Thinking about Assessment

A post by Michael Pershan (you can find it here – ) got under my skin (in a good way!) and I have been stewing about this for a while now. I finally have some time to breathe and to get my ideas down about this.

Michael refers to an idea by Henri Picciotto about lagging assessment. This is an idea that I like and one that I have out into practice (with my own tweaks) in my Honors Calculus class. We have regular time built in our school schedule for student conference time where students can come in for extra help. This is in our schedule Mondays through Thursdays. What I do in our Honors Calculus class is schedule a quiz for three to four class days after we wrap up a section. The idea being that this allows students to make sure they are caught up with their daily HW practice (not collected, so it is not graded) and make sure they have time to conference before a quiz. Sadly, fewer students are taking advantage of this conference time the last few years. COVID has had all sorts of effects on our habits and conference time used to be regularly pretty well attended for our department. Not nearly as much anymore. So I have implemented that idea in this course. Early in the year it is confusing to students and they initially are frustrated that we are learning new material before a quiz but they seem to figure it out. I like this practice for a number of reasons, the primary one being that I think it sort of discourages the idea of short term cramming of information in a way. I also have a standing policy in all of my classes that tests are announced as something like a test through Chapter Two not a test on Chapter Two. Quizzes are short, generally 20 minutes and just three or four quick questions, and they are targeted to a certain section (or a few sections in the case of my two AP classes) while tests are always cumulative. Tests take a whole period, they are worth more points, and they cover more material. This is where Michael’s post really got me thinking and I want to use this space to think out loud about this.

I certainly do not hope to contribute to stress and tension in my courses. I want students to think hard and to think deeply, but I also want them to build connections. By asking them to continue to think about ideas and skills from the past I hope to show them that what we are learning now is dependent upon ideas from their past. That past might be the last chapter or it might be their last course (or two) I prime them for this with in class conversations reminding them of previous ideas, old skills that are needed on daily HW practice, and old skills that are needed on Problem Set HW assignments that are collected and graded. Do I stay with this quiz AND test model simply because that is how I have always done it as Michael seems to imply? Do I stay with this quiz AND test model because I want students to have practice thinking and concentrating for longer stretches of time than they do on quizzes? Do I stay with this quiz AND test model because that is what they will likely be seeing in future classes and I want them to be in that rhythm? Do I stay with the quiz AND test model because that is what they are used to and what they expect? Should quizzes be so focused on recent material, while tests that count more invoke a wider set of skills? Should I flip this so that the less stressful (meaning, mostly, less impact on their grade) events have the wider set of skills? Would there be less stress if the weightier tests had the more tight focus on skills to prepare for? Would students place less emphasis on brushing up on earlier skills if I changed this focus? Lots of questions and I am unsure of the answers. I would love to hear from some folks on their practice. I am going to do more thinking and talking about this and I will write again as I come to some focus on all of this. As always, I can be found over on the land that used to be known as twitter. I am @mrdardy over there.

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