How can I know what my kids know?
I’ve been asking myself that question for a long time. In my Regents-obsessed school, I’m forced to ensure my students can perform well on end-of-year state exams. The typical learning flow in my class usually looks like this:
- Student learns X.
- Student demonstrates understanding of X.
- Student learns Y and forgets X.
- Student demonstrates understanding of Y and has no idea what X is.
Compile this over the course of a school year and you have students that understand nothing other than what they just learned. What does this mean for a comprehensive standardized exam? Disaster!
Sure, a lot of this has to do with pacing and students not diving deep into things they learn to make connections. That is a sad reality of too many teachers, including me. So given these constraints, how can I help kids build long-lasting understanding of things they learn and not forget everything other than what we’re doing right now?
In the past, I’ve “spiraled” homework and even put review questions on exams, but this never helped. There was no system to it and I never followed up. This year, I’m lagging both homework and exams, which does seem to be making a difference. But with the ginormous amount of standards that students are supposed to learn each year, I still feel this isn’t enough.
So, last week I began implementing Audits. These are exams that do not assess concepts from the current unit. The plan is to administer about one a month and because I lag my unit exams, I should have no trouble fitting them into the regular flow of things.
I’m choosing not to call them “Review Exams” or some other straightforward name in order to put a fresh spin on them and increase buy in. So far, so good.
The hope is to continually and systematically revisit older content to keep students actively recalling these standards. This should reinforce their learning and help to make it stick. On the teacher side of things, I get an updated snapshot of where they are and can plan accordingly. The SBG aspect is simple: the results from the Audit supersede any previous level of understanding.
- If a student has not previously earned proficiency on a standard that is assessed on an Audit, he or she can earn proficiency. This alleviates the need to retest on their own.
- If a student has previously earned proficiency on a standard, he or she must earn proficiency again or else lose credit for that standard. This would then require them to retest.
The first Audit resulted in a mix of students earning credit and losing credit for a set of standards. It was great. The proof is in the pudding. Knowledge isn’t static and my assessment practices must reflect this.