Knowledge Audits

Audit 1How 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:

  1. Student learns X.
  2. Student demonstrates understanding of X.
  3. Student learns Y and forgets X.
  4. 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.


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Exams: tools for feedback, answers provided, and lagged

I’ve made three fundamental changes to my unit exams this year.

Part One: Exams as tools for feedback

After a student gets an exam back, what’s the first thing they notice? Easy: their overall score. That’s why I’m not putting scores on exams.

All too often a student sees their score and, especially if its low or mediocre, views the score as the only thing that matters. Even with standards-based grading, sometimes students will get caught up in whether they’ve earned proficiency on a particular concept (which isn’t a bad thing). What they forget about is how to correct mistakes and improve based on how they did. This attitude is more present in struggling learners than it is in high achievers, but it is present throughout.

This is why this year I’ve decided to not put scores or grades on exams. I am only putting feedback. That feedback comes in the form of highlighting incorrect work, asking clarifying questions, inserting direct how-to, and cheers for correct responses. Never will my students find an overwhelming (or underwhelming) score on their exam. When they critic their performance, I want them to focus on their work – not lament on their grade. My next challenge is to get them to actually internalize and grow from the feedback.

Part Two: Exams that focus on why

On exams, I’m providing the answer to every question.

I know this is ridiculous and unheard of, but here’s my thing: I want to build a classroom culture that hinges on questions, not answers. In fact, I fear my kids being answer-driven. I want students to focus on the how and why rather than the what. In addition to simply talking to them and encouraging this frame of mind on an ongoing basis, I wanted to add a structural aspect that can help accomplish this. Providing every answer is what I came up with.

I know this doesn’t simulate standardized exams outside of my room and is fairly impractical, but I hope that I’m helping them see the bigger picture. Besides, I already include them into classwork and homework assignments, so I figured why not exams too?

Part Three: Exams that lag
After reading much about the power of lagging homework from the MTBOS, this summer I decided to incorporate it. In addition, I’ve decided to lag my unit exams. 

It just makes sense to lag both. In fact, when I made the choice to lag my homework, I found lagging unit exams to be direct corollary. Summative assessments (e.g. exams) should always align with what and how I teach. If I lag homework and 80% of what students are doing every night focuses on review content, how can administer an exam of 100% new content?

This all may backfire completely. But at least then I’ll be able to add them to the extensively long list of things that I’ve failed at implementing.



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