School is now in full swing and grades close for the first term in just a few short days here in Massachusetts! As that date comes closer, it is common for teachers to administer quizzes, interims, tests and summatives… the many words for assessments. Many of my conversations with educational teams are focused on analyzing student work in relation to these assessments.
I walked into a middle school classroom where my student was taking a unit test. The student called me over and excitedly whispered, “I got a few wrong but I’m pretty sure I’ll get at least a B!” I scanned the test. The open response was pretty accurate. The student had done a nice job with open-ended explanations and descriptions. However, the student had trouble on the multiple choice and matching.
Separately, I was asked to meet with a high school teacher. Another one of my students had trouble with a test. Unlike my middle school student, my high schooler had gotten all the matching correct and almost every open response question was wrong.
One of my roles as an itinerant teacher of the deaf is to observe students in class so that I can offer meaningful consultation to teachers. I approached these two situations with similar questions to the teachers: what was the goal of the assessment? And, had my students demonstrated any knowledge? For both, the goal was to show mastery of the content.
Working with my students’ teachers and other support team members including a speech-language pathologist, we used different methods to administer the tests a second time, enabling my middle schooler to respond orally, while my high schooler listened to the test questions and used sentence starters to organize thoughts and express them in writing.
Both students were able to better demonstrate their knowledge, and this gave us the information needed to hone test taking strategies going forward.
I find it quite common that my students struggle with test taking. Building off of their current skill set and providing scaffolding for more challenging question types can help students more accurately show what they know. Tests with various formats (multiple choice, true / false, open response…) may require direct instruction if students show a pattern of errors with a particular question type. Rather than simply assuming a student did not understand the content, didn’t study or didn’t try hard enough (which all may also be true!), analyzing assessments for patterns of errors can be a more effective starting point. While I personally believe there are many ways other than standard format tests to assess knowledge, test taking is still a part of school and therefore a part of our lives. Helping students to feel confident with all question types will allow them to better demonstrate what they know throughout their schooling.