Posted in Education, Teaching

The Horrors of Giving Tests

I am not nor ever will be a good test taker.  The anxiety of it all gets to me.  Plus, I found that most tests were made to trick the taker.  Why?  Why not just come out and ask the question instead of using figurative language or complex phrases?

Because of my experience with tests, I’ve never liked giving them as a teacher.  I don’t want to burden my students with more stress and anxiety.  School should be an enjoyable place not a stress-inducing nightmare.  However, to be sure the students are able to meet or exceed the standards for each grade level, we need to have some benchmark to hold them to.  Over the years, I’ve wrestled with different testing techniques: Short check-in quizzes, Exit Tickets, Oral Quizzes, Class Discussions, Plickers Assessments, Written Assessments, Electronic Assessments, and Projects.  I’ve had success with many and faced challenges with others.  I’m still grappling with what method works best.  When it comes to math though, I feel as though some sort of written assessment is the only genuine way to assess students on their understanding of the concepts and objectives.  Although I don’t like written tests, I use them in my STEM class for the math portion of each unit.  Perhaps one day I will devise a new assessment technique that will be way more effective and enjoyable.

Yesterday in my STEM class, my students completed the math test for their individualized unit.  When I photocopied the tests, I didn’t look over them closely.  Having not utilized this book series before, I just assumed everything would be copacetic.  Well, I suppose I got what was coming to me as we all know what happens when you assume.  As the students completed the test, many of the students seemed quite challenged by it while others seemed a bit frustrated or stressed.  I knew something was up at this point.  However, I wanted the students to go through this stressful process once, as a teachable moment.  Persevering and having a growth mindset are crucial strengths of global citizens.  So, I observed the students as they took the test.  No one gave up despite the challenges they faced.  They all tried and put forth great effort.  At the end of the period, we debriefed the whole process.  I was so proud of the boys for seeing this challenge through to the end.  This discussion seemed to help them move on from the experience.  However, it was just the beginning of the experience for me.

Today, I graded their exams and realized how truly challenging and tricky the tests were.  They asked complex questions that were on a synthesis level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Many of the students did not fare well on the test because of this great level of difficulty.  So, I was faced with a dilemma.  Do I have the students complete the rigorous Test Redos process for the objectives they did not demonstrate proficiency in or do I give the students a chance to complete a new test on the objectives they missed?  Is the second option taking the easy way out?  As a teacher, I want my students to be and feel successful.  How can I do that if I assess them using material we didn’t completely cover in class?  That doesn’t seem compassionate or right.  So, I went with option B because I want the students to have one more chance to show their understanding of the concepts in a more concrete manner.

My goal in class on Monday, is to explain my thinking and epiphanies from grading their tests.  Then, I will have them complete the new, modified test in class.  If the students still struggle with the concepts at that point, I will have them complete the Test Redos process.  I’m hopeful that many of the students will be able to display an understanding of the content on this new test.  If not, then they clearly need scaffolding and extra support to learn the concepts.  This will happen later in the week, if needed.

It was a difficult decision to make as a teacher because after having covered this material for over a month, I feel as though they should be able to apply the concepts learned.  Am I just giving the students hoops to jump through by retesting them in a more concrete manner?  Will this experience make them less able to deal with struggles and abstract concepts later in their academic careers?  Those questions weighed upon me heavily as I made the choice to retest the students.  At the end of the day, I want my students to feel supported and challenged, but not stressed and frustrated.  This retesting made the most sense to me.  Now, let’s see how it goes on Monday.  My fingers and toes are crossed.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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