The Teaching Test: Feedback, Reflection, & Movin’ On

I recognize the critical role standards and high-stakes testing have played in bringing educational accountability to schools that failed communities year after year. However state assessments do not provide useful feedback for students or teachers; the goal is to “pass” not to improve or grow or reflect critically. While we certainly must equip students to pass these exams we must also provide them with substantive feedback, opportunities to reflect, and the chance to construct a path forward towards additional growth.

Providing Feedback: I find the key component here is to assess based around a clear, pre-established criteria such as a rubric, set of objectives, or benchmark paper. When grading students’ performance provide them with a highlighted or annotated rubric showing where they could improve and where they have already succeeded. Strong feedback can never be a simple grade because a mere number or letter does not enable a student to improve her performance in the future. One way to do this with a multiple choice style exam is to collect the answer document (scantron) from the student but let them keep the test. Then immediately give them a copy of the key with explanations for each correct answer choice as well as links to the objectives (see below).

Students should grade themselves, track their objective mastery progress, and then reflect on how they could score higher in the future. This instant feedback will create a learning via testing experience as well as eliminate the “Have you graded it yet?” phenomenon.

Opportunities to Reflect: It is tempting to never talk about a test or paper once it is passed back and in the grade book; however, a graded exam can be a powerful teaching tool. One quick way to do this is to grade a sample essay or exam in front of the class while students attempt to grade their own or follow along on a sample. Have them predict what they think they will earn on their exam and then pass out graded exams. Students should then reflect on the differences in grading between their self-assessment and the grade you assigned. I keep all exams in a binder with the students name on it on a big book shelf in my classroom. When we pass back exams or papers students grab their binder, inset the exam and then fill out tracking and reflection sheets. They track the fluctuations in score, the mastery of skill objectives and the accumulation of knowledge. The graph below is my quiz tracker that allows students to see their progress over time as well as whether or not they have met the passing mark (Goal Line) for each quiz. I also have a Danger Line to let students know when they are at an unacceptable performance level that will require after school tutorial and quiz re-takes.

Constructing a Path Forward: I have learned that students must believe they can and are getting better at the subject you teach because if they believe they “just aren’t good at X” or that they will inevitably fail your class then it is only a matter of time before they become noncompliant or even a huge behavior problem. Each assessment should show students exactly where they need to improve their performance. It is worth it to take some time to elaborate on specific steps students can take to do better on each particular objective or skill you are trying to teach. See below for an example reflection sheet for my Historical Investigations:


Although it can take some extra time and effort to make tests, even life-sucking standardized tests, become teaching tools it is ultimately well worth the effort. What do you do in your classroom to ensure students learn from summative assessments?


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