Saturday, January 19, 2013

Frustrated and Discouraged

I haven't posted in a while. To be honest, I have been rather busy trying to keep on top of school work and life in general. However, I am compelled to post about midterm exams.

**Blogger's Note: I know at the end of this I am posing a lot of questions. Right now, I have no answers. Please feel free to add your own answers and comments at the end. Thanks. --LMH

I generally feel that this year has gone well. I have been doing what I felt was a good job teaching, although I know there are a lot of things to improve on. Students have been doing well. Some have been reassessing. Grades for the grading period have looked pretty good this year. Generally, I feel that my students have been "getting" what I have taught. Then midterm exams hit.

In my 21 years teaching, this has to be the worst year yet for midterm exams for me. My students did so poorly. We were to give exams over two days and I did a multiple choice portion and a non multiple choice portion, both of which I made up. I went through as I have done in previous years and put together a review sheet that had one or two of each type of question on the review (although I did find out that I missed one). I gave two days in class time to work on the review so that 1) students would (hopefully) complete the problems and 2) students would have time to ask questions. I allowed students to compile an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of notes and formulas (they could not have example problems on it).

Students did NOT do well on the non-multiple choice portion at all. I had some of my more motivated students ask me about a couple of the questions that were on the review that were a little different than questions they had seen before. I knew when I put them on there that they were not the exact type of question I had on an assessment before, but I also felt that they had the requisite knowledge of the mathematics involved to solve the problems. There were two word problems on there that students had seen before. The one question I had inadvertently left off the review was a question that involved algebraic manipulation and I felt that students should have had the requisite background knowledge to successfully solve the problem. They struggled and in some cases, didn't even attempt these problems.

What I cannot for the life of me figure out is that in spite of warning students that they needed to do all of the problems on the review, they did not listen. In spite of telling them they really should take the time to put together their own note page so they could review the material, I had many students come in without a note page and I had several students who had a copy of a note page that another student had compiled for himself and that he shared. I cannot figure out why students who had done decent or well on assessments over the course of the year did so poorly on the midterm exam. What in the world did I do wrong? How can their midterm exam grades not even come close to what their grades have been all along?

Is Standards Based Grading to blame? Are my students so focused on the short term that they truly don't focus on really learning and owning the material for the long term? I honestly think this last question is a good part of the reason. I am thinking of a few students who choose to reassess (and reassess often in some cases) and they earn 4's, 4 1/2's and 5's many times but then did not do well or attempt some of these other problems at all. Am I setting up a culture in my classroom (not intentionally) emphasizes short term learning? How do I change that?


Chris Robinson said...

One thing I have implemented to address this problem is bringing back past learning targets on assessments. Their level of proficiency (0-4) can do down, depending on how they are performing at that current point in time. Another strategy I have implemented is that the students can't master (level 4) a learning target until they take the summative assessment at the end of a grading period. While these two things have seemed to help, I can envision having this same problem at the end of the class when we take final exams. I would like to continually bring back learning targets in future grading terms, but I don't have the ability to change grades from previous terms. So I guess I will have to depend on maintaining their learning through opener, homework, and review problems.

Sue VanHattum said...

Maybe high school and college are different, but my students did well on their final - on the 2nd try, that is. It was cumulative, so they had to be pretty solid on most of what they had learned. Will it be that way every semester? Probably not.

Jimmy Pai said...

How is standards based assessments being implemented in your area? If topics in mathematics are broken down into little topics that students can just memorize before the test and then spit it out, then perhaps that will really impact them? It is a similar challenge for a lot of teachers in our area too. But not only because of attempts to use SBA. It is a prevailing problem even with the more traditional assessments where students can just forget it after. With re-assessments on specific skills, though, I can see that some students use that as encouragements to forget things after.

On my assessments I usually have problems where students require the knowledge from previously passed (or failed) standards. These problems are then used as potential evidence for not only the new standards being tested, but also for the older ones. (I can clarify if this doesn't make much sense)

I'm just throwing thoughts at this comment... hopefully it'll become a good conversation haha.

Kelley Clark said...

I can certainly understand your frustration! I love SBG and agree with all of its philosophies. I am implementing more and more of it every year. My one concern: at some point I believe I need to be sure my students have learned that they need to prepare BEFORE a quiz or test. I'm thinking especially of 16-17 year old kids headed to college soon. For example, if we have done a lot of practice and they know there is a quiz on solving log equations at the end of the week, wouldn't it be wonderful if they saw the value of coming in for extra help before the quiz? This seems like a valuable life skill!
I truly do love SBG...this is just something I've been pondering.

One thing that has really helped this year is that I have required kids to complete a "reassessment ticket," explaining and correcting their mistakes. They also have to talk to me about their mistakes and can only make take the requiz before or after school or during study block. I did hear a student tell another one that he wanted to make sure he knew everything perfectly so he didn't have to go through the hassle of a requiz! I guess that's a good thing!

I'd love to hear others' ideas on this.

Anonymous said...

Yikes. This sounds really frustrating. I agree with previous commenters that this type of thing is quite possible with conventional grading, so I doubt that the problem is simply SBG. I hear what you're saying about classroom culture, that maybe it's an overall attitude that is behind this... I also remember you writing (I think) that you were having trouble motivating students to reassess, and I wonder if they are connected.

What motivates your students? Is it passing the course? In that case, would tracking their grade help them calibrate themselves? I use a tracking sheet that students fill in after each assessment to find out where their grade stands today.

I also use a lot of cumulative standards (where a later standard depends on an earlier standard), but that's partly inherent in the structure of the course.

As another commenter mentioned, I require students to apply for reassessment. An application includes a quiz correction and two practice problems. This seems to help with retention, but it takes a while to get students up to speed, since students find it really difficult to choose practice problems for themselves, even if I show them the section of the textbook where the questions are found.

One more thought... how often do you get students to practice tackling problems that are a little different from what they've seen before? Obviously, if the students have no motivation to do that and no idea how to do it, they're not suddenly going to do it just because you ask them to. One way I've tackled that is to present a problem that's a little different and ask students to "find their questions." In other words, figure out what they don't know, or would need to know, in order to solve the problem. This makes it a little less intimidating and gives a more clear purpose. After all, telling students to "try" a problem they're unfamiliar with doesn't really tell them what they're supposed to be doing. Some will look at it once, not know what to do, and then shrug and move on. No amount of me telling them to "try" is going to magically cause insight. But it's much easier for me to insist that they generate some questions. Them: "I don't know how to do it." Me: "Ok, what do you not know how to do?" or "What makes this problem different?" or "How did you do this kind of problem in the past, and why do you think that won't work now?"

The good thing about this approach is that sometimes in the process of articulating their questions, students are actually able to solve the problem. At the very least, I get some insight into what they don't know, and hopefully, they practice articulating their own questions, so that next time it happens on a test, they're more likely to ask that question, which might help them think things through.

Good luck, and thanks for posting! I really appreciate your questions and your honesty -- it's a real relief to know I'm not the only one who has times like this.