Testing and Formative Assessment
Every school should assess the progress of its students on a regular basis and use the information to adapt the teaching methods for maximum benefit. The content of teaching remains the same, but the techniques used to teach it will naturally vary over time from student to student. If you have a child or grandchild at a school that is not assessing students’ learning regularly, you might consider either suggesting the idea to that school, or looking into Columbia Lutheran School for 2015-2016.
When I was in grade school in the early 1980’s, we took several days to complete the California Achievement Tests. These were different from most tests, because the answer sheets were read by a machine. We used a number 2 pencil to fill in the bubble by the correct answer on a serious of multiple-choice questions. Tests were written for specific grade levels, so that test results applied within the student’s own grade level.
A recent post to this blog mentioned the adaptive tests that we are using at Columbia Lutheran School. Instead of having a test once a year, we can test up to four times annually, and compare a student’s performance over time to see what they have learned between tests, within the same school year. Instead of test results that would be aggregated to justify school funding and management decisions, our test results are specific enough to each student, with enough detail for teachers to critique their teaching methods on the fly, and to identify areas of strength or areas of concern in the learning of specific students.
This graphic illustrates the advantage of an adaptive test over the kind I took as an elementary student. When an answer is right, the test automatically proceeds to a harder question. When an answer is wrong, the test automatically proceeds to an easier question until the student can give a correct answer. The total range of difficulty spans several grade levels, allowing the test to pinpoint the student’s ability in separate areas within a much wider range, while also saving time in the testing process.
The mixed-grade, classical-model classrooms at Columbia are an excellent environment for using test results. The teacher can use assessment data to fit each student with the level of difficulty most appropriate, within the range of grades present in the room. At the same time, the teacher can use fresh assessment data to help differentiate teaching methods between students according to their learning needs. All teachers try to do these things to some degree, but the adaptive testing used at Columbia Lutheran School gives teachers a distinct advantage over those at schools that don’t provide it, or that don’t provide regular testing assessments at all.