Changing the Test!

I’ve never been comfortable with how we traditionally evaluate students in math. It has bugged me that I test on a specific date, then move on. We tell the kids to not forget that material, but never really give them credit for doing that!

Yet our curriculum documents say we should do otherwise…..

First one,

From The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12: Mathematics, 2007 (revised)

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 3.12.02 PMThis document DOESN’T say that students will know __________ skill by Nov. 3 (or any other date). We have traditionally done this! We have set a unit test after we have taught the unit…..the student prepares for the test; writes the test……then they concept and skill is not assessed or evaluated formally again until the exam!!!

We’ve got all year/semester to get them to demonstrate these skills. We should have an assessment/evaluation policy that reflects this.

Second one,

From Growing Success:

“The primary purpose of assessment and evaluation is to improve student learning.”


Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 3.01.00 PM

Our main goal should be to help students learn math “better”!!! Our assessments should be apart of this!

Traditional teachers are going to argue “We need to prepare them for university”—- My argument is that I want them to know their stuff well! I want to show them that they can always do a little better. I want their minds to grow, their math knowledge isn’t static. (Also, I remember from my university days, professors saying that if you did better on the final then they would take this mark as your whole mark…..rewarding learning!)

My new philosophy:

Everything is upgradeable!!

Here is what I’ve been doing for grade 12 evaluations lately:

1. I still have the test on test day! No different than before.

2. I mark the test and hand it back. I remind the students that all skills/concepts are upgradeable!!

3. The students then sign up for help/upgrade session at lunch, or down time during class.

The student is to bring their test/evaluation with them….we go over it together discussing missed concepts. We pick together curriculum expectations that they can upgrade.

Say, for example A student received 1 out of 4 on a question testing the skill  “Solving polynomial Equations”. We discuss the mistakes and the students can re-do that question. Once that question is correct I give the student another, new question that tests the same concept. If that student can prove they know the concept two times in a row….then I give the original test marks to the student….they now get 4/4 on that question. (I keep helping and giving questions to the student until they can complete it on their own. )

5. I then go into my markbook and change the marks!

Here is a recording sheet (nothing revolutionary) I use so that I can track their upgrades. Most upgrades span multiple days.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 3.58.36 PM

They can do this for any concept/skill from the test….they can do this for every test.

So can a student get 100% on a test? My answer: Sure! Does every student in my class get 100%  Not even close…. I wish they would! They have that option.

If my students know and can demonstrate the skills and concepts of my course consistently why wouldn’t I give them full marks!!! Their mark is supposed to represent their learning and knowledge…..not their work ethic!

The students’ attitude toward test days have changed. Some are working harder before the test so they don’t have to spend their lunch time upgrading…..some have told me their anxiety towards their tests have been lifted!

Other teachers who helped my with my thinking:

Dan Meyer:  The Comprehensive Math Assessment Resource

Evan Weinburg: Standards Based Grading: Bridging the Gap

Most recently: Mary Bourassa: Rethinking Tests – who inspired me to write this post.

This process is most likely debatable and definitely can be improved upon. I am still learning this process myself and would love to discuss these ideas, so please leave some feedback!


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9 thoughts on “Changing the Test!

  1. Sharon

    Are they actually upgrading their knowledge and learning or are they mastering how to do a specific type of question? Students should be able to answer questions that are not just a regurgitation of what they’ve seen over and over. I want them to be able to solve problems that require thinking outside the box.

    1. Mr. Orr

      Sharon, thanks for adding to the discussion, 

      “Are they actually upgrading their knowledge and learning or are they mastering how to do a specific type of question? ”

      They are upgrading learning….the questions that they get the second and third time around are not necessarily the same. They assess the same concepts/ curriculum expectations. If the concept we are working on is solving polynomial equations then, yes, I want them to be able to master solving those equations.

      “Students should be able to answer questions that are not just a regurgitation of what they’ve seen over and over. ”

      For sure, students have to apply their learning in new ways. If they didn’t do that on the original evaluation they still get to prove it to me! There shouldn’t be a time limit!

  2. Kyle Pearce

    Hi Jon,

    I’m only reading this after we co-presented at EdCampSWO last weekend. During the session, it was cool to see the alignment of our Assessment and Evaluation approach coming out in discussion. While some teachers initially think that students will abuse the system, I find it is quite the opposite. It is definitely more work to re-address learning goals than to get it right the first time. Students would much rather be successful the first time than having to come in and prove their understanding to me, 1-on-1.

    Here’s a post that outlines how I organize the assessment of learning goals, however I think I may soon be employing your idea to “leave it blank” if it is less than a level 3 to avoid discouraging students who are struggling.

    1. Mr. Orr

      Thanks responding Kyle. Leaving no mark on assessments until it is good enough for me has been very powerful! In the past when students get their grades back they look at them and decide if it was good enough for them. Especially for our applied students, some of them look at a level 1 or 2 as good enough, when I know they can do better. So by simply leaving no mark and some feedback + a not yet type comment they are fixing these problems up, learning more in the process.

  3. Chris

    I think your idea of leaving no mark is brilliant! I have wondered over the past couple of years about my ESL students and the lower scores some them receive. I know a lot of them struggle with the math because of the language barrier so this idea would encourage more dialogue for them and make it a necessity for them to improve their communication. Thanks for the great idea!

  4. Jane Taylor

    I used this type of grading last year and it left me absolutely exhausted. If even 20 of my 74 Precalc students wanted to retest, I was using every spare minute to meeting with students to go through work, giving retest questions, etc. I ended up using class time for retests, which reduced the amount of content I was able to teach and my more advanced students were held back as a result. And the slower students, the ones I hoped would most benefit from retesting, did not retain the skills they supposedly improved on–my final exams scores were lower than usual. This year I am allowing retesting, but not to the same extent and students are working harder to bring up low grades. I like the idea of assessing growth, in principle, but I am not sure 1) how to make it work and 2) if it really improves student learning in the long run.

    1. Jon Orr

      Thanks so much for your input! I too have found it tiring! I am constantly wondering if this process is making a difference. My results last year were better than previous years. So it appears to be working. I did have to set up regular days for retesting (Tues & Thurs at lunch) because I too was spending way too much time retesting. My students do have to work harder to make up those tests. Usually during 1 lunch period a student can retest 1 skill….so they have to keep coming back on their time to upgrade. I would love to know more about how you are “…retesting, but not to the same extent…” I think assessing growth is a winner but I am still trying to find “best” way.

  5. Jane Taylor

    Here is what I mean: I am allowing only one opportunity to retest, and, unless a test or a topic went very badly, I am not “advertising” the retests as much; instead I will allow retests if a student cares enough to come up and ask me for an opportunity to retest and truly puts the effort into relearning the material, but the student must initiate the request. I am putting most of my one-on-one efforts into students who are at risk of failing unless they retest. Two anecdotes in favor of limiting retests: 1) A student who is retaking my class this year after having multiple opportunities to retest on every topic last year said that she just took the retests over and over last year just to add point to her grade, but she basically just memorized how to do the problems and didn’t retain anything; consequently, her final was so low she almost failed anyway. This year she said she is really trying to understand the concepts. 2) A failing test grade often is a good kick in the pants to get students to realize that they actually need to improve their work ethic and learn how to study. Retesting always gave kids an “out” and many never really matured as students last year. This year’s students are really working hard now after a hard test that lowered a lot of grades. Of course, they still need to learn that material, so I plan to hit it hard again during the review for the final exam. If students show significant improvement on those topics on the final exam, then I can always take that into account when I am figuring the semester grades.

    Let’s keep the conversation going. Your last sentence is exactly what I feel, too.

  6. Ketri Wilkes

    I like to test cumulatively and then encourage students to negotiate some of their marks with me. If they can show that they understand a concept on a recent test that had been previously tested, I will award more marks on the older test for that question. No retesting is necessary! It does take some time to have these discussions with individual students but the conversations are rich as we decide together if the same concept is being tested. Plus I’m trying to teach my students to advocate for themselves. I also sometimes give tests back and get students to “rework” questions if they misunderstood what I was asking. Or I’ll just give everyone a bit of feedback on the test and then give them another ten minutes with it the following class. I find my students are far less anxious to write tests than they used to be.

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