How to Make Assessments Reflect Real World Assessments

I used to buy into the timed test. I bought into the cut throat nature of academia. If your processing speed didn’t match the test I had designed, tough luck. But then I got older and realized that I was just following that model because it was all I had ever known and I was one of the few people for which it worked. So now to start the process of improving assessments.

Effort #1: At first I thought reassessments were a solution. The student would want a better grade and then they’d earn the right to a retake and I’d give them something similar to the test. The issue with that was that the reassessments were never as good as the original. They were stripped down versions. It was like “hey you couldn’t do the hard test, so here it is stripped down, it’s bare form and if you can do this then you pass.” Also, it was difficult for me to have a second version of everything. Also, what about the student striving for an A but happened to get a C+ on that one test? This model doesn’t really work for them.

Effort #2 and part of my current solution: I include in the tests a “Patrick Says” box. In that box I write feedback after their test. I don’t put a numerical grade on the test. I just say things like “Are you sure that’s where the angle of elevation goes? Is it the angle made from the horizon?” The day after the test I hand it back and allow a bit more of a conversation to happen. Kids are encouraged to grab a uniquely colored pen and redo their work. Anything they need from me to answer the question, I write on their test in my pen. This way I can tell what they were able to do with no assistance, what they could change with redirection, and what information they needed from me. This is real world. This is me going to my Head and saying “so this is my first draft of the project, what do you think I should change?” I then grade this piece of work.

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Effort #3 and part of my currently solution: My test is worth 30 points. Why? I dunno. My last test was worth 30 points so I figured they should be worth the same. I don’t make the rules people. But the summative journal due Monday is worth 10 test points. The prompt to the students is as follows:

Discuss all the problems that led to the development and understanding for sin, cos, and tan (including inverse trig).  These are the problems where you even learn what the functions are about. 

Discuss 3 problems that demonstrate how trig functions can be used (ie angle of elevation/depression questions, how tall is the building question, etc)

Find 1 application in your regular life and discuss how it can be used.  

This allows them to start over. Plain and simple. They can bomb the test and then start over. This is extremely difficult. At the point where a student fails a test miserably and then is told “now write ~6 pages about this topic”, it seems impossible. I just try to carve out class time to go over the initial problems where the topic was developed and hope that it seems easier the second time around.Cg-dhIhUcAIUG5J.jpg

At the end of the day, these efforts place emphasis on the student. It’s the student owning their learning and efforts. With teenagers, this sadly isn’t always going to lead to success.

But that’s another blog.

Why the IB Internal Assessment is the Best Thing for My Math Class

I have two degrees in engineering, but until I got into my second or third year of college, I truly had no idea how to follow through with an original mathematical thought. I was good at math but mostly in the impractical sense – I could memorize basically any formula and never forget it. Thanks, UIL!

Now I see my students finishing their Internal Assessments (IA) and I’m so impressed with their creativity. I have students that truly struggle with tests and traditional content. If the only judgment of their mathematical abilities came from tests or an AP exam, they would most likely score in the bottom quarter. The IA is different.

The IA requires them to come up with a central question and a statement of task. They then must collect data either by generating original data or finding existing data that has not been analyzed. They then must perform two kinds of “simple processes” and one “further process”. Simple processes are things like finding/using percentages, areas of plane shapes, graphs, trigonometry, bar chars, pie charts, mean and standard deviation. Further processes are differential calculus, mathematical modeling, optimization, analysis of exponential functions, statistical tests and distributions, compound probability.

I chose to narrow down my Math Studies course’s IAs to be statistics-based. The Math SL and Math HL course IAs usually operate along the lines of calculus and modeling. The style of the paper needs to look and feel like a miniature thesis.

I was incredibly impressed by my students this year. Here is a sample of the work done. I love the idea that this process has shown some students that they are capable of not only generating an interesting question but can follow through with answering it in a mathematical way.

As far as generating content for students’ IAs, I like to start each stats topic with a scaffolded class project. I try to give them as little direction the beginning as possible and answer questions as they arise. Afterward, use their intro project as the necessitation for the content, I cover the content. Once they’ve tested on the content, they create a mini project of their own and present their findings to the class. A sample mini project prompt can be found here and a student’s mini project response can be found here.

In short, this set up in the IB world might seem formalized, but the only thing it has in common with traditional standardized testing is that there is oversight from an external source. It is, however, far from standard.