Testing Testing 1,2,3…

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.

4 thoughts on “Testing Testing 1,2,3…

  1. Bill Harris

    Thank you for sharing your ideas and prezi. I agree with your sentiment about the use(fulness) of summative testing. I have been working with some Science teachers in our Dept where S1 pupils research a theme – but given at the begining of each new science topic as homework. S1 Pupils have 2 weeks to complete research which is peer assessed during class time. So far pupils seem to like this way of working. The gist of it has been posted in Pedagoo resolutions – Engagment in Homework.
    Please keep updating this blog – It would be great to find out how the puipls get on this project work

  2. Fearghal

    Great post Kevin.

    The other aspect of this is that assessment in CfE is supposed to allow opportunities for students to demonstrate how well they respond to challenge and if they can apply their learning as well as demonstrating the breadth of knowledge they have developed. Your projects could be constructed and assessed in such a way to allow for this (and as this is in policy it could help argue your case should anyone question your approach).

    One of my key pieces of learning over recent years is the potential of the project to allow students to demonstrate their depth of understanding. I think in the past I was too guilty of treating projects as pure fun and bordering on time fillers. I think this is best evidenced by my change in approach to success criteria for projects. Once upon a time this would always be things like neat & colourful etc. whereas I now tend to have quite challenging content related criteria as well as some skill related criteria also.

    We’ve been doing a lot of work with our new S2/3 courses to not only have a project element to the assessment, but to use this as the whole thrust of the topic. The first thing we do is introduce the project, discuss the success criteria and what they will need to know to be able to complete the project. The students then quite often treat the lessons as resources to doing a good project, instead of something they have to sit through if that makes sense?

    Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

  3. Sarah

    I’ve been asking some of these questions from a primary Additional Support class setting.
    I know from observations, from dialogue, from the engagement of the groups I work with and from comments from children, colleagues and parents, that many aspects are positive.

    I particularly like
    “How can we allow student to demonstrate understanding rather than questioning it?”
    Thanks for putting it this way……….I feel I’m thinking positively now rather than in a spiral!
    Where learners are invited to demonstrate what they understand in multi media ways it really helps those who find writing things down a significant challenge. Their input to a group can be positive and from a different perspective.
    I love your project and look forward to hearing more in the weeks ahead.
    All the best

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