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Accurate Assessments

April 18, 2012

I was thinking this morning about how challenging it really is to design accurate assessments. There are so many variables that affect a student's performance on any given assessment that it is really quite difficult to control all but the one that you wish to assess. Because I use Standards Based Grading (since it gives much more valuable feedback than traditional categories--my students know how well they speak, read, write, and listen in Spanish instead of how well they do homework or perform on quizzes), I must always isolate one skill area to assess at a time. This is not easy!! For example, I gave my students in Spanish 1A an "Incorrect Dictation" as a listening comprehension assessment today. We read the Biblioburro article a few days ago, and have since watched the video and discussed it some more. For the dictation, I read aloud several false statements about the Biblioburro to my students and they were required to transcribe and then correct the information.

  • First, I had to make sure that my students know all of the information that they would be required to correct. Since we had previously read the article, I had to ensure that we discussed all of the facts that appeared on the assessment in class. If they didn't already know the material, they should have known it by the time we finished discussing it. If they didn't, that was a direct reflection of their listening comprehension. If they already knew the information because they had read it, it still assessed their listening comprehension because they had to understand the statements that I made.
  • Next, I had to make sure that they didn't miss questions because their memory is bad. Since this particular assessment required students to know chunks of information (like where Biblioburro is from), and knowing those facts was a skill necessary to be successful on the assessment but in no way affects their ability to comprehend spoken Spanish, I had to control that variable. I did this by giving the assessment IMMEDIATELY after a discussion in which those facts were discussed.¬†Even though I agree with Laura Terrill that most things should be assessed once time has passed, to see if structures have been acquired, in this case I just wanted to know if students understood what was being spoken. It doesn't matter if they remember it tomorrow or not; just as long as they get it NOW. If I were giving them a quiz about Biblioburro for a "Culture" grade, then I would want to give it time to make sure that they had truly learned the material and stored it in their long-term memory.
  • Since the statements contained errors that needed to be corrected, I had to make sure that an incorrect response was not the result of an inability to PRODUCE (write/speak) in Spanish. Students had to be able to identify the error in what they heard, but if they could not say how to correct the error in Spanish, that was okay. I let them say it in English. As long as they can demonstrate that they understood what I said (both in the statement and in the discussion by knowing how the statement should be corrected, even if they can't express that in Spanish), they should receive full credit for listening comprehension.

It was much easier to develop assessments when my students received homework, test, project, quiz, and classwork grades! It didn't matter what the assignment was, just when it was done! But the extra effort is worth it for my students and me to have a clearer, more detailed understanding of their Spanish proficiency.

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