How Do Your Tests Make the Grade?

01 Sep

For several years now, I’ve been learning from Jill Gough about #LL2LU (Leading Learners to Level Up). It’s taken a while, and it is always a work in progress, but we are definitely convinced that writing learning goals for our students in language that they can comprehend is important and makes a difference in their learning.

Jill and I have worked on leveling the Standards for Mathematical Practice:


And for each lesson, our team levels the content standard:

Level 4: I can determine the congruence of two figures using rigid motions.

Level 3: I can map a figure onto itself using rotations.

Level 2: I can identify and define rotations.

Level 1: I can apply and perform rotations.

Last year, Jill Gough wrote several blog posts about assessing the quality of the assessments that we give, which led me to Beyond the Common Core: A Handbook for Mathematics in a PLC at Work, High School, by Mona Toncheff and Tim Kanold. Kanold and Matt Larson have written a Leader’s Guide for the handbook in which they offer an Assessment Instrument Quality – Evaluation Tool and a High-Quality Assessment Diagnostic and Discussion Tool. (If needed, you can access the reproducibles through the Leader’s Guide page – Figures 1.11 and 1.16) I also had the opportunity to attend Mona’s session on these tools at either NCSM or NCTM (the sessions run together).

Jill’s posts and Mona’s session made me think that while the assessments we give might not need a complete overhaul, they definitely needed some overhaul if we agreed with the Level 4 Descriptors in the Assessment Instrument Quality Evaluation Tool.

How do your assessments measure up on the following indicators?

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 2.27.32 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 2.29.48 PM

(From Assessment Instrument Quality – Evaluation Tool)

While our learning standards throughout the unit are clear, we don’t typically include them on the assessment. And in fact, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to include all of them on the assessment. Wouldn’t the learning goal give away what to do on some of the test items?

While our assessment is neat, organized, and easy to read, we typically don’t allow students to write on the test (because that would require more time standing at the copy machine). So they aren’t well-spaced and there is no room for teacher feedback.

We changed the last geometry test of last year and the first calculus test of this year to meet the indicators on the assessment evaluation tool.

Here are some comments from our students:

  • I like how our goals for the unit were on the test to remind/help us in what we are looking for.
  • I love the new format. It allows me to go to the sections I can do quickly immediately and save the most difficult problems for last. Because of this, I was able to have enough time to complete every problem.
  • I like that is shows our goals for the unit. This made me feel like the work I was putting in meant something.
  • The formatting/competencies let me know which skills I needed to use. It kept me from getting confused like I usually do.
  • I like the formatting because it keeps similar questions next to each other. This way we can focus on one thing at a time.
  • I like how it starts with basic skills then gets harder. It’s like a warm-up for the end.
  • I like this new formatting because it gives me more space for my work and it won’t be so hard to notice which work goes with which problem.
  • I feel like the new format for the test. It is a lot more organized and easier to read through. On previous tests, the pages felt crammed and a little disorganized. This is an improvement.

As for the learning goal giving away what to do to solve the problem, we decided that we are okay with that on some of the items. And, at Jill’s suggestion, we include some culminating items at the end of the assessment with the leveled learning progression of a practice learning goal, such as I can look for and make use of structure:

Level 4: I can integrate geometric and algebraic representations to confirm structure and patterning.

Level 3: I can look for and make use of structure.

Level 2: I can rewrite an expression into an equivalent form, draw an auxiliary line to support an argument, or identify a pattern to make what isn’t pictured visible.

Level 1: I can compose and decompose numbers, expressions, and figures to make sense of the parts and of the whole.

Or I can show my work:

Level 4: I can show more than one way to find a solution to the problem.

Level 3: I can describe or illustrate how I arrived at a solution in a way that the reader understands without talking to me.

Level 2: I can find a correct solution to the problem.

Level 1: I can ask questions to help me work toward a solution to the problem.

Thank you, Jill, Mona, Tim, and Matt, for making us rethink what our assessments look like, as the journey continues …


Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Professional Learning & Pedagogy


Tags: , , ,

3 responses to “How Do Your Tests Make the Grade?

  1. SL

    September 7, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    Great post, Jennifer. Is either of the two updated tests able to be shared? I understand security with students etc, but would love to see your work to help make sense of these awesome student comments. Thanks for sharing the ideas and pointing me back towards what looked like a good book that’s been collecting dust and not gotten read yet!

    • jwilson828

      September 7, 2015 at 4:00 pm

      I’m glad the post was helpful! I’ve emailed you a few tests. And you’re right … I had thought about posting an example, but I didn’t so that my students wouldn’t find them here!

  2. VC

    September 7, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Jennifer! I too would like to see your re-worked tests to better visualize what your students said. I would like to share them with my Algebra 2 PLC.


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