Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting Rid of Tests?

Ok ok so I'm not getting rid of all tests, but I'm revamping the way they are taken. Currently students take their quizzes online and then take their Mastery Tests with me during a scheduled time. A large number of students took the test last week and I have to admit with our short 45 minute periods and all the activity going on in school, finding a time for students to take the test and finish it was a real problem. Many students still need to complete their essays, I find that 45 minutes is not enough time for a well thought out essay.

I spoke with one of my faster moving classes about this today, and they suggested taking the tests online as well. The current style of the test is choosing terms to identify and define and then choosing two essays. I'm trying on tests at least to do away with multiple choice. I am keeping multiple choice for the quizzes however as that is the style of standardized testing in this state.

Doing the tests at home would mean students would have access to their notes during the test, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is ok. I have long said history is not about memorizing facts and dates but about synthesizing information, and understanding why things are important. Shifting away from a memorization test would, in my opinion, be even more of a leap towards mastery of content learning. Students take notes, but do they use them to actually study? I don't think so. Testing this way would allow them to take their notes and actually demonstrate to me that they understand relationships. It would also allow them as much time as needed.

I'm definitely concerned about the backlash I may get from the administration about not actually giving "tests" but I also know that this is much closer to how they will be assessed in college (far away thoughts for 7th graders but isn't that how we should be preparing them)?

Finally this will be the last push I think towards a (nearly) paperless classroom.

Has anybody else done away with in class testing? What about allowing students full access to notes and material while being assessed?


  1. But wouldn't home testing just encourage the "looking up the answers in the book" you discourage? How do you make sure they use their own notes and not just google?

    1. I suppose when I wrote that I was thinking more of their responses on review worksheets which were question and answer. Rather than read, they would just flip and find the fact that answered the question and write it down, not thinking about the bigger picture.

      My take home tests are essay based. I don't mind students looking up information, in the book, or on google. My concern was that with the question and answer format, or multiple choice format, they were just going through the motions to find the "right" answers. They were not thinking about the content. With the essay tests they have to take all of that information that they have found and do something with it, think about the bigger picture if you will. You bring up a good point in that googling information is a problem for a lot of teachers. Rather than spending hours trying to catch them copying from google, we spend a lot of time learning how to make citations. I allow students to use outside sources provided they cite them, with the hopes that they will use a mix of their notes, outside sources, and original thought to develop a strong position in response to the question. In addition to the essay they have several "identifications" on each test where they have to tell me not just "who or what" something is, but why the person or concept is important and how it fits into the larger historical picture.

      I realize that this method is far from perfect, but I really think the ability to find, identify and synthesize information is a skill set far more useful in today's world than memorization. Memorization certainly has its place too, but my hope is that students will demonstrate understanding of the bigger picture and how all those facts fit together, rather than just spit the names and dates back to me as they are.