routines (such as what to do when absent),
  • student work examples from the previous year,
  • senior pictures from the previous year, and
  • goal charts.

Even though I’m not “artsy” or “crafty” I enjoy putting my classroom together. The wall art (including the colors and items chosen), the arrangement of the desks, the placement of the teacher’s desk, and more create the atmosphere of the classroom. Just as in a personal relationship, teachers only get one chance to make a first impression with their students and the classroom is an important piece.

My goal in my room is to make sure the students feel comfortable, to ensure they understand that they will be the focus, and  to convey that the students will be working. I’m excited to get started! 🙂

I also took an hour to read some education articles, and one in particular caught my attention. Apparently, Maryland schools are increasing the number of students in AP classes, but the article writer notes “In at least 19 high schools throughout the Baltimore region, more than half of the students who earned an A or B in an AP class failed the exam.” This, of course, means that these students struggle mightily when they get to their universities, and the author also states that “Many students arrive at college with AP courses on their transcripts, but with skills so low they must take remedial classes.”

Numerous things could explain this. Grade inflation, grading on effort, a disconnect between what is taught and what is on the test, guaranteeing higher grades for challenging themselves, students taking classes beyond their abilities, students simply getting an experience (which could provide a preview of a college class), and more.

In my classes I let students rewrite and rework papers and projects as often as they want because my goal is for the students to learn the processes and to improve their skills. AP tests are a one-shot opportunity. There are no rewrites, no reworkings. They can’t ask clarifying questions, receive affirmations, or be nudged in a better direction. When my students take their AP tests, I have to hope they have all the preparation they need to succeed. Not all of them do.

Allowing students to take advanced courses, to me, is a positive even if those students may struggle in them or with the culminating tests. However, this also means not bringing the standards of the course down to the students; we have to bring the students up to the standards of the course. The thorn on this rose, of course, is that some of the students won’t make it, won’t pass the test, but did the students do enough to earn credit in the course?

A test is not a course, and a course is not a test.