As the semester ends, it is now the season of final exams. I find the idea of finals in middle school a little odd, but I will work with what I am given. I find them odd because in my district we take regular common formative assessments (CFAs) at the end of each unit.
I know what your thinking, I said formative, so what’s the issue? Well, it is a misnomer. We use them not as we go, but at the end (summation) of a unit. For example, we may give the CFA at the beginning of a unit as a pre-test, then give the same test as the unit exam. In my mind, that makes it more of a dual function diagnostic/summative exam rather than formative. If it were a true formative, we would give it to students in chunks, as they finished a lesson in the segment. Instead we wait, hype it up, provide a study guide, and give it as a chapter test by another name.
I must admit, I don't like the CFA process and don't use them often in class as we are prescribed to do. The tests typically have no fewer than 50 multiple choice and matching questions. Unfortunately, for students who need read-aloud accommodations, have processing deficits, and/or a general low frustration level, those kinds of tests simply aren’t effective in my setting.
I do use it as a diagnostic and introduction to a new unit and will use it as a study guide or pacing guide for my students. They make the best advanced organizers! I do not, however, give my students four days with the study guide (the blank test) and administer the test at the end of the unit. Instead, I create a modified test based off of it that hits the highlights.
While I may be in the minority on this, I do actually like summative assessments, or “testing OF learning,” versus "testing FOR learning," as the new educational fad goes. I should note here that I am not subsrcibing only to one method, but I do advocate for the latter frequently. I feel that at some point, even my slow processors and memory deficit students will need to find coping skills to overcome those difficulties and perform as required on a summative assessment, or in this case a comprehensive exam of the semester. My hesitation is that given their prior performance on tests, both formative and summative using paper and pencil, I am far from confident that they have those necessary skills to overcome their deficits.
I find this a common theme in my Master’s classes and among conversations with my fellow teachers. We often feel that tests given or mandated outside of our actual school lack validity because, as we all know, our individual students are like no other students in the world.
So as a future educational leader I wonder what we can do to fix this problem? It seems while there is a spotlight on testing, we should exploit this opportunity to develop a blend of the testing methods. In the immediate future, we may have to rely on networking to share the best tricks of the trade.
That reminds me, a great opportunity to network is the CEC 2012 conference in Denver this April! Maybe we will find some stimulating dialogue on testing and exceptional students there?
I am then left with this question, What is the best way to administer a summative assessment that challenges my students, forces them to create and use coping strategies, does not ditch the paper/pencil testing method that they must also learn, and is not an exercise in frustration?
I have thought of giving one test over several days, but don’t feel that requires them to use those memory/study skills they need. I have also thought of making it part performance and part standard form, but I am struggling with how to best do that for each of the four academic subjects that I teach.
My end goal is to get a non-biased, valid measurement of their true comprehension, an assessment OF what they have learned without it being a complete failure or exercise in frustration for them. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated!