# Day 66: Updating Tests

I have always handed back my quizzes and some tests because I think it is important for students to take the time to review mistakes, ask questions and seek better understanding through mistake analysis.  At my school, the math department has been required by the school board to return all assessments although most other departments are not.   We have asked if we can keep the assessments and make them available to students in our classroom at any time; the answer was NO. This past year, we did finally convinced our school board that we can’t hand back our Finals because of the time component in creating them and this was agreed upon.

Subsequently, over the years, students have created Facebook accounts for the various math courses we offer at the high school and then the returned assessments are scanned and posted for all to see.  The purpose of this site is to help students get good grades by having access to the rich questions asked on our assessments, go over them with their tutors (who also have the exams on file) so that they have practiced the response over and over again.  Thus, for many students, the assessment doesn’t assess the ability to bring to bear their conceptual understanding and procedural fluency in new and unfamiliar situations.

For example, one question we have asked is the following:

Find the equation of the line (in the most efficient form) through the two given points on y = sec(x):

The goals of this question are for students to read and use the scale, evaluate y = sec x for various inputs, apply old knowledge in a new way (write an equation of a line with non-integer values), and be comfortable with unusual forms of answers.  If students see this question prior to the test, then it becomes a routine problem.  The student response does not inform me about how well they are making sense of the structures inherent in a problem, applying some basic skills of evaluating trig expressions, finding slope, and writing the equation in a most efficient form, namely, point-slope form.  Our calculus teachers say that students can use the calculus to generate information, but when it comes to writing an equation of a line (good ‘ol Alg 1 skill) they freeze up, mostly because the numbers aren’t integers or decimals.  We also emphasize why point-slope is a more efficient form than slope-intercept when working with radicals, radians, etc. because one doesn’t have to calculate the y-intercept with “ugly” numbers.

With this community practice, it makes it challenging to create new and authentic assessments that actually test student knowledge and not their ability to mimic assessments they have seen.  Yes, I know students could pass around old assessments if they kept them, but the effort and diligence to do this was large, and the follow-through for most students was very small.  Now with the electronic posting option, little effort or forethought by the student is needed to preview every single previously-given assessment.

So today, for AP Stats, I am adjusting some of the questions on Thursday’s assessment to update them as well as include new questions to get at their conceptual understanding as well as their computational fluency and contextual interpretation.  So I created (based on initial work done on the Collegeboard site) a question grid like the one below.  I have seen AP Question Grids done in an Excel spreadsheet so that searching for specific kinds of questions is easier.  Maybe some day I’ll switch over

I spent some time looking for a question about Combining Random Variables and finalizing this year’s exams.

How much time do you spend writing assessments?  Are you required to return assessments and if so, what is the impact on your assessment preparations and practice?  Would love to hear some time saving ways to create authentic and powerful assessment questions.