Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Assessment? Data? Testing?

Well, not to be politically incorrect, but I feel it is time for me to think about standardized testing, and assessment in general.
So, first the testing… Most teachers that I know and the educators who I follow via their blogs are not in favour of standardized testing. To paraphrase, they think it’s a big waste of money and only a partial measure of a student's growth. As well, depending on your school and board administration, you can get trapped into focusing your whole Grade 6 program on preparing for “the test.”
I recently had my first EQAO experience and all in all it was very thought-provoking. I did not have the luxury of focusing all of my energies on the test because the class was part of a special program. I saw them for only five 50-minute English periods a week – to cover the whole English program. One of the periods was given over to library and word study, so then we were down to four. The group was of mixed backgrounds and abilities, with about 20% identified and/or using AT, similar to other classes at the school. I was a bit worried all year about what I was doing because I chose to go with the same approach as in a full-length program, a lot of self-directed silent reading, literature circles, etc. It was a constant debate – am I “teaching” them enough? Do I keep on with the independent reading or do something more structured? Anyway, they all passed. 100% passed the reading and 80% passed the writing. I couldn’t help but think of the Boys’ Literacy study discussed in the previous blog post. I feel that the students had the best of both worlds, reading what they wanted at great length with some formal teaching on basic literary concepts like character and narrative, and a great result on their tests.
Now for assessment. I get asked a lot about how I assess student work on blogs and wikis, and my answer is that basically it is the same as if the student were using paper and pencil. Have they done what was asked, and then the various rubric qualifiers… However, I would have to say that, so far, my assignments have very closely resembled paper tasks, just using new media.
What happens when I take my class’s use of technology further into the realm of social media and allow them more choice? What ways can I use to assess degrees of learning, and relative degrees of learning, in this environment?
For example, if they choose their own media for a culminating assignment, am I now asking “what are they using, what are they using it for, how are they using it?” And what exactly are the rubric qualifying words to show their progress?
Hmmm, I will write more after thinking more!

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