The "Everyone Wins" Test

George Couros' post, Insanity, prompted me to write this morning.

I've been following the many discussions about grading and assessment that have been posted and discussed throughout the year.

Fortunately I teach at a level where students do not receive grades on report cards, but they do receive numbers and comments on many, varied assessments.

How do I feel about that?

As I watch children, I notice their wide menu of talents, interests, skills and challenges.  No one child "has it all" and no child is without his/her areas of competence.  I often say, "We're all a mix of strengths and challenges."  Also successful adults represent a wide variety of passions, talents and abilities--it's not a one-size-fits-all path to success.  Instead successful adults represent a combination of physical health, mental health, social skills, a knowledge/skills foundation, drive and passion.

I'd rather school systems mirror the process of learning by focusing on what students achieve rather than what they don't achieve.

For example this week I gave a states/capitals test.  My students bring a great variety of skills, schedules and mindsets to the classroom. Some are eager academics with strong memory skills, and others are active, playful children who have a heavy schedule of outside of school activities.  The time, interest and ability to do well on this test was skewed from the start.  For some this is a terrific task that won't take them too long to master, and for others it is an almost impossible task.  A typical test would only reflect what I already know about the students when it comes to a task like this.

Instead I offered three test levels:
1. Fill in the map with states and capitals from memory.
2. Fill in the map using a list of states and capitals.
3. Complete the map by copying another map with all the states and capitals.

There was a way for each child to achieve success.  Immediately, I could see shoulders drop and ease pervade as I introduced the three test types.  Then students asked for even more differentiation.  One child asked if he could complete the test from memory until he couldn't remember any more, then he'd use the lists or map.  I said that was fine.  Another asked if she could use the atlas rather than the print out as it was easier to read--that worked too. A third asked if he could complete the test with a friend--terrific.

After that students positioned themselves around the room and happily began the test.  Now some will say, that's not the real world, and others might ask how do you know if they are learning the material? Further, you may wonder if this type of testing builds the rigor students need for later success.

The learning goal was to familiarize all students with the states and capitals of the United States.  If the task was too big for some, it could discourage them from this learning and turn them off from tasks like this.  Instead, this method gave every child an inroad to mastering the information in a way that was comfortable for them, and no one left the task discouraged or upset.  Instead there was happy chatter and work related to the task at hand which also serves to develop the knowledge.

Rather than one-size-fits-all assessments, I believe we should lean towards many paths of approximation providing students with the coaching and mentoring needed to achieve a determined level of knowledge for each task. These types of assessment will build engagement, motivation and a positive, know-thyself learning environment--the kind of learning environment that develops a positive attitude towards learning and a mindset for future success.  Do you agree?

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