Do you think that passing a class should suggest the student knows/understands the concepts, or that the student has completed the necessary work to earn the grade?
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Ideally, shouldn't completing the work show that the student knows/understands the concepts?
I've never set my classes up in ways that would allow a student to pass simply on the basis of homework or some other thing like that where the student could copy from someone else. Therefore, if a student passed, they would have to do well enough on the tests or other assessments.
Now, I've not always been confident that my tests truly required the level of understanding that I'd like, but I think that's a different question.
I certainly think that a student should have to demonstrate understanding (as opposed to simply demonstrating effort) in order to pass a class.
Demonstrating knowledge is most important to me. I gauge that in different ways with assignments. In some cases, I have no way of knowing if a student really does have the knowledge unless he or she completes these assignments. Since I teach gifted students, I try to have a variety of ways of challenging them. Nothing is ever too easy or boring. Through choice, projects, discussions and creative assignments students continue the skills they need to be successful in the subject area and in school in general.
I think you can set up things so that the student must demonstrate competency and understanding and so that they have the opportunity to do so in a variety of ways. Many classes that I see are based more around meeting deadlines and taking tests but I think the ideal is based much more around understanding.
I think this is a both/and rather than either/or situation. However, having said that, I do think that we do need to rethink our assessment strategies a lot. Fortunately, the kind of assessment strategies that I had when I was at school (back in the dark ages you understand when we had to write on cave walls with soot) which involved three hour long exams assessing two years of work, are mostly gone. You could argue that this is an unfair assessment method because the only grade that counted was your exam. So conceivably you could have a student who had worked really well over two years and then falls to pieces when it comes to the immensely stressful exam experience.
As highlighted by others, I see the foundation of appropriate teaching would culminate in both objectives being realised. The assessment should be designed to allow the student to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and ablilty to apply the course content. This means that the conditions for assessment need to be appropriate to the subject and skills being taught.
To my way of thinking the only purpose of tests and assignments is to be able to demonstrate the knowledge the students are supposed to be learning. If a student clearly knows the content but is not doing well on the assignments something is wrong. Either assessments are not closely aligned enough with your objectives and goals or that student is having some other issue that is plaguing their assignment quality. Either way you need to reassess both your tests and assessments and the students situation. There should never be a time when a student who has the knowledge is failing, unless they choose to complete no work. And even then, it our job as teachers to find out what is causing that behavior in a student. Assessments should never exist in a vacuum.
The ultimate goal of education is the acquisition of knowledge and skills. There are any number of assessments that can be used to determine to what level that is happening for a student. Everything we ask students to do -- from participation in discussion to a written assignment to a group research presentation to a traditional test are all measures of achievement. As stated above, in a good classroom, there are a suitable mix of assessment types to help evaluate student achievement.
One purpose assigned to assessment is the demonstration of ability. If students are demonstrating a mastery of skills, then they should pass. If the student does not do any work, then the student has not demonstrated ability. The rub comes when a student does no coursework but aces the final exam. Should the student pass then?
(I've yet to encounter such a student, but what if...)
Personally, in my class the two are equally important.
Demonstrating responsibility is a skill set a student can demonstrate even if he/she has trouble in the content area. This happens frequently in English. A student who tanks tests or isn't a very good essay writer can make up those points by completing all of the assignments and putting in creative effort on projects.
Responsibility and time management may even be of more use to students than English in the long run, even though I certainly don't like to remind myself of that fact too often!
So, if a student can pass the test, does this mean that they understand the concept that has been taught? Not really.
There needs to be less emphasis on the test, and more on the achievement of the outcome. If they can demonstrate the mastery of the outcome in some way, then they have acquired the knowledge that you have wanted them to pick up.
We must make sure that we differentiate both the learning tasks that we come up with for the students, as well as the ways in which we assess their mastery of it. There is a big push in Manitoba around outcomes based assessment. Most of it is pretty good.
I do not care if a student shows me that they understand a science topic by doing a Powerpoint or writing a test. If they can come up with another way to prove it to me, I would be more than willing to discuss it with the student. If this adaption to the assessment will allow me to see that he gets it, great. What is the choice? They do it my one and only way and then fail the unit? No way.
Also, if the student started off the unit getting 50-60% in their tests (math) for example and gets it at the end, I believe that we should take the last marks that show they get it, and leave the lower ones out of the picture totally. What is the point of averaging those lower marks into it? What does it show? Nothing if you ask me.
In a sense, both go hand in hand. If someone satisfactorily passes a state exam, then, haven't they demonstrated a level of competence in your course? However, demonstrating knowledge of the material in your course can be accomplished with presentations, reports and projects. As a teacher, besides "teaching to the test" as we are all pressured to do, it behooves us to try to go above and beyond so that the students can think at a higher level and take the information we give them and apply it to more complex problems and situations.
I find myself looking for balance. If a student understands the material, he/she should be able to do well on tests. It is certainly true that many students play a game of chance when they are bright enough to retain what they hear and test well, while doing no homework at all. Many of these kids are good at this game, and are happy with C's.
Unless homework is weighted more than test grades, it's hard to battle this kind of educational "strategy."
I also know some students struggle with test anxiety. My own daughter, in high school now, experiences text anxiety, but only with Scantron and standardized tests. The format of all the bubbles makes scatters her ability to focus. I used to think this was an excuse with some kids, but my daughter is bright and not looking for sympathy (she'd never tell her teacher) or a free ride. (As she continues to grow, I learn to look differently at teaching.)
For the student who struggles with testing, maybe a verbal test can be given, he/she should be tested for learning disabilities, etc., or a test (in terms of regular class tests) be given with answers placed on the test or on a blank piece of paper. This can take care of anxiety issues.
Homework provides students with practice that reinforces what is being taught in school. However, it also asks students to often use higher level skills and answer questions that are more meaningful than something measured by an incorrect or correct answer.
Some kids can skate with this. Others won't or cannot because of test grades. And still others won't (God love them) because they demand it of themselves or their parents demand it of them.
I do believe that both are important.
I believe these go hand in hand. However, I have always been a good test taker, and have found that applying knowledge gained is more difficult and requires higher level thinking. For example, I am a preschool teacher and I know to always be caring, loving, supportive, calm, etc. But when in the situation, when one child has peed their pants, one is running to the point of collision and two are pulling each others hair out ( all at the same time) that is when you need to apply the skills. A good way to get your students to demonstrate knowledge of the skill is to ask open-ended questions and make assignments in essay form, (I know, they might not like it, but it pushes them more!), or assign group/individual projects that relate to the topic in which they must "put themselves out there".
It it most important that students understand the knowledge of the material and are able to work through concepts and processes. All students do not learn the same way nor are they able to express themselves the same way effectively with assignments. I make sure I know where every student is at academically and that they all understand the processes. This takes much more time than giving out the "normal" assignments, but in the long run it is so much more beneficial for children as learners. It also helps them take more responsibility and participattion regarding their education. When I have children that are not mastering the skills at an acceptable level, this is where my small group instruction is driven.
As a student, I agree that homework should demonstrate a student's knowledge but in some circumstances the students may know the information but are going through difficult home lives that interfere with their ability to complete homework. I would think that most teachers would understand the difficulties the students go through but if a student is a quiet person and does not want a teacher to know about their troubles, the student may have a horrible semester and take home a C just because homework is never turned in. I think teachers and students should have enough brains between each other to make school work.
It depends, if the assignment/test presented to the student has the required knowledge to complete them at a satisfactory level means knowing what they need to know then that one is more important, because part of what is asked of the student is participation.
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