Oh, finals week. I never want to meet you again.
I think I ranted and raved enough on Twitter to get my point across that I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to finals (and probably many other things too). But I would just like to pose one question to the universe: why is this not taught in college? Designing curriculum in general was not part of my education program. We talked about literacy and about out-of-date ways to use technology and diversity but we never learned how to design effective lessons, how to write your own assessments, how to use those assessments to improve instruction, or basically anything important. I did learn the useless format of a Madeline Hunter lesson plan, but that's the extent.
Anyway, things did not go well for finals week. We had evens on Thursday and odds on Friday. My plan was to review Monday-Wednesday, test on Thursday and Friday, week done. Not so easy. I had no idea how to create a final or how to write a review for said final. I am the only algebra and geometry teacher in my school so there is no such thing as a department final. So I did what I do best: stole it off the Internet. I then tried to modify it to more closely match what I've actually taught. This started out somewhat okay. Once I finished the Algebra Exam, I wrote out review questions that seemingly matched the test. Then, and here comes my mistake, I made the Geometry review based on our old tests. Sounds good, right? The thing is, the review was nothing like the test. Students were confident because the review was exactly what they had been doing all year but when it came to the test, they were nothing alike at all. I made the test multiple choice for all the wrong reasons. a. I thought it would be easier for them b. I knew it would be easier for me. c. That's what everyone else was doing. I have since learned my lesson.
My original thought was to make the test like all the past ones but have them show work on the test and write answers on a separate sheet. Then, I could easily grade the answers while simply glancing to make sure they showed their work. But alas, I succumbed to the many pressures.
I gave my first Geometry test on Thursday. It was a disaster. Apparently while I was doing my final edit the night before, I deleted a bunch of diagrams and drawings. I had to find the original tests I stole them from before I could then draw them on the chalkboard. The test was 50 questions and the students had 1 hour. Only one person even got close to being done. The rest didn't even make it to number 30. I didn't take into account how much work they would have to do to even be able to choose a, b, c, or d.
I edited the test for Friday. I cut out 13 questions completely and edited some of the remaining ones. That didn't work either. Students complained this test looked nothing like the ones we had been doing and they actually preferred working out the problems rather than multiple choice.
It went so badly that I was near tears and the students were the ones consoling me. They said, "It's alright Ms. Miller, it's only your first time." "We still like you." "It wasn't that bad." "We just needed more time." "Maybe we're just the slow kids."
Algebra exams went better. No real disasters or complaints. At least until I graded them. Why are grades so much lower? My usual students landed in the lower 80s and that trend seemed constant. I had to curve grades in every class and I did not like it. It felt very unfair and un-meaningful to try to pull their grades out of thin air. But as some of my twitter friends pointed out, it's more accurate to give a grade based on my professional judgement of their past grades than to assign a grade from one flawed test. I am just not happy with assessments in general.
How can we objectively measure something that isn't objective? I don't get assessed like this in real life. Sure, I get two formal evaluations a year. But most of my assessments come from results. Are my students test scores improving? How many students are failing my class? How many referrals have I written? How do I treat students? How much of a team player am I? Those are the things I am assessed on but what difference do those results make? I can be a bad teacher and get the same pay, just with different treatment from my colleagues. I can be an excellent teacher and get the same pay, and better treatment from (some) colleagues. Are these meaningful assessments of my abilities? What are meaningful assessments of my students abilities?
I always hear about you know you've learned something when you can teach it to others. I know that's true in myself, because I would never be able to create tests and lessons without truly knowing how to do the problems myself. The thought of having students create problems and such is very intriguing to me. What if my assessment was to give the students an answer and they had to create a problem that resulted in that answer? That prospect truly excites me. I know it has to jump at least 2 levels of Blooms compared to the questions I'm asking now. I love to create and design and it seems that's what the rest of us cell-phone-customizing-Youtube-watching-Myspace-layout-making-picture-editing-outfit-accessorizing people are about too. How can creative design become my assessment process? How do these assessments affect their lives or mine?