Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sold out or bought in?

We're back from break, and it's time to gear up for finals. Since DCP is a California public school, my course is standards-based. I use the standards as a guideline for what to teach, but of course I must pick and choose, modify, add, and subtract in order to meet my students' needs and get them ready for higher level classes. Though it's not fun for anyone, the STAR test must be faced head-on, and I want my students to show that they really are learning math (even if it is hard to see on a day-to-day basis). To that end, I am giving a fully multiple-choice final exam. I copied the language and even the formatting of the STAR test. I feel (somewhat) justified in doing this, since none of the quizzes or cumulative exams have had any multiple choice on them. And, if they don't practice the all-or-nothing multiple choice format, they will do much worse on the STAR test (and the ACT, and the ELM, and the CAHSEE, etc.).

Most DCP students simply don't study. We do our best to teach them, but it takes a long time for students to first believe that studying helps, and then to learn how to do it effectively. On our first day back, I gave the students a practice final exam without any warning. They were not thrilled with it, but they accepted it and actually put in real effort. My purpose was to show them what their score will likely be on the final if they don't study at all. It was time well spent, because before giving them back today, I asked students to write down what percent they think they got on the test. Almost every student guessed way higher than their actual scores, and many were quite shocked. Hopefully, this will help students make wiser decisions regarding studying between now and finals (which start next Wednesday).

Here is the practice final, if you are interested.


*M* said...

Wow, that's a tough one for them but they'll learn :)
Welcome back by the way.

Sean Henderson said...

Test looks good. Do you LIKE teaching to the test or do you find it to be a nuissance?

Dan Wekselgreene said...

I agree that there should be standards that we are collectively reaching for, as well as external means for assessing our successes and failures. However, the way it is currently done is often unfair and invalid. I do my best to balance the political realities with what I think is best for my students. The way I am trying to do that in this class is by tying a passing level grade to knowledge that is assessed on the STAR test; to get a B or an A, students must also learn other material that goes deeper, and calls for more analysis and synthesis. So, my skills tests and final exam are all "STAR questions", while my midterms (which count for 25% of the grade) cover material that is not on the STAR.

Here is the practice sheet from the last midterm, to give an example of what I mean.

Dan Wekselgreene said...

Tough is good... they really need it sometimes, to break them out of their complacency. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'd be concerned about amplifying test anxiety.

Jackie Ballarini said...

If students never see the format of these tests prior to the actual "high stakes" test, I think they are at a disadvantage. Not all students can afford to take one of the "test-prep" classes (nor do I think they should).

However, testing is a reality. Performance on standardized tests can affect not only college admissions but receiving scholarships.

For this reason, every test we give includes both multiple-choice items (that we write to model the style of the ACT) and free response items.

I don't think this means one is teaching to the test.