Not Losing the Main Idea

June 18, 2010

I need to keep this in mind as I make plans for next year:

[SBG] does not, however, boil down to simply retesting. The basic idea is this: you want to give your students the incentive and opportunity to show that they can and will learn, and that their understandings are dynamic. This is impeded by grading everything, which makes it possible to for a kid to dig a grave instead of just a hole. If you simply view SBG as retesting, you’re missing the point. The point is to track development and to nurture it. The point is to have a systematic effective way of telling kids what they do and don’t know, and having them be able to remediate for themselves.

I like the schedule we’ve worked out, but it’s important that we not get so locked into a schedule that we forget why we are making this change. I can’t expect my kids to transform their learning until/unless I do as well. It’s convenient to pull old questions to make my new “SBG” quizzes, but I have to make sure that they are measuring what I think they are measuring. Just because I like a question doesn’t mean that it will tell me what I need to know about the student answering it.

For each question I put in a quiz, I need to make the following analysis:

  • Is the focus of this question the objective I am trying to measure?
  • If a student gets this question right, will that tell me that the student has mastered that part of the objective?
  • Is it possible for the student to get the question wrong, but still show me that he has mastered the objective? (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but maybe the question should be rephrased.)
  • If the student gets the question wrong, is it possible for him to show me where he screwed up so we can remediate? This may not always be possible (sometimes, there’s just no work to show), but I should always be thinking about this.
  • How can I assess a synthesis of objectives? Do I want to?
  • Is it possible for a student to see how the question comes from the work we did in class or in his homework? These questions should never be an ambush or a trick.
  • If a student retakes an objective quiz, does the retake question demonstrate that he has now mastered the objective, or does it demonstrate that he memorized something for short-term use?

Whether I actually have to make this justification formally or not, I need to be sure in my own mind that a student who has passed all of my objectives is at least equivalent to that student who has passed all of the standard chapter tests. My hunch (and my hope) is that a student who has passed the objectives will be more prepared than the old Mark-1 chapter test student. If it weren’t for the logistical nightmare it would create, I would be tempted to keep one class on the department-level schedule just as a control, but I’m not that much of a masochist. I will be interested in seeing how our EOC scores measure up, however.

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