Do I create my own assessment test or do I use the one that comes with my textbooks? Before I answer that question I have to provide some background on the inspiration for writing this article. Well into my fourth year as a fourth grade teacher, the one lesson that I keep learning over and over again is that there is no one, single right way to teach. I think both new teachers and old constantly put ourselves in this box of doing what we presume teachers do and in the way we are supposed to do it. Well, I can’t stress enough how many times that I have had to remind myself that it is okay to step outside of that box and try new things, especially when we run into situations where something isn’t working. Some of the most effective learning improvement I’ve seen in my classrooms occurs after I recognize my old way of doing things were not working like I hoped. My answer to that opening question is that we should create our own assessment test when the situation calls for it, but you don’t have to entirely abandon those pre-canned assessments either.
Assessment Test Creation
One thing we like to do as teachers is to make things easy on ourselves. It’s not because we’re lazy but because we only have so many given hours in a day to lesson-plan, teach, strategize, tutor, grade, meet with faculty, staff, parents, and grade papers. When you think about how many things we do in a given day it seems nearly impossible to even think about creating our own assessment test. On the other hand, are we getting the most from our kids when we simply have them circle multiple choice answers and recognize word bank terms and vocabulary? Students will become good only at what they practice doing. Approximately 80% of their assessment test in Social Studies, Science, Religion, and ILA, are filled with multiple choice questions, word banks, and matching games. By doing this all year long they are going to get more proficient, of course, at grading higher on this portion, but on the written, deeper-reasoning parts of the test they are going to score lower, both grammatically and in accuracy of the subject.I constantly found myself getting frustrated when 9 and 10 year old kids struggled to write complete sentences on the open-ended question part of tests. All of the grammar I’ve taught them all year seems to fall by the wayside and their answers are often, short, sloppy, abbreviated groups of words which often don’t even resemble a complete sentence. As I get frustrated I remind myself, “How much practice have I really given them?” We do write lots of sentences, monthly book reports, and five-sentence paragraphs, but this is not the same as learning to write proper answers to questions using complete sentences. In fact, this is a great building block for learning how to writing better paragraphs, essays, and establish good writing habits. I began thinking to myself that I really need to give my students more hand-written, open-ended questions. This not only allows me for a better assessment of their mastery of the subject material, but gives them the much needed practice writing complete and proper sentences using the grammar rules they are learning throughout the year. So, what do I do with all of these pre-canned tests I’ve been using the last four years? Here is the best part and why test creation is a breeze:
Don’t throw away those Multiple Choice Tests and Word Banks
The beauty of the multiple choice tests, word banks, word scrambles, crosswords and word search activities is two-fold:
- One: they serve as the question generator for the written tests
- Two: They make great study guides for the students
I’ll explain how I use both of these to the advantage of both the students and myself.
Generating an Assessment Test
If you click on the Sample Test Link link, you’ll see that test problems 1-8 are comprised of 4 word bank questions and 4 multiple choice questions.
Here is an example of how I might turn question 4 into an open-ended assessment question:
4. Houston is an important center for what two types of research?
A successful answer will include the correct information and a grammatically correct, properly written sentence that includes the question inside of the answer.
Below are examples of incorrect and correct answers:
A. Space and Medical Research
B. It’s important for Space and Medical Research
4. Houston is an important center for Space and Medical research.
Of course, there is more than one way for students to provide grammatically correct answers. The key is that they are getting practice learning how to properly formulate sentences. Also, there is more than one way to grade these papers. Part of the grade can be for Grammar and part of the grade for Social Studies. At the time of this writing, we are late in the year and the class has finished its grammar curriculum and requirements for the year. I am using these open-ended tests as a way to grade both ILA and Social Studies. I am also incorporating this format into our Reading and Science material.
Student Study Materials for Assessment Practice
The textbook tests can be used for test reviews, study guides, and also function as differentiated learning modifications for students with higher learning needs. The first couple of times I used open-ended questions for tests, I actually let the students use the correctly answered textbook tests as study guides. Based on the difficulty of the subject, I may sometimes continue to let them use their pre-answered textbook tests for help on the written questions tests.
Improvement takes lots of Practice
Even with correctly-answered study guides in the hands of the students, I was very disappointed with the initial results. After taking much prior class-time to model question-in-answer and complete sentences, the majority of students continued to provide incomplete answers with poorly written groups of words instead of complete sentences. This shouldn’t have surprised me. Old habits are hard to break and new ones require lots of practice. I handed back that first test to students, discussed and re-modeled both orally and on the SmartBoard, and then made them redo their tests for homework. The results were better, but still less than satisfactory, overall. Finally, on about the 3rd try, the majority of students began getting the knack of how to write complete sentences with the question inside the answer. As I began reading their mostly complete, grammatically correct answers to the test questions I realized how much practice they were getting with their writing and how much more they are actually going to learn and remember about the subject material. This became one of those joyful teacher moments that makes the job so rewarding and makes me look forward to teaching the next lesson. And all of this are the fruits that grew from a simple assessment test