Assessments in the Classroom
By Kristy Nerstheimer
I see your eyes rolling right now as you look at this title. I know what you are thinking: too many tests! I agree there is too much testing in our schools, but assessments don’t have to always come in the form of paper and pencil.
As educators, we have a curriculum to teach, standards students need to master, and assessments are a necessary part of the process. Depending on what grade level you teach and the district in which you work, standardized and common assessments might be a mandated part of your students’ experience. Just grin and bear it, people, it is part of the job.
But within your classroom, there are ways to make your summative and formative assessments more effective.
Standards/Objectives: For starters, it is important to know exactly what your students need to learn. The term “unpacking the standards” has been the buzzword lately. It’s about diving deeper into each standard to fully understand what the expectations are. Once you have established the necessary standards, create a checklist of each one and a timeline to keep you on track.
Summative Assessments: Unless you teach middle or high school, you may be able to scale back on some of your summative assessments. Do you really need to give a 20-question paper and pencil test after your unit on animals if the standard is animals and their relationship to the ecosystem? Going to your state’s website to look at those standards can really help you create an effective assessment. Maybe it will only be 5 questions and students can complete it on their tablet or one-on-one. Better yet, have students create a project using the standards as a rubric. This may take a little grunt work at the beginning but if you are lucky enough to work with a team, divide and conquer.
Formative Assessment: This is a personal favorite as it focuses on an ongoing approach. I like having that checklist with the standards on a clipboard in hand as I assess my students. It allows me to see who is grasping the concepts right away and who those struggling learners are. I can then take a step back and modify my instruction before a summative assessment is given. For example, if I am teaching addition, I can use a simple formative assessment such as a dice game or math manipulatives to see who is answering the problems correctly. I take notes on my handy dandy clipboard. Then I pull those strugglers aside and work with them while the others continue to soar with the activity, not to mention adding enrichment to those who need it. This may mean that 22 students may be doing 22 different things, but hey, that’s part of it, and why we teachers are master jugglers!
Student Conferencing: This is another personal favorite! I love taking time to talk to each student about their personal goals including achievements and areas of concern. As a class, we celebrate personal accomplishments by having a class cheer. They love to cheer for each other when they have mastered certain standards and of course, they love it when the spotlight is on them. We also discuss skills they need to practice, and I usually send them home with a quick note letting their families know what they can do to help. It takes a village! This also applies to my high achievers as well. I want them appropriately challenged and having that individual conference allows for me to meet their needs as well. Many times, they will impress me with some ideas for a challenge themselves such as researching a president or reading higher leveled books. When I meet with students, other students are doing self-directed activities such as tablet research, independent reading, writing with a buddy, etc.
Thinking Outside the Box: Google and find different ways to assess besides paper and pencil. There are a gazillion ideas out there: project-based learning, videos, games, dioramas, portfolios, book reviews, diagrams, charts, etc. I am not saying to completely ditch the paper and pencil assessments. There is a time and place. But I am saying by trying different ways to assess, you will be able to reach learners who might not typically test well on paper/pencil tests. Once you get in the groove, you may not even realize it, but you will probably be giving more assessments which will lead to more mastery and success.
Reassess: Wait, what? But I already just assessed my students and now I have to reassess? Well, yes, if they haven’t mastered the standard, you will need to assess your students again. But first, you will need to modify your instruction or “pull in the troops” so to speak. Try to get some extra help for those struggling students or partner them up with your students who have mastered the concept. It is important to try different strategies to help teach those strugglers. They need a variety of methods and tools from your toolbox. If a student is having trouble with reading, invite a dog to class to be read to or have your student sing the book rap style. Once you have tried multiple ways to reteach your students the standard(s), it is time to reassess.
We’ve come to think of assessments as a bad word. But actually, you can make it fun and interesting for your students. Once students are more engaged and enjoying themselves, the best kind of learning can take place in your classroom.