In education, the most common type of summative assessment consists of nothing more than multiple-choice questions. This is a problem. In general, these types of questions (1) do not lend themselves to higher-order thinking, and (2) do not promote creative expression as they declare, “You must demonstrate your learning in this way!”
From what I have seen/experienced, many teachers recognize the drawbacks of constantly using publisher created multiple-choice tests, but they do not have the confidence to try something new…As a classroom teacher, it took me a few years to overcome this fear of creating my own assessments. Looking back at some of what I put together, nothing was perfect, but I do believe it was all a step in the right direction.
Here’s the thing…
It’s unlikely you’ll create the perfect assessment in one shot. But if you don’t try SOMETHING today, tomorrow you’ll be left with what you have now…a one size fits all publisher created test, which ignores the fact that no two students are alike.
Embrace the iterative process and the idea most tests you create will probably undergo multiple revisions before you “get it right.”
As a fourth grade teacher, I was constantly looking to reconstruct the publisher created, multiple-choice tests that came at the end of each story in our Language Arts series. Usually, I replaced all multiple-choice questions with one student essay. Here are a handful of the questions I kept in mind while designing the essay assessment:
- Does the essay force students to think on a higher level through inferencing, text-to-text connections, text-to-self connections, etc.? (Webb’s Depth of Knowledge can help.)
- Does the essay force students to pull evidence/direct quotes from all parts of the story, or just a select few pages?
- Are the students aware of how their work will be assessed and what constitutes an ideal answer? (Student created rubrics can help.)
- Will all ideal answers have to look the same, or is there “wiggle room” for creative expression?
- Would it be possible for students to earn a “high score” without truly understanding the story? Would it be possible for students to truly understand the story but somehow not earn a “high score?” (In other words, is the assessment valid?)
These same questions can be applied/adapted to the creation of almost any type of test, in any subject area. For example, for the second bullet point it could read, “Does the assessment force students to access content and knowledge from the entire unit, or just a select portion?”
Also, here is an example of one of the essay assessments I created, Harry Potter style!
In the End
There seems to be this push in education for students to be granted opportunities to convey their knowledge however they choose: essays, infographics, videos, websites, eBooks, etc. While I am not against this approach, I do believe our focus should be on student understanding and not a flashy product. In the end, the rubric (or the manner in which this understanding is assessed) should pretty much look the same regardless of what is handed in or published. (And I don’t want to hear anything about how “creating” automatically equates to higher-order thinking.)
Nonetheless, jumping from traditional tests to a more progressive, open-ended model could easily be overwhelming for both teachers and students. The proposed “essay model” met me at my comfort level, helped me in moving forward for the benefit of my students, and ultimately made me realize there are endless possibilities in regards to how students can be assessed.
What are your thoughts on the essay model? In what inventive ways have you assessed your students? What are your overall thoughts on assessment?
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