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Thursday, June 25, 2009

How Math Must Assess: a Post-Mortem

I am writing this now, instead of getting the heck up out of here for the summer like I should be doing, because I don't want to forget anything. In fact, I probably should have written it sooner.

For the uninitiated, read this first. Dan lays down his system.

What I Kept
Each skill considered, numbered, recorded as a separate grade, and tested twice. Unlimited opportunities for remediation, but outside of class. I would typically re-do the test items with the student and troubleshoot her misunderstandings or more trivial errors. Then if she could prove that she knew what she was doing on a different problem without assistance, I changed her grade to 10/10. I still gave assessments at times most teachers would be giving a quiz or a test: typically the middle of a unit and the end of a unit.

What I Changed
I made each question a maximum of 5 points. Sometimes I made half-point deductions, like for rounding errors. After the first assessment of a skill, it was recorded as a grade out of 5 points in my gradebook. After the second assessment, I changed the entry to be out of 10 points. If the student scored a 5 the second time, I made her grade 10/10, no matter what she scored the first time. If not, I recorded the sum of the scores from the two attempts.

I didn't use a stamp. I put a small sticker on each question earning a 5 on the second attempt, and it was up to the student to transfer the sticker to his checklist. Major instructional time saver.

What Worked
I tried this with both Algebra 1 (9th grade) and Algebra 2/Trig (10th and 11th grade). It worked really well for the older students. Every time I was available after school, I could count on anywhere from 2 to 15 kids wanting to remediate something. I have no doubt that spending more time on difficult topics benefitted these kids' enduring retention; the results of their state regents exam (administered almost 2 weeks after classes ended) bear it out. I received an email this afternoon which pretty much made it all worth it. This is the complete text:
I PASSED???????????????????!????!????? with a seventy five?? not just a
64.5?????? i see the numbers on my gradebook but seeing is not always believing.

That girl worked her tail off all year because she had a tangible incentive. If she did well the first time, she wouldn't have to stay after school. And if she didn't, she could change her grade.

What Didn't Work
Dan promises students excited about tests... I didn't see that. They were happy that they weren't stuck with bad grades and felt empowered to do something about it, but I wasn't feeling a big "Yippee!" on test days.

Since we are required to publish our grades on, which students and parents have access to, the concept checklists were mostly a flop. A handful of hyper-conscientious-types made good use of them, but students were more likely to go print out their scores before coming to remediation. I may do away with the checklists altogether next year. Not sure. I am not good at compelling students to keep a good notebook in general. I need to work on that.

Sometimes my grades felt a little inflated. I'm ok with that.

I think it worked better for older students because they have the maturity to take ownership of their grades and learning, they are invested in their performance because they are starting to worry about college applications, and they follow through by monitoring and coming to remediation. In practice, for me, the system relies at least partially on student initiative and how much he is motivated by grades. I did not have as much success with the freshmen, as much as I tried to sell what a good deal this was. They are much less likely to stay after school in general, and as far as grades go, they just want to do well enough to keep their parents off their backs. I'm not sure what changes I could make to do better there.

It's not perfect yet, but I'm sold on the idea. Much gratitude to Dan for coming up with and publicizing a better way. I thank you and my kids do too.

Algebra 2/Trig Concept List 08-09
(I can add to this, just ask.)