Making the most from quizzes

I just had my first math quiz of the year. The average was 80% which is awesome, but the range was all over the place ranging from a low of 5 to high of a perfect 10 out of 10 points. Using a quiz to measure learning is nothing new to teachers, but there is much variance on how quizzes are used. I think that there are some good practices that can be done with formative assessments like quizzes, and if there is good follow up to using these tools, they can be a great snapshot of student understanding and identify areas of remediation and help diagnose student weaknesses.

We had a great inservice workshop last year with Tom Schimmer. Mr. Schimmer is a Canadian who wrote a great book called "10 Things that Matter from Assessment to Grading" which I think is one of the best books I've ever read on assessment practices. He has a great resource packet for educators that has a variety of rubrics for standards and outcome based understanding. Before I show how I've used some of these tools, I think it's important to identify myths about quizzes.

Myths about quizzes
  •  Kids understand their mistakes. Giving a quiz back indiscriminately and telling kids to "learn from their mistakes" is an assumption many educators make. Although we may make notes or even write down what the correct answer was on a particular problem, how are we to know if they can do it then by themselves after the matter?
  • Quizzes are about putting "something" in the gradebook. A mid unit quiz should not be about grading something to give the illusion of learning, but rather assessing foundational skills or understanding that are essential to higher understandings later on. 
Making the most from quizzes
  • Provide time to conference with students. I find that a 10-15 minute session at the beginning of the next class is great to debrief and meet with students. It's possible that 10-15 minutes is not enough time to completely debrief the assessment for some students, but if there is good record keeping, this can be finished during break time, office hours, or subsequent class sessions.
  • Have a record of how well students have "met" curricular objectives. I use a google doc that has our curriculum standards that students periodically make little amendments to throughout the unit. There are many different versions that can be done with this such as using numerical indicators, or learning targets. My quizzes are disaggregated by sections, so if students missed all the problems of a particular section, it becomes easy for me (and them) to recognize areas for remediation during a "one-on-one" session. It also gives the student more diagnostic criteria for review later in preparation for summative assessments. Down the line, instead of saying "Ok class, review for our test/final project" every student has a record of their own personalized curricular understanding. For instance, Johnny would know he should review some videos or do sample problems from 1.5 on subtracting integers, and Sally would know that she should review section 1.7 on solving equations by adding and subtracting.
  • Give students the ability to reflect on their own learning.  This is where Mr. Schimmer's work is dynamite. He gives a lot of ideas on some cover sheets that you might use with a variety of descriptors. In the example below, students reflect on whether the mistake was a "simple one" or a "major misunderstanding". Most educators like the idea of students being involved in the assessment process, (or even assessing themselves) but this method does not give a rubber stamp to learning and does not distort their grade through inflation.
  • Keep a record of conferences. There are many different versions of this, but basically, by keeping a record, a teacher has a document of follow up with student. I use a simple three ring binder that has a log sheet of what work we reviewed and some examples of follow up questions that I did with the student post quiz.

Quizzes are a snapshot of student learning, and learning from this data can relieve headaches down the line. All educators have had moments when they've felt they've successfully taught a concept with blazing inspiration only to feel deflated later following terrible quiz or test scores. If good records are kept and students have opportunities to learn from their mistakes, learning takes the form of student-centered reflection rather than teacher mouth pieced lip service. That's how to make the most out of learning. That's how to make most from quizzes.

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"Ten Things that Matter from Assessment to Grading"-Tom Schimmer

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