More on Assessment

This entry is building off of my last post where I was talking about unit tests in my PS2 practicum.

I’ve done more thinking and reflecting on what exactly happened in one of the unit tests in particular where the students did… not-very-well: asking myself what might have missed, what the students may have missed, and what I could do to solve for it. As much as we’re told not to teach to the tests, I have to wonder if maybe I didn’t teach to the test enough. I ruminated on this bit especially, since I have this philosophy that the students shouldn’t be given nasty surprises on a big test (although I feel that some new situations to see if they can apply their knowledge and understanding would be appropriate), and I would make sure that the students had ample practice with what they needed to know and be able to do before giving them the unit test. Most students did well on the quizzes and practice problems that I had handed out, so why was it that they weren’t doing so well on the unit test?

It was actually another friend from the U of L who suggested that maybe they didn’t know how to tie it all together. The whole way along, they’d been doing the unit in discreet packets and chunks (which I still made sure to tie together so they weren’t stand-alone), but whenever they would do a quiz or assignment, they would know that this one quiz is specifically on force and acceleration (for example), so they’d need to use these particular equations for this particular sheet.

But then when it came time to start identifying when the appropriate situation to use a certain equation, they fell apart. All of a sudden it was no longer as simple as just-take-this-equation-and-apply-it, now they needed to go and find which equation to use first and then figure out how to use it.

So it was after I got this suggestion that it all started making sense, and I started kicking myself a bit for it. After all, I’ve done a full physics degree and so of course I should have recognized that actually building the problem from the ground-up is something that’s important to focus on.

I’m still not sure about the best way to address this, but what I think I’m going to do is try to design quizzes and worksheets in such ways that they spread out the use of equations (for physics and math, anyways) to challenge the students to figure out the problem before they can solve it. I’m also toying with the idea of having practice final tests before the real ones so that the students can have a better idea of what to expect for when it counts towards grades. I’m not sure how much I like that though, because like I said before, I don’t want to simply teach to a test. So it becomes a balancing act of telling the students that THIS is what you need to know, versus presenting new situations in which to apply their knowledge.

There also comes the question about what to do with students after a not-so-great summative test. I know that there were a few students who seemed to be doing well in class and then bombed the summative, but it’s a question of whether they blanked, had a bad day, or just plain-old didn’t know the material. If I weren’t leaving my practicum immediately, then the first step I would have taken would have been to ask the students about it and see what their thoughts are. After that, I might make plans with them to try and address any issues that arose, or even to rearrange seating so that they will be in a more learning-conductive situation and have fewer distractions in terms of chatty friends. (But of course, I also don’t want to completely isolate them socially either.)

All-in-all, this whole experience has only served to increase my interest in the psychology of assessment, which I really hope to do some graduate studies in later in life.