If there is anything I’ve learned over my 6+ years in the classroom, it is that our students are MORE 👏🏼 THAN 👏🏼 A 👏🏼 TEST. This is why I LOVE using nontraditional summative assessments in my classroom. I am going to get to the “how”, but first let me start off with “WHY??”
Tests are extremely limiting in the way they assess our students. There are SO MANY other ways our students can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding outside of their ability to discern the best answer to a multiple-choice question. Let’s create those opportunities for them!
I took a few courses on writing tests when I got my Master’s degree and was fascinated to learn how hard it is to actually write a really good and fair test. A LOT of tests assess memorization or reading comprehension more than anything else (I’m looking at you AP Bio exam 👀👀 but that’s a tangent for another day) If that’s what you are going for, GREAT! But why not provide a multitude of opportunities for our students to show what they know?
I think this is ESPECIALLY important this year, more than ever. If you are in a distance learning/virtual teaching setting, it’s going to be really challenging to use tests to authentically assess your students. Unfortunately, kids are going to cheat. It’s going to be way too easy not to. Those that don’t, might not do as well as those who do. It’s a lose-lose-lose. By incorporating non-traditional assessments, you can make it a lot harder for students to cheat and a lot easier to see what they really understand.
Yes yes yes, I know that you may teach in a state with a standardized end-of-course exam (👋🏼 I’ve been there.) Whether you want to or not, you can’t ditch using tests entirely because you have to prep your kids for the EOC. I also know that a lot of big state universities still use tests as the majority of their assessments so you want to prepare your students for that (I went to one. Nearly all of my grades in college were determined by 4 tests given throughout the semester, each worth 25% of your grade.) So I’m not saying you need to ENTIRELY ditch the test, but let’s challenge each other this month to consider NEW ways we can assess our students!
Okay, so you are hopefully on board now. So HOW do we do this??
First, make a list of qualities you want your students to have when they leave your classroom.
I don’t want my students to just know a lot of science so they can pass their EOC exam (although I have been in a district that has forced me to care about that 😏) I care a WHOLE LOT MORE about the type of person they are growing into, and how that translates to them having success after high school.
Here are some of the qualities on my list:
➡️ I want them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. Can my students analyze problems and determine solutions?
➡️ I want them to be quality writers and clear communicators. Can they express their thoughts clearly and succinctly both in written AND oral capacities?
➡️ I want them to be creators. Do my students think outside the box?
➡️ I want them to be team members. Are my students good collaborators and peacekeepers?
Maybe they don’t all get 5s (or even 3s) on their AP exams at the end of the year, but if my students develop the qualities I’ve listed above, I know it will be a successful school year and they will be leaving my class with a toolbox of skills useful for LIFE.
So start by making YOUR list. This list becomes your target as well as your guide throughout the year.
Next, brainstorm ways to assess your students in those areas. Ask yourself, “What is a DIFFERENT WAY I could assess my students?”
Think outside the box on this. For example, one of the qualities on my list is that I want my students to be quality writers and clear communicators. How can I strengthen that skill and use it to assess my students in unique ways? Here are some thoughts from my own brainstorm session:
➡️ I want them to grow as TECHNICAL writers. Yes, this is where lab reports come in, but also research papers and persuasive writing assignments. How can I potentially collaborate with their English teacher on this?
➡️ I want to challenge them as CREATIVE writers. Could they express their understanding in a fun way, such as by writing a fairy tale, an analogy, or a rap?
➡️ I want to build their ability to REFLECTIVELY think and write. Can they write or speak on their learning experiences and correct previously held misconceptions? Or rethink how they would have approached a lab if given the chance to do it again?
➡️ I want to incorporate growth in writing skills AND problem-solving. How can I add CER-style questions (claim-evidence-reasoning) into our class discussions? Or into tests that I’ve already written to expand the depth with which I am assessing them?
Also, be sure to ask yourself this question for EVERY UNIT! To nurture these qualities we need to provide consistent opportunities for our students. This also means we are consistently giving them alternative options to show their understanding outside of a test format! A win-win for everybody!
Now, build on skills throughout the year by providing AT LEAST ONE alternative assessment every unit.
When I plan out each of my units, I make sure to come up with one alternative summative assessment. Here is why I think it’s so important to do this:
➡️ It helps your students to see that there is more than one way to show understanding of something.
➡️ It provides opportunities for students with different learning preferences and thought processes to thrive.
➡️ It can really help to balance out bad test grades from a grading standpoint.
Not every unit has to be a MASSIVE creative arts style project. This could be a research paper, oral exam, lab practical, group project, lab report, you name it! The options are ENDLESS. They also don’t have to all be worth the same as a test (Ex. If a test is 100 pts, your alternative assessment could be 100, but it could also be 50 if it’s less intense!) but I do recommend the grade goes in the same category in your gradebook as your tests for students to really feel like it’s an opportunity for them.
Last but not least, work smarter not harder! Get student input!!
Y’all, I cannot tell you enough how much we as high school teachers underutilize the room full of brilliant and thoughtful minds RIGHT IN FRONT OF US every day! Have you been encouraged to try to get creative with your summative assessments this month but can’t think of any practical ideas? ASK YOUR STUDENTS! Reasons I love to utilize student input:
➡️ They often come up with ideas I never would have thought of. Ask them, “How could you demonstrate your understanding of this to me rather than take a test on it?” Trust me, they will be motivated to not have to take a test and will provide you some ideas!
➡️ It creates buy in for the assessment from your students because their voices were heard in the making of it.
➡️ It models teamwork for them and working together to use everyone’s assets for the good of the whole.
➡️ They may want to work together in groups, and if so, let them! This allows them to again, build those communication and team-building skills and let’s be honest, makes it way less for you grade! *Note* I do ALWAYS recommend that any group project is done entirely in class. This will eliminate a lot of issues of inequity and will allow you to monitor what’s going on.
If you’ve hit a roadblock coming up with ideas, I challenge you THIS WEEK to engage your students in discussion and see what ideas you have. You may be surprised by what they come up with!
How have you used nontraditional summative assessments in your classroom? What has worked for you? I’d LOVE to hear!!