Taking others’ assessments: How brave are your educators?

So here’s a crazy idea…

  • Ask teachers in your building to bring a recent quiz or test to the next staff meeting. Make sure their names are on the assessments they bring.
  • Mix up all of the assessments in a big pile and hand them back out. Each teacher gets one. No one is allowed to get a test that’s in his or her subject area (i.e., no English teacher is allowed to take any other English teacher’s test).
  • They spend 20 minutes taking the test that they have in hand.
  • Return the test to the teacher that created it. That teacher then grades it and returns it to the one who took it.

What would this do?

  • It would allow educators to see how others are assessing.
  • I’m guessing that many teachers are going to miss a bunch of stuff, at least in secondary schools. Which then leads, of course, to the issue of:

    Most of us would consider ourselves successful adults and yet we couldn’t answer a lot of this. What does that mean for our teaching and our students’ learning? 

    Follow-up questions might include How important is the stuff we’re teaching? and If this stuff is important, why did we miss so many? and If this stuff is not important, why are we teaching it?

I think this could prompt some good internal discussion for a teaching staff. Thoughts? Anyone done something like this?

Note: A few years back, the College of Education and Human Development booth at the Minnesota State Fair had ten sample questions from the 8th grade state assessment. Those of us staffing the booth tried to get fair attendees to answer the questions to see how they’d do compared to what the state expected middle schoolers to know. We couldn’t get anyone to do it; the number of takers was extremely low. There were lots of nervous laughter and comments, though…

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18 Responses to “Taking others’ assessments: How brave are your educators?”

  1. I really do like that idea. For a secondary classroom it puts a focus on the skills instead of content. You could almost say that the activity is stacked because most teachers won’t do well on other teachers’ exams. I think that there needs to be more of this teacher reflection on what they use to assess student learning. After a while, teachers need to re-anchor their goals by receiving criticism from people other than students.

    On a side note. Did the committees in Congress ever take some sample standardized exams that they are requiring schools to use? I think they might get a chance to reflect as well.

  2. In order to make this even remotely fair, you’d probably have to limit those tests to core subjects that are required by the state. For example, asking an English teacher to take an advanced science test would be ridiculous, because, yes, while he or she is a functioning adult, they are not trying to be a functioning scientist, while somebody taking an advanced science class might very well need to have that knowledge someday in order to advance in their chosen career. If we want to encourage students to follow their passions, there’s going to be a lot of stuff like that.

    The problem with using learning leading to functional adulthood as a gold standard is that it subtracts the value of learning simply for the sake of learning. I suppose that one could argue that it’s not the job of schools to do anything other than teach the basic skills needed to function in life, but I know I would not want to teach in or send my future children to a school that subscribed to that philosophy. To my mind, it sounds awfully similar to the kinds of justifications used for cutting the arts whenever budgets get tight.

  3. Ha, our teachers have been doing just that during our common planning time, just for fun. I told the chmsitry teacher not to even come near me with her test. There was so much vocabulary I did not recognize, I wouldn’t know where to begin. She on the other hand would probabaly pass one of my Engish tests with flying colors, that is if I gave traditional tests. The only tests I give are the required practice and state tests, more than I can count. I wonder if we wll ever learn.

  4. You bring up some great questions. Why are we teaching what we are teaching? Because that’s the way it’s always been done is usually the answer. Or, because it’s in the curriculum and I’ve got to cover it. It’s a double-edged sword though and you never know which topic/lesson/subject is going to ignite and excite any given student. Do we throw out subjects because our curriculum development team has advised it so? Are standards the end all-be all of education?
    There truly are more questions than answers, but I feel asking them and bringing them into the light makes all the difference and we are better off than if we just went with the flow.
    Thanks for this post!

  5. We are brave — go ahead and post the sample questions….

    and I promise, I will not google the answers…..(at first)

    could be interesting — could be enlightening.


  6. My faculty has only discussed this concept, and each one of us readily admits they would likely do poorly in another subject at a HS level. Some of this is due to what we use daily as referenced in “Knowing the parts of a neuron isn’t really that important” on this site. I like the idea of placing the papers in front of each other. Maybe it’s more the sharing of what others are doing that entices me to try this.

    Along another line of thinking, since it is referenced here frequently, should we ALLOW Googling and other technology when doing this (no offense to JenW’s promise not to use it)? If “no” then why not – don’t we have that available? In an application world, wouldn’t that be what we would do for information we don’t have stored in our own brain? If we did this, I’d be interested to see how efficiently we would do this. In other words, does a quiz geared for 20 minutes take us 30 because we have to find information instead of remember it?

    Also, Scott notes that people are generally unwilling to demonstrate their comprehension of what we assume to be base knowledge(the Minnesota State Fair where few took the MS assessment). Our society has created a venue where this is so true that it is done for public entertainment, and we have to reward the success with money – it’s called “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”

  7. Assessments are mostly about the assessor. I always tell my 3rd and 4th grade students that assessments are tools that I use to know how and what I need to teach next. I tell them that other people do other things with the results, but that’s what I do with the results.

    And, isn’t this just another version of the Race to the Top game that is being played with real federal money? Except in the RTTT game the state departments of education get to pick winners and losers without even telling the participants the questions. If you can say, “I wanna be on your team faster and louder than the other guy, you win.” That’s a really fun game!

  8. I agree with Dan here. As well, the stuff of learning, though perhaps necessary for the short term, is not necessarily the stuff that we retain.

    Let me illustrate with a specific example, my students need to learn some specific details about life in the Gaza strip, the economy of seal-hunting, language issues in Quebec, and monks protesting in Burma, etc… in order to acquire the higher process thinking skills of coming to consensus on definitions (in this case of the definitions of tension and conflict) and of tracking the evolution of their understanding of the terms – the learning process.

    In order to build definitions they read articles, view images/video, and listen to music individually and then build their definitions in groups. During the process I expect them to know their content inside out so I assess them on it as a way of ensuring they are doing the reading and taking notes about it. I do not expect them to retain the content into their adult lives, unless they are so inspired by it they decide to pursue a career in international conflict intervention… and even then, the conflicts will probably have evolved into different ones by then.

  9. I absolutely love this idea and at my previous school there was a small group of us that did just this. It provided us with the following meaningful information:

    1. We could fine tune our assessments to be more authentic and relevant
    2. It decreased our overall workload since we were collaborating on this.
    3. Our collaborative skills increased such that nobody had to change their method of assessment.
    4. It kept us all quite sharp on the content.

    I seriously doubt many educators would do this because of apathy, ego, and the dreaded merit pay junk going on now. It’s a noble idea and unfortunate that more would not adopt it.

  10. This is a great idea. I am going to propose this at my next staff meeting.

    I have also heard of parents and teachers challenging the policy makers and politicians to take the high stakes standardized tests that they love so much. Most turn down the opportunity – while those that take the tests tend to bomb them.

    The point isn’t that the adults who take these tests are dumb. It’s that we are dumb if we think that the results on these tests say anything about the kind of person you are – whether it be your intellect or character.

  11. I like this idea. I also know that I would do fine in most subjects but not the math or science areas. I do see assignments and sometimes test that teachers let the students take home. As an Art teacher the students often break out work when paint or clay is drying, and I often go around the tables to see the work being done. The students sometimes ask for help and sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. Instead I talk to them about how to find the information and what are the big ideas they are supposed to be ‘getting’. So I would like to see this activity branched out so students can also see we as teachers are also students , perhaps a ‘knowledge master’ concept teacher/student activity. Just an idea.

  12. I actually did this with a faculty in Humboldt Iowa when I worked there ten years ago. It did not have the affect I had intended. The staff were infuriated rather than inspired to reflect upon their own practice. I think the way in which this is presented will have a great deal with how it is received. I think, with the conversations the faculty I work with now I might get a much better reaction.
    I reiterate that good leaders challenge their “tribes” thinking but are careful in doing so not to just piss them off.
    A good friend of mine, Dennis Bahr, once told me a great analogy for good leadership. There is a classic physical science activity to discuss the power of intertia. You tie a string on to two ends of a weight. You suspend the weight from one string and pull down on the other string. If you provide moderate but steady pressure on the bottom string the top string will break and the weight will move/fall. If, however, you jerk real hard on the bottom string, the bottom string breaks and the weight remains suspended by the top string and you, the leader, end up just holding the little piece of string.
    I think that the way I tried what you are suggesting in Humboldt may have been a quick hard jerk on the bottom string while with good conversation you may be able to apply moderate but constant pressure and get this activity to really cause a group to reflect upon their own beliefs and practices.
    Leadership is crucial in the implementation of change.

  13. I would be willing to take anyone’s assessment without the aid of outside resources, but I will also comment that there are some of us with a tremendous amount of what I often consider “useless information”. I classify information as being useless when it can be easily obtained using charts, graphs or via a search engine.
    It is really not useless per say, but rather not the types of information I want to see on an assessment.
    We are often guilty of assessing at a level of specificity which is far too narrow. Our students are able to regurgitate discrete facts that they will soon forget and are successful on an assessment and in a course despite the fact that they never really gain an enduring understanding of a concept or skill. I am not advocating that we do not teach some of these very specific facts, concepts or skills, but rather that our assessments ensure our students are obtaining a much deeper understanding of the larger concepts.
    In short, I would advocate that there is no place in today’s schools for “closed book” tests. Our world is no longer a closed book or no notes type of world.
    In my job, it would be foolish not to access resources, use charts, graphs and even the opinions of others to tackle the problems I am challenged to solve.

  14. This is a great idea, and could be the source of great conversation.

    I am just wondering how some people would react to this on a personal level. It might depend on the culture of the school.

    I love the idea and will put it to use as we begin to explore writing and improving assessments next fall in an effort to guarantee student learning.

  15. By the number of responses, you clearly hit a nerve here. Recently at a meeting I heard a comment, “If I don’t test them on the next day, they won’t remember anything.”
    The sound of my head pounding on the desk was deafening…

  16. @ Greg, Awesome comment. LOL If you don’t mind I might use that one.

  17. I see tests on the copy machine for second graders that I can narrow down to 2 possible answers! Wish I had the guts & time to engage in productive conversation with teacher about what that means!


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