Show What You Know.
By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Fayetteville, Arkansas
Greetings to all cyber surfers! In our little corner of the world, the MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) interns at the University of Arkansas have created alternative assessments to "Show What You Know" about the first three chapters of the course text, Classroom Management for Middle and High School Teachers, by Emmer, Evertson, and Worsham.
Testing Is a Part of Life.
Assessment is a part of life inside and outside of academia. We "assess the situation" before making decisions regarding employment, finances, or other matters of personal importance. The state assesses our personal property to determine our taxes. Our employers assess our production in annual reviews for merit pay and raises.
In education, teachers assess students to determine how much they know about such diverse subjects as science, math, language arts, social studies, and foreign languages. Students are not just assessed in their classrooms about course-specific content knowledge; they are also assessed by district and state in end-of-course exams.
We've all sat through tests. Most if not all of us have experienced anxiety before taking a standardized test, elation after receiving a good grade, and desolation when the grade didn't match our own assessment of what we thought we knew. Tests are just a fact of life as we travel the path of knowledge as life-long learners, or pursue specialized certifications and professional endorsements.
In and Out of the Classroom.
For my students in teacher school, I like to build a bridge between the practical role of teaching intern on one side, and the theoretical role as student on the other side. My bridge is raised on two spans: one supports academic issues related directly to the content in Classroom Management Concepts; the other looks beyond the course to support their overall development as an emerging professional teacher.
For the mid-term test, I decided to have my students create an alternative assessment in the spirit of "Show What You Know." One part of the assignment required my students to design a rubric I could use to assess their completed project. I asked them to consider the two supports. How did this assessment relate to our course? How did it contribute to their development as an emerging professional?
We launched the project with a short discussion on assessment-its definition, purpose, and types. We talked about traditional assessments such as forced choice tests — multiple choice, true/false, gap fill — and open-ended responses — short answer, essay. Next we talked about the alternative to traditional assessment models, performance assessments involving tasks, projects, and products.
I posted guidelines for the project on the class website (LINKED HERE ) and reinforced the information with a handout. Then the students went to work.
Let Me Count the Ways....
As the students worked on the project, I asked them to consider the differences between traditional and alternative assessments. Now I'm asking you, my reader, to reflect on the multiple ways we approach assessment. Consider the following questions....
Just how many kinds of tests have you taken? Admission tests? Placement tests? Aptitude, diagnostic, achievement tests?
In what form? Multiple-choice? True/False, fill-in-the-blank, matching?
Were the tests timed? A one-shot opportunity? Standardized, individual, without feedback, with one answer only?
Lead to a 'Thumbs Up!'
Now what about the alternative? A "test" that took several days or weeks? Involved creativity, collaboration, performance? Included collaboration with your peers? Was untimed, in a context, with feedback throughout the process?
Students in general are well-acquainted with and experienced in taking forced-choice tests and open-ended responses. Our alternative assessment project was an antidote to the mundane. I wanted my student teachers to experience a different kind of "test" to show me what they had learned.
What would you prefer? My students mostly voted "thumbs up" for this project. Some gave a "thumbs side" because it was more time consuming than they had anticipated. No one gave it a "thumbs down."
Although the option of performance assessment is more time-consuming for teachers to create and more challenging to grade, it gives students the opportunity to take their knowledge and use it to create a product or answer that reflects what they have really learned about something. They become actively engaged in the testing process. They create, collaborate, and combine higher level cognitive skills in a context rather than memorize discrete facts for tests that too often ask for information out of context and in a random fashion.
Dynamic, Realistic Options
For Cultural, Linguistic Diversity.
Performance assessment is an ideal alternative to classrooms rich in diversity. Here in Arkansas, our student population is becoming more and more culturally and linguistically diverse. Diversity demands that performance assessment allow students to have dynamic, realistic options to show their progress. Students with limited proficiency in English appreciate this option because they have the opportunity to provide a representative sample of what they know and what they can do with their knowledge without relying solely on language proficiency.
For English language learners (ELL), a forced-choice test is not as reliable for predicting what they know because it not only tests content knowledge, but also tests their knowledge of the language. For an ELL, this kind of test delivers an unfair double whammy.
Good tests should be designed to assess only one area such as science concepts or historical events.
Show It and Do It.
Teachers know — experientially and theoretically — that each of their students learns differently; however, schools and state and national agencies rely heavily upon one or two assessment tools to measure what students know. It is less common for teachers to ask students to "show" them what they know and, more importantly, what they can do with what they know.
For example, a student in a German class may be able to choose a correct verb form out of four verb choices in a multiple-choice question. A correct answer expresses passive knowledge, but what happens when the teacher asks the student a question using a form of that verb? Suddenly, knowledge about the verb takes on an active role in an authentic context. Can the student respond with the correct answer? Could the student ask her classmate a question using the correct form of the verb? Alternative assessment requires a student to become an active participant in the learning process.
A correct answer on a multiple-choice question indicates little more than the fact that a student can choose the best answer from a selection of possibilities. The teacher may not really know if the student understands the material. The student may have made a lucky guess, or merely eliminated the least likely choices to get an answer.
Is It Worth the Time and Effort?
If teachers made it habitual to ask students to justify their answers on a forced-choice test, then students might be able to show what they know — but what teacher wants to employ a quick-and-easy test tool, and then require students to explain their answers?
Teachers at the secondary level may have a hundred or more students pass through their doors every day. Time for grading tests becomes an issue when you consider the many other demands of the day: lesson planning, committee meetings, professional development, grading homework, and the incessant flow of administrative paperwork and E-mails. Forced choice tests become "forced" upon us as a result of these time-consuming variables.
BUT! If a teacher decides that performance assessment is a worthy tool and allots the time to make it happen, the results are inspiring and rewarding. Students become enthusiastically engaged, teachers enjoy and are often astounded at their students' progress, and everyone is eager to share their authentic productions.
Performance assessment helps students organize their knowledge and communicate that knowledge to their peers and teachers.
My students in Classroom Management Concepts lived up to the challenge. We even created a clever hook for the mid-term assessment project: "Show What You Know." I invite you to take a look a sample of their work in the Reading Room on our class website.