Why testing methods should matter to teachers

laptop computer with keys spelling COMPOSE highlighted. Banner says "Compose here."
Ignore for a moment the issue of whether standardized tests carry too much weight in education.

Do you want to handicap your students unnecessarily on standardized tests?

Probably not.

Steve Graham, who has researched and written extensively on writing in schools, says his research shows that students who take writing tests on a computer do better than those who answered in handwriting, but that is true only if the students were experienced in writing at the computer.

He writes:

A student’s mastery of the method of testing matters. For students with little experience, computer assessments underestimate their writing achievement.

(Handwriting that’s not legible produces a similar underestimation of writing skill.)

It’s 25 years since the first website went online: It’s time every student is fluent at composing at the keyboard.

It’s perfectly OK to have students use pen and paper to doodle their way to a plan for writing if that’s how they’re comfortable, but you need to have students practice composing at the keyboard regularly. I recommend practice at least once a week.

And, yes, you need to require keyboard composition even if you teach art or agriculture: This isn’t just an English teacher thing.


To Assess Students’ Improvement, Repeat the Writing Prompt

September 2014 calendarWouldn’t it be great to have a way to assess students’ writing improvement without relying on bubble tests?

You can have one.

And you don’t have to spend hours or a fortune to do it.

Materials you need

    • A clear statement of your annual (or course) writing objectives.
    • A grading rubric that incorporates the standards in your objectives.
    • An authentic and tested writing prompt calling for middle- to higher-level learning from the students to whom the objectives apply.

June 2015 calendar

The assessment must be a writing prompt that cannot be answered with memorized material. In other words, the writing prompt must call for application, at minimum, but preferably for analysis, synthesis or evaluation.

This procedure can be adapted for advanced classes by giving students a general topic in advance. This allows them time for study and research. They get the actual writing prompt at the assessment session.

This article originally appeared in the August, 2009, issue of  Writing Points,  ©2009 Linda Aragoni

Lick the grading problem, Lollipop

When students are just beginning to learn to write, they write poorly and deserve poor grades. Getting poor grades may discourage them from learning to write well enough to get better grades. On the other hand,  they may misunderstand a high grade for effort as a grade for skill.

What’s a teacher to do?
Section of grading rubric for content

I prefer to drop all grades students earn before they achieve competence on three formal writing assignments in a row.  Educational administrators, however,  don’t always share my opinion that counting students’ learning against them is as unfair as telling a basketball team it can’t be league champion because it lost its first three games of the season.

When I can’t drop pre-competence scores, the least unsatisfactory solution I’ve found is this:

  1. Maintain a consistent grading standard for the year, so students are always aiming at the same target.
  2. Track progress toward a goal of competence.
  3. Give students plenty of opportunities to write so a few poor grades don’t count heavily.
  4. Raise the total point value of writing assignments as you go through the year while giving the same proportional weight to the various writing elements. If you choose to count the content (the ideas, their organization  and development) worth 60% of the points, keep that percentage regardless of whether the assignment value is 50 points or 500 points.
  5. Give some non-grade rewards for improved work, especially if the improvement doesn’t make a big, immediate impact on the grade. I used to staple penny lollipops to papers to recognize improvement. It was trivial and silly, but my college students loved the unexpected surprises.

Have you found something that’s less unsatisfactory than my fall-back position?

A version of this article appeared in Writing Points for  October, 2008  ©2008 Linda Aragoni