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Follow-Up: At the End, What Do Students Know and What's the Best Way to Measure It?


Marsha Ratzel
In my first post, I wrote about how assessments inform my instruction as I teach a unit. The companion to "as I teach" are the assessments that tell me how well my students learned what I set out to teach them.


Summative assessments at the end of the unit are important too, providing me with a reliable picture of how well students have mastered the unit's objectives.
Frankly, I think that multiple-choice questions are insufficient as end-of-unit measurement tools. I do use multiple-choice tests to make sure students know the basic facts, but these are only a precursor to more authentic summative assessments. In my science classroom, I learn the most about my students' learning when they demonstrate their understanding of an idea by sharing a model they've created or by presenting their lab results to the classroom.

One of the biggest challenges facing teachers is how to create assessments that resemble how professionals are performing relevant tasks in their work today. As a science teacher, I am continually on the prowl to learn more about how scientists work and communicate their findings to colleagues. Then I try to mimic that work in a scaled-down version in my classroom. For example, instead of typewritten lab reports, I now require lab groups to share their data via a Google Docs spreadsheet and a presentation that is run like scientists' lab meetings: Students respond to comments and moderate the discussion about their findings. Going beyond a lab report lets students demonstrate their abilities to communicate and defend their ideas to many people (not just the teacher). This kind of assessment also models how many people now do their work: creating a shared document that is authored by many people and that is not bound to any one machine or any one user.

Collaborating with colleagues helps me become a better teacher—and I think it could help me build even better assessments. If schools and districts built communities of practice, teachers could have the time and opportunity to dialogue with colleagues about our effectiveness in creating realistic assessments, matching the way we assess to the learning goal, and in giving feedback that helps students know where they stand

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