11 July 2010

reflection on Session 4 of assessment

We talked this week about the balance between the two assessment types: formative vs. summative. I admit, when we started this program, I didn't really remember what the meanings of those two words were. In fact, I remember in our first class, way back in September of last year, one of the program participants used them in a sentence and I drew a blank. I remember having those words in my Secondary Science Methods class during my undergraduate work. (I'll warn you now, this may turn into a reflection on the Master's program as a whole, rather than a single class session.) It seems I have come a long way over the last few years. It seems that only yesterday I was busy tinting every window I could convince folks needed tint. In reality, it was just yesterday that I was looking at a bunch of different schools, trying to decide which one has the right doctoral program for me. (thinking very hard about this one, we'll see. We would look at starting in Fall 2011, yes, I said WE).

So where does the balance between summative and formative assessment lie? We even did an activity from our text, which had us look at a unit and see how much of each type we did. I always feel like I'm doing enough formative assessment, but in reality I'm not really sure I am. I don't have a specific design (yet) as to when to formatively assess, I just pepper in some "check for understanding" questions throughout the lecture. I won't soon be repeating (probably not ever) that pattern again. I'm learning through my Master's that I have to be purposeful in everything I do in the classroom. Don't get me wrong. I do think there is room for the teachable moments. However, I am finding that to have true success in my classroom I must be pushing my students in a direction that is more focused than what I have previously been doing. That shows in my AP test scores this year. I (obviously) didn't have as good of a plan as I did in previous years. I only had 2 out of 16 pass. I know that isn't entirely my "fault", but I know I didn't do as good of a job preparing students for the test this year.

It is certainly possible that means I didn't have enough formative assessment in my curriculum. What is an AP test, other than a huge summative assessment? Granted, it may be the hardest test many students ever take, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the person who knows the most about the subject, the teacher. That person is me. I am the adult in the classroom and I take full responsibility for the preparedness (or lack of it) of my students.

A Master's program, especially one in Curriculum and Instruction, certainly makes one examine oneself as a practitioner of instruction. I used to only associate the word practitioner with the medical profession. Now, I recognize that word certainly lends itself to vocation of teaching. In fact, the teacher, as a practitioner of instruction, is not unlike the medical practitioner. I don't mean to say students enter your classroom "sick", only ignorant. Many students come to my classroom with absolutely no knowledge of the subject of physics. Of course, this is ridiculous since Physics is the Study of the Entire Universe. They have been learning about their surroundings since the day they first entered the womb, but I digress. In the successful teacher's classroom (even in mine), students leave the classroom with a deeper grasp of the subject at hand. Hopefully, and maybe more importantly, they leave with a stronger interest in the subject, as well.

Where does this leave us with assessment? More importantly, where does it leave ME with assessment? It leaves me in a place in which I must work harder at my job. I means I have to change the way I teach my class and insure that students get enough formative assessment (with feedback) so that when the summative assessment comes along they will be prepared to be successful at the task. I heard today from a colleague that his students used to have to take qualifying exams just to be able to take the summative test. Hmmm. Intersesting idea. Yes? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

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