How should we be assessing our pupils? Why are we assessing and for who’s benefit?
I am currently teaching two S1 Science classes, being the sole teacher of one and teaching the other two periods from three. Several week ago, I announced to each of these groups in turn that they would shortly be sitting a written end of unit assessment for the topic they had just finished. The response from one of these classes left me thinking:
Why do we have so many Science tests?
How come we have had three Science tests already and hardly any in other subjects?
Both classes, in little over a term, have completed three summative end of unit tests as well as a skills assessment at the very beginning of their first year. What purpose have these tests served?
The skills assessment which pupils undertook allowed us to look at their problem solving skills and their ability to identify and perform tasks with common practical equipment. This will be used, in conjunction with a second skills assessment, to measure how the practical and problem solving abilities of this current cohort improves (hopefully!) over the course of the year. But what of the summative written tests?
Each topic thus far has been accompanied by its own test. 30 marks, split into knowledge & understanding and problem solving. There has been some remedial work carried out with each assessment, by way of reviewing answers which are incorrect and attempting to fill in gaps in knowledge but what are they measuring? For me, the method of questioning being employed is allowing those pupils who are able to remember facts and figures to flourish while it doesn’t appear to be doing much, if anything, to improve the confidence of those who may struggle with recall. Indeed these pupils are the ones who display anxiety when it comes to sitting these tests and receiving their mark in return.
How can we change this? How can we allow student to demonstrate understanding rather than questioning it? Science is a wondrous subject. It is a curricular area where pupils can easily identify with and are constantly reminded of pioneers who go beyond the realms of what was once considered possible to prove new theories and to test new ideas. Why shouldn’t their assessments match this and test the imagination, ingenuity and understanding of our pupils over their ability to regurgitate facts and figures?
With this in mind, I have come up with an idea for assessment. Having completed their unit assessment, both classes will now spend the next week working on a project. I believe engagement in this task will give a much clearer view of progression and allow pupils to demonstrate their gained knowledge and understanding of the current topic while displaying their ability to present information, use problem solving and analytical skills to make informed judgements and decisions.
I am very keen to see the outcome of this work and I am geniunly intrigued as to whether pupils who have struggled thus far with testing have been allowed to flourish by undertaking an alternative form of assessment in a much less pressured environment. Only time will tell, but I certainly hope they are as keen as I am to undertake the task.