[One-Minute Makeover] Algebra 1 • Topic 2 Assessment (One More Time!)


It all started here. In the last post, I looked at additive and multiplicative inverses. Onward!

Algebra 1 • Topic 2 Assessment, Before

The second half of my original Topic 2 assessment assessed whether students were able to evaluate expressions involving integers and various operations (including radicals, rational exponents, and a few other things). My original approach included a single question, with everything all smashed together:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 8.56.41 AM

For those who were able to evaluate the expression correctly, I got precisely the information I needed (“Johnny can do this, that, and the other thing.”). But for those who answered the question incorrectly… Was it because they were lost on everything? Or because they struggled with one skill in particular? While a close look at their work would often reveal the answer to that latter question, I find that I’ve stripped one of the benefits of SBG (specific insight into specific strengths and weaknesses) right out of the question.

Algebra 1 • Topic 2 Assessment, After

To address that weakness, I bumped this section of the assessment up from a single question to several (three, in fact):

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 9.03.15 AM

I lose a minute or two more of class time to administer the assessment, though I gain a quick and clear sense of who’s struggling with exponentiation, rational exponents, and simplifying expressions involving multiple radicals. Note that while grouping symbols are entirely absent from #9 above, they make an appearance in some of the other assessment forms, including this one:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 11.57.51 AM

Something’s Still Missing…

Even with this more discrete-ified set of questions—which I view as an improvement over the original—I still feel like this assessment is short on critical thinking and “explaining your reasoning.” A nice quick addition might be to present students with an expression (similar to #9 above) with two (or three) incorrect step-by-step approaches (each of which has exactly one error). Ask the students to identify the error in each approach and then show their own (100% correct) step-by-step solution. Here’s a quick mockup:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 12.24.16 PM

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 12.24.26 PM

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 12.24.33 PM

Wrap Up

I’ve now written four of these “better-assessments-in-sixty-seconds” posts. Since I’ve taken two posts to address each topic (the content fell rather naturally into four categories, rather than only two), I might want to consider breaking these apart for the purpose of grade book entries. I might even leave the assessment handout itself unchanged, but the idea of more refined grade book categories for tracking student mastery certainly has its appeal.

Thoughts on that last thought? Comments on something else? You know what to do.


P.S. Disclaimin’ the Naming’

I’m terrible at coming up with imaginary student names for my handouts. So I often use my students’ names or my kids’ names (I have lots to choose from in this second category, now!). Today I borrowed some names from a list of fictional butlers. Oh, I also have a preference for names to follow an A, B, C, etc., pattern.



  1. I feel like I have done a fairly good job breaking my assessments into separate skills, synthesis, and explaining concepts. The downside is that I spent so much class time assessing that I got about 2 weeks behind first semester and may end up leaving out a unit (none of which I want to leave out). Still trying to work out the kinks of SBG.

  2. @jane That’s definitely a work in progress for me (as I shared on Twitter a few nights ago). My first thought to “leaving things out” is that I’d rather give students the time and space to learn things at greater depth than move at a pace that I can handle but they cannot. On the other hand, I expect there are ways to gain depth of understanding without leaving things out. Let me know if you find anything (large or small) that proves helpful in that regard.

  3. Just thought I’d comment to say that I’m really enjoying this series of posts! As someone who’s often struggled to write ‘fit to purpose’ assessments whilst keeping them short, its amazing to see someone working through those same problems.

    I really like the ‘spot and explain the mistake’ section in this one.

  4. @phil Thanks for the kind words! It turns out these quick blog posts are quite fun to write as well, and they’re helping me think of additional ways to strengthen these assessments (as well as future ones I haven’t written yet).

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