Assessment Test – Creating an Effective Test for Students

assessment testDo 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



Math Fact Games

iPad Math GamesMath fact games provide a challenging and fun way to motivate a fourth grade class at becoming highly proficient with their multiplication and division tables. I think most fourth grade teachers would agree that it is frustrating to watch kids fall behind in math because they do not have their multiplication tables memorized. Learning math concepts is confusing enough on its own for some kids. Learning long division becomes a monumental task for those students who have to count and use fingers to multiply sets of numbers that they should have memorized. After a while, most teachers can easily recognize which kids are struggling because they do not have their math fact tables memorized. There is simply no way to teach math facts; it is pure memorization. There are routines, however, that we teachers can put in place to make kids practice and even have fun. The key to a math fact program is consistent practice.

Daily Math Facts Program in School

Daily Math Fact Practice

Last year, my school had a school-wide math fact program in place for fourth and fifth grade students. The program was a simple, 1-minute, daily, math-fact, practice drill consisting of 80 multiplication and/or division problems. The daily math sheets progress in difficulty each time the student successfully completes all of the problems on their sheet within the time one-minute limit. If memory serves me right, the sheets had 80 problems each. Each set was labelled with a letter from the alphabet according to the difficulty of the problems. For example, set A might include only 0s, 1s and 2.s. Set M would include 6’s and 7’s, etc., etc. The beauty of the school-wide program was that we had parent volunteers to grade the papers, make copies, and distribute them to student folders for administering the next day. I didn’t really have to do anything other than to hand out the student folders and administer the 1 minute test at the beginning of each school morning. At the mid-point and end-point of our semester, we would administer 2-minute, 100-problem tests for midterm and final grades. While this made things easy for me, I don’t think it really helped the kids who needed to practice the most. The ones who failed to practice and memorize their math facts each day continued to score poorly on the practice and graded tests. The lettered tests did provide somewhat of a challenge for the students, but it wasn’t really much of a game. It all comes down to practice and those who failed to take the time to do this at home, were the ones who scored poorly on the tests. I’ve included a copy of the 80-problem 2 minute drill here: Math Facts 80 Problem Drill.  This PDF file is courtesy of Math Aids Website, which by the way, is an excellent website for generating all kinds of tests and practice sheets for mathematics of all grades. Alternatively, you may also click on the graphic to the right to get a full, printable view of the sheet.

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Everyday Math

Everyday MathOne of the most rewarding experiences of my job as a first-year teacher was encouraging kids to write. One of my professors gave us an assignment called, Daily Warm-Ups. I chose to turn this into a math/literacy assignment which I will refer to as, Everyday Math. The idea of daily warm-ups is to engage students with short activities that require reading and writing at the beginning of every lesson, each day of the week.  These daily warm-ups can be based on any subject. I chose math as my subject because it coordinated with my alternative licensing unit plan for my Colorado Work Sample and Portfolio requirements. This also happened to tie-in very nicely with my Math Literacy assignment which I wrote about earlier this week.

My professor’s motivation behind daily warm-ups is that each day of the week, there is a quick lesson activity to help students get engaged with reading, writing and putting actual, real-life learning behind each lesson. My professor also required that a challenge problem be included at least once during the week. An everyday math warm-up was perfect for my daily plan which already included daily math problems at the start of each math lesson.

Using Everyday Math with Story Problems

To tell you the truth, the everyday routine of assigning raw numbers, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, fractions, etc., was getting a little bit stale in the class room. What really brought this to light, though, was how my students struggled with story problems. Even some of the brightest, most ambitious students struggled to solve math when it involved literacy and a story. I found it rather alarming that the mathematics rules, calculations and formulas I was teaching were not making any practical sense for most of my students. I was too quick to assume that they were understanding the actual purpose of the math problems they were asked to do everyday. The word problems often proved that they didn’t know when to divide or when to multiply or when to subtract or when to add. Learning the algorithms is only one tool in learning the use of mathematics in a practical way. For this reason, I continued to add real-life story problems into their daily, every day math routine. This is when I began to notice a very positive flip-side to this whole dilemma. The story problems were helping kids who previously struggled with the calculations. Literacy is the not only the key to making practical sense out of everyday math, but helps enforce the formulas and calculations by teaching how, why, and when they are used. Bringing this all to light, made me all the more anxious to put forth some extra effort and creativity into our daily math routine. Unfortunately, our old routine was making the daily math seem more like a routine chore to students rather  than a fresh learning experience. I was faced with a new challenge where I had to not only increasing interest and motivation of the students, but make it seem interesting, fresh and new. 

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