May 18, 2016

Questions During Tests

I remember a twitter conversation (or an in person one? probably twitter) way back when where Elizabeth shared that when students asked a question during a test she would say, "That's a great question!" and then walk away. This is exactly my take on how to respond. When students ask me, "Do I do this next?" I say, "Sounds good!" and walk away. Poker face whether or not their plan would lead to an accurate answer.

The goal of a test in my class is to discover what a student can accomplish independently.

This is not a perspective shared by everyone. This fact continues to astonish me, but I continue to encounter dissenting opinions.

  • My colleague told me that students complain that I don't answer questions during tests.
  • My ninth graders get mad at me when I don't answer their questions. 
  • My students continue to ask questions during tests, despite the fact that I never answer them (unless they are totally unclear on the directions in which case I provide minimal clarification).

This leaves me wondering what other teachers in our local community do. I have to assume that the middle school teachers answer questions since all the ninth graders come in thinking that it's status quo. And I've learned this year that a lot of other teachers answer questions and even explain concepts during tests because I've had the unfortunate circumstance of having four different co-teachers this year in my inclusion Algebra 1 classes. My long time co-teacher was diagnosed with cancer in the fall and has been out the rest of the year (she's doing okay now and expects to be back next year! Modern medicine rocks). I had forgotten what it was like to build that relationship and to teach/train/convince another teacher of some of my teaching practices. I remember very clearly now, because I've had three new teachers in my room since then. It's been hard, really hard. And I've tried my best to be flexible to different teaching styles. But some things really bother me, including anything that will mess up the data that I'm trying to collect by giving a test or quiz. I try to ask nicely. I try to explain the goal of tests in my classroom. I do a fantastic job of modeling what I want. And yet, out of a genuine desire to help students, co-teachers continued to help students during tests. At this point it's almost the end of the year and I know Lori is coming back in the fall so I've given up. I try to put a purple pen in my co-teacher's hand as soon as I notice her helping and ask her to initial next to all the questions she helps kids on. It's a compromise I can deal with for the next 6 weeks.

What are your classroom pet peeves? Is there anything you can't stand more than, "It's your job to teach me!" during the middle of a test? Because I don't think there's anything that spikes my blood pressure as intensely as that situation.


  1. My response to questions in class: "Do the best you can with what you have..."

  2. My response is usually "K." Since they have me every year, they learn pretty quickly I'm not going to help them. Or I will literally say "I can't tell you that. This is a quiz."

    Classroom pet peeves for me are when students ask every day "What are we doing?" or when they're absent "Did we do anything yesterday?" Also not bringing a pencil, not doing anything, and not looking in their notes before asking me for help.

  3. I have had similar issues, Tina. I would offer help to students on tests, until I realized that I was doing the kids a disservice. Furthermore I finally realized that I was not getting accurate data as well as inflated grades. What I have done this semester is allow students to let me know if there is a typo, since I do multiple versions. Also, my test generator isn't that reliable, so typos happened often. However, we are going to Google Forms next year, which should help with that. I also very briefly go over the questions beforehand and give them a minute to ask any questions. I really enjoyed this blog post!

    I like the idea of the purple pen as well.

    1. One of my coworkers suggested giving kids two tickets every test. Then they could trade a ticket for a question. It's like the purple pen but clearer to kids that they're giving something up by asking for a hint.

  4. Students will ask during a quiz "Can I ask a question?" I will respond with "You can ask the question but I am not sure I can answer it."

  5. I tell students that they can come up and ask me a question because just asking the question will often jog their memory when they are stuck. If they are still stuck but could probably do the work with a bit of a memory jog from me, I ask them if they want to "buy" a hint. Then I write something minimal in red on their test, they say "Oh, now I know what to do" and then I take off for the hint when I grade the test. Or I just write "hint" in red on their test.

    I am not sure that never answering a question on a test gives accurate data. Research shows that anxiety can impair one's ability to think and many students are anxious about math tests. They may know the material but they just can't seem to access their knowledge during a big test. Knowing they can ask me a question often relaxes them and allows them to get over the anxiety. On later tests, they may not even need to ask any more.

    And I do still say, "I'm sorry, I just can't answer that question. That is what I want to find out if you know."

  6. Lest you think I am too much of a softie: My biggest pet peeve during a test is "I was gone that day so I never learned that." Or, even more maddening-- Students walking in class one minute before the test starts and telling me they "didn't have time to study so could they take the test tomorrow instead?". And then getting mad when I don't grant their request!