Quick Key

To help me collect data, I’ve been using a tool for the last couple of months. It’s called Quick Key and it’s used to quickly and easily collect responses from multiple choice questions.

For a long, long time, my school utilized the Apperson Datalink scanner to aid in scoring multiple choice portions of exams. It not only scores exams quickly and efficiently, but its accompanying software provides insightful data analysis that I use to modify my teaching. On the downside, these machines are pricey (almost $1000) and require you to purchase their unique scanning sheets that work only with their machine. Each department in my school had a machine.

Because of my push towards standards-based grading, I find myself giving smaller, bite-size assessments that target fewer concepts. Consequently, I am assessing more frequently and I need the scanning machine at least once a week. The machine was constantly changing hands and I was always running around the building trying to track it down.

I decided that I didn’t want to be a slave to the scanner – and its arbitrary sheets. It’s not sustainable. Especially when we have mobile technology that can perform the same task and provide similar results.

Enter Quick Key.

Quick Key has allowed me to score MC items and analyze my students’ responses in a much more convenient and cost-effective way. Like, free. Hello. You simply set up your classes, print out sheets, and start scanning with your mobile device. (You don’t even need to have wifi or cellular data when scanning.) The interface is pretty clean and easy to use. Plus, it was created and designed by a teacher. Props there too.

Data is synced between my phone and the web, which allows me to download CSV files to use with my standards-based grading spreadsheets.

SBG screenshot
My SBG tracking spreadsheet

That is the big Quick Key buy-in for me: exporting data for use with SBG. As I have mentioned before, SBG has completely changed my teaching and my approach to student learning. At some point, I hope to write in-depth about the specifics of this process and the structure I use.

Though the Quick Key data analysis isn’t as rigorous as what I would get from Datalink, it suffices for my purposes. I sort of wish Quick Key would improve the analysis they provide, but for now, if I need more detailed analytics, its usually requires a simple formula that I can quickly insert.

Data from QK
Sample data analysis from Quick Key
Data from Datalink
Sample data analysis from Datalink

Through all this, I don’t overlook the obvious: MC questions provide minimal insight into what students actually know, especially in math. That being said, my students’ graduation exams still require them to answer a relatively large number of MC items. For that reason alone I feel somewhat obligated to use MC questions on unit exams. Also, when assessing student knowledge via MC questions, I do my best to design them as hinge questions. TMC14 (specifically Nik Doran) formally introduced me to the idea of a hinge question, which are MC questions that are consciously engineered to categorize and target student misconceptions based on their answer. In this way, students responses to MC questions, though less powerful than short response questions, can provide me an intuitive understanding of student abilities.

Quick Key recently introduced a Pro plan ($30/year) that now places limitations on those that sign up for free accounts. Their free plan still offers plenty for the average teacher.

Either way, Quick Key still beats a $1000 scanner + cost of sheets.


My feeble attempt at SBG

This past week I attempted my first unit using standards based grading.

Letting SBG be the driving force of my class was one of my new year’s resolutions. I got much of my inspiration from Frank Noschese, Jonathon Claydon, Jason Buell, Shawn CornallyMichael Ziloto and many other teachers I have met in person and virtually met online.

My motto the first time around was to keep it simple. So I did. Here’s my approach.

Before I thought about SBG, I always broke down my units into distinct concepts using standards. So nothing new here. Next, to help simplify things, I decided to give two smaller exams covering 3-4 concepts instead of one larger exam that would have covered 7 concepts.

For each exam question, I went with a four point scale. Each question is assigned a value between 1-4:

4 = mastery
3 = proficient
2 = developing
1 = needs improvement

For free response questions, this is pretty straight forward. For multiple choice questions, I decided to go with 1 for an incorrect response and 3 for a correct response. There will be at least two questions for each concept and I will average the scores earned. This will provide a final measure that determines their level of understanding for each concept.

My biggest issue was deciding how in the world I was going to keep track of all this. Whatever method I finally land on must be sustainable and practical. Well here’s my system as of now. As I grade the exams, I enter each student’s score for each question into a spreadsheet. (We luckily have a scanner that does this for multiple choice questions.) There’s only 3-4 free response questions, so its not terrible. I have the spreadsheet compute the averages and spit out a final score for every student on each concept. The spreadsheet will serve as my tracking system for each student towards mastery of all the concepts we learn.

Their cumulative score for the entire term will be given by:

SBG Fraction

Now for student ownership of their knowledge. When I hand an exam back, I’ve always provided each one of my students with an individualized report that summarizes their performance. Before, the report contained their overall score, the class average score, etc.

Score Report Old

Now the focus is on what they actually understand (or don’t understand). For SBG I use a simple mail merge to print out a report for each student stating which concept(s) they achieved proficiency/mastery on and which one(s) they need to reassess on.

Score Report New

My next step, which will be a doozy, will be to decide how to maintain and organize my reassessment system. I know I will assign Friday as the one day that will serve as a “Retake Day.” This will be the only day where students are permitted to retake the concepts they need. This will help me stay sane and keep organized. Also, I need to get in the habit of creating retake material for each concept.

Of course this is a work in progress. I’m just glad one of my resolutions is coming to fruition.


Data driven structure for exam prep

Item Analiysis

I have a Regents prep course (basically students that need to pass a New York State math exam in order to graduate) that I have been teaching all semester. These students are about six weeks away from the exam. I’ve decided to adopt a new structure to help them get over the hump of passing it. These kids are a challenging bunch, but their attendance is solid and they have good attitudes.

Every Monday, starting this past Monday, I will give them a simplified mock Regents exam. This will essentially be a diagnostic: it will not effect their final report card grade. My students usually buy into this pretty well. I will use the results of this assessment to identify which concepts we will focus on for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. During these days my co-teacher I will reteach and review these concepts, pretty much one concept a day to keep it simple and bite size. The following Monday we will repeat this process with an exam and using the rest of the week to tackle four more concepts (hopefully not needing to repeat those that we had previously relearned).

This targeted, structured, data-driven approach is something I’ve been seeking for this class for a little while. I’m consistently using data analysis for all my classes and I knew I was going to take this approach with them, I just didn’t know how it would look. Now I do.

After looking at the data from today’s exam a short time ago and mapping out the concepts for the week, I am really excited for the benefit this structure could provide my students.

Concepts for the first week:
1. Identifying trigonometric ratios from a given right triangle
2. Translating verbal statements into mathematical expressions
3. Basic operations on polynomials
4. Writing equations of lines and their graphs

Ready. Set. Go.