Many things can interfere with your ability to accurately measure how well your student has mastered a concept. Becoming aware of how different variables can interfere with this is your first step in countering this problem. Let’s look at a couple of examples of how assessment structure can potentially undermine its accuracy.
Common Scenario: Timed Tests
A student who is stressed over an assessment being timed might not perform as well as they could have. The only way to counter this is to provide opportunities for the student to complete the assessment without the time limit. Once the skill level has been measured in a more relaxed situation – if there is need – you can then also choose to assess how the student does under timed conditions as well – to compare scores under each condition.
Case Study: Writing About Math
In one US state’s assessment for allowing students to graduate, students were required to write about math. They needed to use writing to explain their logic and reason for solving mathematical problems. Here’s what happened in several cases:
•Students who were able to perform well in mathematics – including in applied situations – but unable to write well about math, were failing required math exams.
•Students less able to perform well in mathematics, but who had excellent writing skills, could score higher than 1) potentially their own actual mastery level in math, and 2) their peers who actually had stronger math skills.
What’s the goal here? To test one’s ability to write about math? There’s value in that. Or to test one’s mathematical abilities – in isolation and/or in applied situations likely to be encountered in life? The solution would be to measure multiple ways. Note: In this case, the state postponed the year by which the test would be fully implemented as a requirement for graduation, and then eventually the requirement was eliminated.
As noted, the solutions are usually to measure in multiple ways, and to eliminate interfering variables whenever possible.
Sometimes the interference isn’t something in the assessment, but perhaps something in the environment. You might notice that your student performs better at certain times of day, or in a room with certain lighting and noise levels, and so on. Over time, you can make these observations, gain awareness, and – most importantly – help your student gain awareness. After all, the goal is for each child to grow into a happy adult who can design a life that best suits them. Every aspect of a child’s education can contribute to this goal, including assessment and feedback.
When designing assessments, especially for homeschooling or asynchronous online education, remember that you can control for many sources of interference — even more so than if you were in the regular face-to-face classroom. Take advantage of that flexibility. For example, just because an online learning management system gives you the option to time a quiz doesn’t mean you have to use that option. Carefully consider your options, and your reasons for choosing one option over another. You want to maintain the integrity of your assessments so they accurately measure what they are supposed to.
The above is an excerpt from the Homeschool Quickstart class, available as stand-alone or as part of the Parent Empowerment Project. You can also find this concept covered in the class Designing for Mastery in Online and Blended Education.