Setting Struggling Students Up for Success Using Assessments

If teachers know what they want their students to know, recognize, understand, communicate and be able to do, their students should know too.

Before discussing chapter/unit tests, I think we should know and understand that students who don’t graduate high school are typically credit deficient. Students are credit deficient because they don’t pass their classes. Students who don’t pass their classes are typically failing teacher-made unit or chapter tests. My point, to increase the graduation rate, students need to pass teacher made unit/chapter tests.

My recommendation to classroom teachers has been to create a parallel constructed practice test before instruction begins on a unit. That falls under the heading of preparation.  By creating the parallel constructed test before instruction begins, that suggests that teachers truly know what they expect their students to know, recognize, understand, communicate and be able to do. It also affords their administrator an opportunity to determine consistency of content in grade or subject levels, consistency in difficulty levels, and to determine if the teachers are embedding common core type questions (PARCC or SBAC) in their assessments.

photoI have suggested that these parallel constructed practice tests be distributed to students about half way through a unit so students clearly see what is expected of them.

I have also recommended a test template to be used to set students up for success. That template usually has three sections. The first section is the first 4 to 6 questions on a test (20-30% of the test). Using our highlighting system, those are what we referred to as three star questions. Those questions consist of definitions, identification, procedures, and formulas that students need to know to be successful doing the Math. These three star questions contain no computation or manipulation. While we would expect understanding, these items must be memorized to be successful in Math.

For instance, if students do not know the distance formula, the probability of them finding the distance between two points is not great. So, ask the students to write the distance formula in the first part of the test template. If they do, they earn points for learning the formula. If they know the formula, they will have a higher probability of being able to find the distance between points on later questions. That results in more points earned, higher grades, and less failures.

The second section of the template contains items that are composed of skills. They are what we have referred to as 2 star questions. Questions that you told students during your lesson that you will have problems “like” this on your test.

The third section of the template consists of conceptual development and problem solving type items, we have identified those as 1 star questions (including PARCC or SBAC).

The next recommendation dealt with test prep. I have recommended that two or three days before the actual test – not the day before, that teachers pace their students through the test one question at a time. While teachers monitor student learning daily, this instructional practice provides a teacher one last opportunity to monitor student progress. It was recommended that this monitoring take place by having the students do problem 1 followed by the teacher doing problem one. The teacher then asks the entire class to do number 2, the teacher paces them and then the teacher does number 2. The same process is used all the way through the test – one question done at a time by pacing the students through the test.

By using the parallel constructed practice test in this manner, teachers can readily identify where students are showing hesitancy or are experiencing difficulty with a problem. That identification allows the teacher to address that deficiency the next day so student grades are optimized on the test.

I have also recommended student accountability. That is, since the three star questions have been identified in the instruction, in student notes, on their homework assignments, and on the practice test, that it is UNACCEPTABLE for students to miss these items. Again, these items have no computation or manipulation. The students need to know this information to be successful on the rest of the test.  I have recommended that if students miss three star items, they write them a number of times so they learn them, have less of chance of forgetting them, and we send a message to them and establish a culture that we expect no less than their best efforts or we will provide them further opportunities to learn and be successful in Math.

My experience with parents is when the highlighting system and test prep are explained to them, they are very supportive. That is, the three star questions represent information students need to know to be successful in Math and there is no computation or manipulation, that the information was provided in the instruction, notes, homework, and practice tests, and if it was item 4 on the practice test, it will be item 4 on the real test, parents have been very supportive of having students write what they missed on the test.

Some teachers have argued that this is teaching to a test. I would hope assessments would measure what was taught. In my opinion, all students, not just struggling students, should clearly know what we expect them to know, recognize, understand, communicate and be able to do. Assessments should not be a game of  “gotcha”.