Thursday, December 11, 2014

Redefining the Unit Test

I'm about to try something very different with my grade 11 Physics class - something I've been wanting to try ever since starting BYOD practices in my classes last year.

With all the students working through the unit at their own pace, the only hard and fast deadlines I enforce are the unit tests. At the end of each unit, there comes a day when all students must write the test at the same time. In an ideal world, I would rather offer each student the chance to write the unit test when (and only when) they're ready, but that raises a couple of concerns.

Without a set test, what would I do to ensure that all students progress through the course in a timely manner? Some students would stretch a month's worth of material into four months of class time, if they could. Not because they would need that much time to learn it, but because without much structure, they wouldn't be able to discipline themselves enough to move forward. 

I want to give students the ability to work at a pace comfortable to them, but still still give them a bit of pressure to move forward every once in a while.

I also find that if a student falls behind in one unit, he/she usually welcomes the chance to "start again" in a new unit. I have current students who have yet to complete their unit 1 portfolio in math, but who have moved on and made gains in the subsequent units this semester.

I'm also not sure how to structure a test being written by up to 30 different students at different times, and still discourage cheating. And how can I return evaluated & assessed material from the unit to some students so they can review, potentially opening the door for others to copy and hand in the same assignments just for the sake of getting caught up?

Writing a test

So until now, I've had a set test date for the entire class after a suitable amount of time to complete the unit. It's worked pretty well, but it does do a disservice to students who genuinely learn at a slower pace, who usually can't get everything completed by the time the test rolls around.

My Physics class, though, after a class-wide discussion about testing options, has opted to write the test when they are each individually ready for it, provided it is before the winter break begins on Dec. 19. At least one student will be writing as early as tomorrow, while others will push it until a full week later.

This is how my students have chosen to be tested on the unit, and I would like to make it work for them. There's just one problem...

I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to do this. 

Writing 20 different tests is not an option for me at this point in time (though I envision using a randomized test bank, like in D2L's vLE, to create unique tests on the spot for students at some point - we just don't have the access right now). 

Can I give a conventional test and trust the students not to share the details or even answers with each other? Can I create test questions where the students choose values within given parameters and then solve the question they create? 

And how will I monitor the tests? Typically I can ensure a quiet environment for the whole class. If everyone is writing at a different time, can I set aside a quiet space for the test writers, to ensure minimal distractions?

This is quite the experiment for me, and so contrary to everything I've been taught about formal testing. Have you tried something like this before? Do you have any suggestions for making staggered testing run smoothly? I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. It's possible this suggestion might not help, but it's something I've been thinking about. Why test anyway? I feel like I know by the test time who will do well on it and who won't. The idea is that students know the concepts.
    I would feel comfortable giving good marks to a student who has demonstrated competency on a particular skill consistently. 
    Could we create some tracking method where a kid has demonstrated a skill to you through course work repeatedly and you give him/her a grade. That grade can get better as they demonstrate "better" thinking. Or by showing you consistently they can do it.
    The test could still be another opportunity to assess their knowledge but it might not be that big of a deal. Make it the same for everyone. Let them write it whenever. It could be more for the kids who have improved significantly overnight. Make it optional. "If you already have proven your're all set. But if you haven't take the test"? By then you have assessed their skills a number of times already anyway. 
    Not sure if this helps. It's some stuff I've been playing around with. 

    1. Thanks so much for your comment - this is exactly what @avivaloca, @MrSoClassroom, @albertfong and I got talking about on Sunday on Twitter: why bother testing? I agreed with them (and with you, if I'm reading between the lines correctly), that a test should not be the be-all-and-end-all to the unit, and I disagree with high-risk tests. But I still think there is value in testing, with respect to learning how to deal with the pressure, and how to demonstrate what you know in an independent setting (particularly for students going on to university, as these students are likely to do). My students have to write an exam (not my choice), and it would be unfair to not prepare them for it by not testing throughout the semester.

      Having said that, I do assess regularly throughout the unit as they progress through the material, and the test counts for no more of their mark than most other assignments (and less, actually, than some of the higher-level thinking activities such as labs).

      I don't think I'm ready to let go of testing completely yet, but there are definitely changes to the system that I need to consider. Thank you for giving me more to think about! How are you testing in your math classes? Or are you? :)

  2. I give tests. But this year, I've allowed all students to "upgrade". My main goal is for students to know it--apply it---think! If they can show me they know it/show me their thinking consistently then they get the marks. There is no time limit. Here is more on what I have been doing in my class. . But what i'm noticing is upgrading after is reactive.....i want to be more proactive. Just not sure the best way! #LetsFindIt

  3. If you are looking for a way to give students the same questions, but different numbers, here's what I do:


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