End of Year Assessments
When it comes to assessments, there are generally two schools of thought. Some feel that tests are primarily for the purpose of assigning a comprehensive grade, while others see them more as ways to guide instruction. Though I feel that both views have merit, I'm more inclined towards the latter. That is not to say that grades and accountability are not important, but it is to say that our focus should be on the continual growth of our kids.
In order to do this we need to have a two tiered approach to assessments, one that evaluates the skills of both students and teachers. What I'm proposing here is that we recognize that assessments are really just as indicative of the quality of instruction as they are of the skills of our kids. Before I go on, let me warn you; when I say assessment, I'm not only talking about tests in the traditional sense. Rather, I'm using a much broader definition, to include any strategy that can identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, and thereby help me to improve both my teaching and the performance of my kids.
Now that the end of the year is approaching, here are some ways that we can approach assessment with an emphasis on improvement.
1. Give finals before finals week - If you're an advocate of data-driven instruction, and I sincerely hope that you are, then you might find yourself unsatisfied with the fact that final exams are usually given on the last or nearly last day of school. If the point of final exams is solely to assign a grade, then this makes sense, but what do you do if you realize that 60% of your students missed a key concept? I prefer to give finals at least a week before the last day of instruction so that I have an opportunity to reteach any glaring deficiency. It's true that one more week may not be long enough to reteach everything, but it will be enough to reinforce that one key concept. Another reason why I prefer this strategy is because it reinforces our class culture of focusing on growth, rather than perfection.
2. Dedicate a lesson to self-assessment - We want our students to be proactive in dissecting what strategies were most beneficial to them. Instead of only reflecting on what they have learned, I have them evaluate how they have learned. I ask my students pointed questions about the factors that affected their performance. Was it just a matter of effort (sometimes it is) or was there something else? Was it that they began recopying their notes? Was it that they began organizing information with charts? Was it the fact that they finally learned how to organize a binder? Challenge students to consider the top three personal factors that contributed to their success (or lack thereof). I don't allow them to choose their teacher as a factor, because I want them to choose skills or habits that are transferable to other classes.
I'm not saying that you should give yourself a formal test, but I do believe that teachers are always students of their craft. With that being said, here are some ways that I try to be proactive about my growth.
1. Come up with a short list - At the end of every year, I try to come up with a list of specific areas that I struggled with or can readily improve on. Next year, I feel that one aspect of my teaching that I would like to improve is providing more meaningful feedback for student writing. I would also like to find ways to offer more variation and choices of types of assignments so that I can better serve students with different learning styles. What is something specific that you can improve?
2. Consider who you can copy - I'm always humbled when experienced teachers praise my instruction because in truth, all I do is copy people who are more skilled than me! What are some of the areas that you feel you can improve on? Is there anybody at your school site who happens to be an expert in that area? It may seem like it's too much trouble to make an effort to seek out advice from other teachers, but in truth, it's much easier than taking the trial and error approach on your own.
3. Face your toughest critics - Who are our toughest critics? Our kids! Now that the year is almost over, don't miss this opportunity to ask your kids to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Ask them to write down what they like about your teaching and also how they think you can improve. I did this after my first year teaching and to my surprise, many of my students told me that they wished that I had been quicker to send unruly students up to the office. I never would have guessed that the class actually wanted me to be more strict! Our kids are with us more than any administrator or mentor and it's ultimately them who know our teaching habits the best.
As the end of the school year approaches, I encourage you to take this opportunity to help both yourself and your students to become even better next year!
Rosemead High School
El Monte Union High School District