Welcome to the Makeover!

Here’s an idea: I’ll write a post. It will take me a few minutes, or more.

Next, you’ll read the post. It’ll only take you a minute. It’ll be about assessment. Specifically, me describing how I took a terrible assessment question and made it less terrible.

Ready? Here we go!

Algebra 1 Assessment, Before

In my previous post I linked to the Algebra 1 SBG assessments I wrote in 2011-2012. Largely, they stink. Here’s an example of a terrible question from the Topic 1 assessment (full list-o-topics is here):

That was Form A, and I’ve created about a million forms (okay, more like 5-10 forms) for each assessment (in every class, though, so the total really is pretty close to a million). Here’s a similar question from Form B:

I was trying to write questions that assess whether my students understand the commutative, associative, and distributive properties. In particular, I wanted to see if they could name the properties based on an algebraic or numerical example. I was also hopeful that they knew which operations are commutative and associative (and which are not).

Oh. My.

Well, what I ended up with in my first attempt were some miserable true/false questions that don’t really accomplish any of what I was hoping for. An especially unfortunate consequence of the way I wrote the questions was that students who might otherwise have explained their reasoning quickly learned that this problem demanded no such thing. A one-word answer for each part is all that was called for. Worse yet, because I failed to require any record of thinking on the page, the majority of my students resolved to do no thinking at all in their minds. It became a guessing game, and one that they’re not particularly skilled at.

Algebra 1 Assessment, After

This year I’ve set about rewriting my Algebra 1 assessments. They’re not perfect, and I’ll probably want to run them through a revision cycle again next year (and the year after, and so on forever), but there are a few questions here and there that strike me as significant improvements over their original counterparts.

Here’s what the corresponding question looks like on the current Topic 1 assessment:

Just below #2 I ask whether multiplication is associative (#3) and whether division is associative (#4). It’s immediately more demanding, doesn’t let students off the hook, doesn’t tempt them to do less thinking than they might naturally do, and gives me a fairly clear sense of whether students know which property is which, and which operations are commutative/associative.

In writing this up, the only immediate change that I’d like to make to the question is to throw a third sentence in between the two already there. “Explain.” It’s implied, but it would be nice to state it explicitly. So then I would have something like, “Is addition commutative? Explain. Support your answer/explanation with an example.”

Wrap Up

So, was that terribly longer than a minute? Or was it simply a terrible minute? Let me know what you think about this feature in general and/or this question comparison in particular in the comments.

Cheers!