Testing… again…

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We all know the struggle for testing. It feels like an epic uphill battle every year!

When students return in the fall there are placement tests and diagnostic tests that we complete as a school followed by the first round of NWEA testing. In the winter we take the OLPA in both Math and Reading and many of our language learners take WIDA tests. There is also the mid-year diagnostic test. (As a school we do not take the winter NWEA test.) We then hit cram time where we attempt to make sure all of our students are ready for both the reading, math, and science MCA. We start MCA testing in March continue all the way through April. May hits and it is time for our spring NWEA test followed closely by any final diagnostic test required by the school and any final assessments I choose to give them in the spring…

Was that confusing enough??

It’s confusing to me and it is the reality that I live in. I spend hours and hours testing students trying to keep myself engaged and brain functioning. Some teachers at my school test in their classrooms. However, due to the wifi in my classroom being very spotty, I get to test in the library. This has two advantages for me!

  1. I am not tempted to sit at my desk and correct papers when I should be actively monitoring the room.
  2. I do not have to go through the hassle of taking down all of my posters and math stuff. I also don’t have to worry about covering it with paper.

Testing in a room outside of my classroom has some disadvantages too. My students can’t look around the room and try to remember what had been on the wall in a specific location. They are forced to look around a room that they typically associate with reading and are required to take a math test.

Because I teach at a small charter school, the difference of only a couple of questions could make a large impact for the assessment of the quality of my teaching and my school (by some people’s standards). Testing always puts me on edge and I want everything to run very smoothly!

I was one of those kids that struggled anytime that a testing period did not run smoothly. I remember at least one occasion where something happened at home the morning of a large test and I had to go to school and perform the best that I could on the PSAT. It was nothing my parents or I could control but I know I did not perform to my potential on that test.

I want every child to perform to the best of their abilities because I want success for each of them! They are rockstars in my book! They come to school and they work hard every day to help make sure that they are ready for those standardized tests when they do come. They know what their individual goals are and they know where they should be in order to match up with other 7th and 8th graders across the state and county.

Even though testing days are some of the most stressful days of teaching, they are some of my favorites because I get to see my students practice their flexibility and versatility with the standardized test questions put in front of them! I know that testing is a way of life and it is here to stay, but I hope that I can continue to work with students and help them develop the mental stamina to continue performing well on these assessments.

Multiple Choice Grading Technology

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While I do not like giving multiple choice assessments, my school requires a specific benchmark assessment be given every month. These assessments are multiple choice and I HATE GRADING THEM!!! It is painful to sit down and spend my time trying to grade these assessments and even more painful knowing that there is something else more valuable that I could be doing with my time.

I recently spent some time finding a scantron type of app that I could use to eliminate this task from my grading ritual. I found two options available that I could use easily in my classroom. There are more and I know they exist, I just haven’t had a chance to explore their features yet.

Gradecam

Platform: Any device that connects to the internet.

Pricing: There are three options with Gradecam.

  • Insight Basic – Free – limits teachers to 10 questions per assessment and does not include standard alignment or exporting options.
  • Insight Plus – $15/month a teacher – Allows up to 100 questions per assignment. This version allows you to align to state standards or common core standards. You can also export to excel, csv, or into some gradebook software.
  • Insight School/District – $2.50/year a student – All the features of Insight Plus and you can share assignments between teachers and create custom benchmarks.

I got a three month trial of Gradecam when I signed up and when I referred several other teachers my trial was extended. The feature that I like the most about Gradecam is that I can grade on every device I own. I can use my phone, my ipad, and I can use the camera on my computer.

Zipgrade

Platform: You can only scan from a mobile device but you can access your results on the web.

Pricing: With Zipgrade you get access to the full range of features with the free demo. The demo allows you to scan up to 100 quizzes before being charged. Otherwise it is a paid app.

  • 2 months for $1.99
  • 1 year for $6.99
  • Or the Zipgrade VPP app is $12.99 one time and vaild forever.

The advantage of Zipgrade is the ability to tag either an entire quiz or a single question as assessing a benchmark or standard. This then creates a record of everything that the benchmark is assessed and a student’s ongoing progress toward meeting that benchmark. I love this part of the program. It is a bit clumsy right now but the data is some of my favorite data that I can access. I was in the process of creating a spreadsheet that I could use to track this information and I found the program that did it for me!

Assessment

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Recently in my coursework, I read the article entitled “Assessment of Learning, for Learning, and as Learning” by Lorna Earl. The article discussed different ways to address assessment.

I liked the idea of the varied roles of teachers in assessments. In assessment, teachers serve as mentors, guides, accountants, reporters and program directors. (p. 22) Each of these roles is explained in the article and it made me realize that there is a lot more that I do with assessment than creating and giving the assessment. All of these extra tasks make it difficult to focus on developing creative and effective instruction for my students.

The article discusses Assessment OF Learning as summative assessment. Assessment of learning is the primary way in which schools assess learning today. Students complete end of the unit or end of the chapter tests and these are entered into a grade book and used to extrapolate understanding of a wide range of skills and abilities. The primary purpose of this type of assessment is to assess the accuracy of the work students perform.

Assessment FOR learning identifies with formative assessments. Students complete work and the teacher uses the data from this work to guide and develop instruction. Instead of marking a student’s accuracy on a particular topic, this form of assessment is meant to identify strengths and weaknesses as well as provide feedback to the students. In this form, record keeping can be done in a grade book but the vast majority of it is in the form of checklists, artifacts and portfolios.

The final form of assessment is assessment AS learning. Here students are more actively engaged as assessors of their knowledge and skills. Students use the information to determine what things they need to continue to work on. In the method both the teacher and the student do record keeping.

What will we do with this information?

How can I continue to structure my learning opportunities such that I am offering more opportunties for assessment for and as learning instead of focusing on assessment of learning.

I also am considering my record keeping methodologies. Keeping a traditional grade book is easy for me. I also can easily track for completion of assignments. What I am not skilled at is anecdotal notes and recording my observations. I see 100 students a day. I can make generalized observations, but making student specific observations is difficult for me. I need to develop a methodology for recording this information.

I am also considering how can I use the assessment techniques/resources that I already have and redefine them to push past the assessment of learning and into the assessment for/as learning instead.