I got this oft-discussed question from a PLC member. It’s like a Zen koan. It’s good to revisit it from time to time:
Do you know if any of the NT hard-hitters are working in a system that is locked into standards-based education? If they have to test kids on all of the standards, including presentational communication? and if they have to have formative and summative assessments?
I am able to fudge most of it, the principal is smart and flexible but VERY hard-core standards. The part that I have trouble with is the formatives and summatives. In the grading program, it is locked in that formatives (quizzes?) are worth 20% and summatives (tests?) worth 80%. I can’t for the life of me design an assessment that I can feel good about that is worth so damn much of the grade. It just flies in the face of everything we know and are doing. But the grading program is locked that way. I just end up writing them an original text and giving them true/false or something and calling that a summative, because it’s not a story that we made in class.
18 thoughts on “Some Questions Become Like Old Friends”
The common complaint is that if our bosses want summative assessment then how can we do that since it is so hard to measure what has actually been acquired at the end of a period of study when comprehensible input is the mode of instruction. How can we measure what can’t really be measured because it is lying there, hidden from all conscious scrutiny bc of the way language acquisition works? The answer, if I may suggest what I have absorbed as moderator here for ten years, lies in fudging grades, putting more of an emphasis on formative grades but in the form of a final exam as described in a second comment below, and generally waiting for the day when our admins will finally wake up to the fact that those who teach languages using CI can’t do summative assessment to any meaningful degree, and to leave us alone since we are the experts. I keep thinking of the image of a hospital administrator going into an operating theatre with the surgeon and making suggestions, putzing around, messing around where he doesn’t belong, because someone equally fool-like gave him permission.
My fudging technique is to create a story with the class during the exam period so that it is fresh in their minds, then ask the kids to retell the story, translate it from the reading we created while making it, as 20 really easy T/F questions handed to me by the quiz writer, maybe have them draw the four or six panel story.
Actually this is not cheating. The kids who listened best would do better on something like that. And that is what the exam is designed to do, right? Compare kids? Prove that some are dumb and some (the white ones usually) are smart? No administrator in the fifteen years I gave sem/final exams like that every stopped me to question the fact that the story-as-exam was not really summative. That’s because it was.
We aren’t even allowed to administer/proctor our own exams in my school…
The last job I had had district-wide assessments. The writing one at the end of the year wasn’t the worst. The next year we were going to have to do speaking assessments 6 weeks in at the intro level and presentational ones as well. The speaking assessments raised the affective filters like crazy and the writing ones took up an enormously amount of time and changed the dynamic of the class. I know of one person who quit partly because of the constant assessments.
Susan- I am in the same type of system…quarterly district wide assessments. It is definitely not what we’d hope for.
Susan the gnarliest part is how the traditional teachers have the kids memorize stuff and basically twist the entire concept of what good assessment is, if there is such a thing. Denver Public Schools finally, after some painful years, simply dropped the speaking section. The writing thing took uncounted dollars for subs. Imagine 75 teachers in a big room all day trying to fairly and evenly evaluate stacks and stacks of writing samples from thousands of kids. The scores had to be warped because 75 teachers can’t possibly be counted on to evaluate all those writing samples in the same way. I don’t know if they still do that since I am out of the district now. But what was the reasoning in the first place to ask for samples of speech and writing from kids who are basically babies in the language? Evaluate listening and reading yes, but the output skills in ones so young? Why?
Ugh, Can the spkg assessments be a retell of a story from class, or a story that uses the same language from class? When we had to do cornerstones (not oral) we made up a story that recycled the language we new they felt comfy with…
If you knew the answer to that question Alisa what would it be?
Buncha yahoos making up random rules and requirements
I am in a very similar if not identical situation. Everything you describe is also what I have to do. Same percentages and everything. I even had to spend a whole day at school with a colleague (so they paid subs to come in for both of us while we were in “teacher detention” oops I mean curriculum writing trapped in the school building bc they don’t trust us that we could do this work on our own.
Anyway, I “wrote my curriculum” in a vague way. I will share it when I can figure out how to do that. They paired me with the district’s most stringent unit template user. Super nice and dedicated teacher, really dedicated to kids on all levels…and always receives a ton of public recognition for her exemplary unit plans. “Teacher of the year” stuff around here seems to be based on the ability to create and execute exemplarty unit plans.
When I had her look at it she quickly pointed out some glitch with my summatives. I fended this off by sticking to my truth saying “my summatives are the same as my formatives with the exception that I use stories the class has not worked with previously.” And that is the truth.
“my summatives are the same as my formatives with the exception that I use stories the class has not worked with previously.” This is good.
On summative, ALL students just need more input. What do we need standardized summative for? Eventually all students will have working fluency given enough input BUT school doesn’t provide that. So what does it mean to summatively assess? Student X can do this. Let’s celebrate it. Student Y can do this other task/performance. Yah! The only way for a summative to align with our approach is to provide more CI while assessing. Currently, I am doing 1 on 1 interviews. Students are just listening and providing short answers while I ask questions. I clarify anything they might miss by gesturing, drawing even writing the translation on a piece of paper. Lastly and more importantly for EVERY assessment (other than interpersonal skills) I give students credit/no credit. They did it, they get an A.
…my summatives are the same as my formatives with the exception that I use stories the class has not worked with previously….
I just think that this is so well put. Anyone in touch w the research can see this is how to assess summatively. It is a perfect way to assess. That so many teachers would dismiss such a statement as out of hand, that so many of them think this way, points to a whole lot of people not in touch w how language acquisition really works.
Spent the whole day today conducting final speaking assessments for French 1 and 2. It’s always painful, because I know it’s not fair. It was better this time though because I “cheated” and basically ran them how I run my classes–I asked students a lot of yes and no questions and questions that would generate one word answers. Most students were totally with me and were understanding. Was it really a “speaking” assessment? More listening, actually. But for the students who were ready to speak, I let speak. The others, I talked more. To me, this is what I was looking to find out. I would like to just get rid of the speaking assessment so will probably start advocating to do so, thanks to this thread!
I love this Emeka. This is basically what I try to do also. And honestly sometimes I don’t even “have” a formal assessment, but I assess retroactively. So one version of my “speaking assessment” is just my day to day banter, which of course is not graded, but I can honestly state my best guess at a student’s competency from this: student X answers in Spanish with one word or short phrase; student Y can elaborate, student Z initiates conversation in Spanish; student Q responds in English but clearly understands the question, etc. I figure why even create a testing atmosphere if I don’t have to.
“Was it really a “speaking” assessment? More listening, actually.” I agree with this. At this stage all students are really just listening to establish and even maintain meaning of the the sounds. Ben says “We move sound into meaning.” Yet, let’s define speaking… If there is genuine output then that is meaning in the students’ heads and saying it. They are making meaning (as per BVP). However, speaking can be like this: “Class everyone say, “C’est triste” They say it. Give everyone an A who did it. Then ask again or a different saying for anyone who didn’t do it. Class, now say “that’s incredible”. Alright, you all passed let’s move on. I think that if possible we need to define what speaking assessments can look like before our admin forces us their version. If they already have one we have to defend the kids and meet them where they are. Teachers in California have standards for the professions that state that we need to meet the needs of all students and have appropriate assessments. Making a kid feel stupid is useless and damaging.
If the summative has to be 80% of the grade then perhaps you can build up a portfolio over the semester that students then reflect on during the final exam day. The portfolio could include FluencyWrites, of course, but also an accumulation of ICSR/jGRs and self-reflections on growth.
I’ve done what Ben describes above during my final exam days, but I might add this portfolio to round it off in the eyes of an outsider.
This is good Sean. Didn’t Ben have composition books for these freewrites? I use freewrite blanks with the numbers already on there. Then every semester, I pass back the class’s freewrites and I have them do Bob Patrick’s metacognitive freewrite analysis. It is here. We can all find it by typing it in the search bar. Since SLA is subconscious then doing this exam will make their learning conscious and students will see how they have improved throughout the year.
Ooh! Thank you for the reminder. I want to do this! Have no data from day one 🙁 so it will be less dramatic, but still I want to try it.