May 17, 2016

Do, Check or Grade? Quizzes (and Tests)

I asked Twitter on Thursday what I should blog about. And that day they wanted to know what's worth holding kids accountable for and how to do it. I wrote about HomeworkClasswork and Projects so far. I probably could be done there but I know there's some debate on whether quizzes are formative assessment and whether or not formative assessment should be graded. So I'm writing one more post in this series. I'll mention how I grade tests while I'm at it so we cover everything I grade.

So, yes, quizzes are formative assessments. And yes, I grade them. Why? Because if I have to grade things, why not quizzes? Yup, that's the full extent of my thought process here. Seriously though, I think more grades benefits students. More chances to demonstrate understanding and no one thing counts for too much of the total grade.

Honors PreCalculus:
I mentioned before that I announce quizzes ahead of time in this class and students can make an index card for homework. At the beginning of class (after taking questions) I project three questions and students work them out on a quarter sheet of scrap paper. We're pretty casual around here (easier for me and also makes assessments seem low stress). I use the orange pen method (except my pens are purple) to have students grade themselves right away.

Quizzes are on pure skills. I only ever quiz a single small topic at a time. In the unit on solving polynomials with complex roots I quiz on operations with complex numbers. Then a few classes later I quiz on solving quadratics. Quizzes happen immediately after learning a topic and they're bite size. I allow retakes. Most students do well on the quizzes and if they don't we both know exactly what they need to learn.

To contrast, tests are on several skills and include multi-part questions. They also can't use their index cards on the test (except for the conics unit when they can use their dichotomous key) but students who have been actively working all unit have learned the formulas by heart by then anyway. For that same unit on solving polynomials I had students complete more questions on complex numbers and quadratics, but also added questions on higher degree polynomials. They had to think conceptually about the number and types of roots, justifying their claims. They had to write their answers as solutions to an equation set equal to zero, rewrite an expression in factored form and state a function's intercepts. Tests are broken into 2-3 sections and students earn a separate grade for each section. Then if they want to retake to improve their grade they only retake one section at a time. The retakes are questions written on index cards that students complete on scrap paper. I've had students tell me that they really like the retakes because questions on an index card seem so informal and therefore low stress.

Algebra 1:
I used to do three question quizzes in Algebra but we're trying to do common assessments across the Algebra 1 teachers and the other teachers' idea of a quiz is more substantial and formal than mine. I would like to move toward some more frequent, smaller check ins, maybe I can ask the team for some exit tickets? But for now I'm working on being flexible! We frequently spend the first half of the block practicing and the second half of the block taking a quiz. This provides some serious motivation to focus on the classwork for the first half of class. But it also means we're not testing recall at all, they are quizzing on something they've been doing for the last 45 minutes. We allow students to use their flappers on tests and quizzes.

Tests work the same as in PreCalc.

General Quizzes Conclusions
Mastering math content requires both skills and application. The projects we do examine student's ability to apply skills, but there needs to be a point where we check for the skills. It's totally possible to check skill levels without giving pure skill assessments but it's easier for me and clearer for my students to give short quizzes on a very specific topic.

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