Monday, January 19, 2015

EQAO Reflection

Our grade nine students wrote their Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics (EQAO) last week. Often during this time I reflect on the process, because really what else are you going to do for two hours while supervising. This year my thinking wasn't about the pros or cons about the test but rather the way we evaluate it. The test is sent off to be marked provincially but before that happens schools have the option to evaluate it in order to include some or all of the mark as part of the student's final grade. The thinking here is that if it counts for something then perhaps students will take it seriously. At my school we count the test for 10% of a student's final grade. Then about a week later they will write the final exam that counts for 20% of their grade.

The test consists of two booklets that each must be completed in an hour. Each booklet is made up of 7 multiple choice questions, followed by four longer 'open response' questions then finishes with 7 more multiple choice questions. Once the second booklet is completed students are asked to complete a questionnaire.

My observation has been that more often than not students come into the test under prepared and it serves as a bit of a wake up call to them. They then (hopefully) use the remaining classes to prepare for the final exam.

This year I have decided that I am not happy with counting the test for any portion of the students' final marks. In fact, my students did so poorly that after the fact I told them that I was not going to count it at all towards their mark and here's why:

1. Time

Many students did not have time to complete the test. They had an hour to complete each of the two booklets. For the second year in a row my strongest students did not complete the booklets on the first day. These students were very concerned about the impact it was going to have on their overall grade. Rather than providing incentive to do well it caused a great deal of anxiety. As a math teacher my goal is to help students reduce their anxiety towards math not contribute to it. I also try to evaluate what a student knows and does not know. If a question is left blank I have no idea if it was because the student ran out of time or because they did not know how to do it. By removing time from the equation I can make a better judgement of what the student know.

2. Multiple Choice

I have decided that I disagree with the multiple choice questions. They obstruct my view of what the student does or does not know. Some students will get the correct answer by guessing. Others will get the incorrect answer by guessing. In either case, I am unable to see the process that allowed them to arrive at their answer and as a result I am unable make a true judgement of their understanding of the material.

3. Feedback

I don't know much about the official feedback students get so if I'm wrong here let me know. I believe that tests get marked in the summer (the rest of the cohort will write in June) and a mark is returned to the students in the fall. This is far from immediate feedback and is anything but descriptive. Not very useful in my mind. As a teacher I can mark the work, but I'm not allowed to copy anything. This means that I can't show students where they went wrong. I can tell them that they messed up on the bicycle question but unless they can see where, I'm not sure that's useful.

4. Justification

I'd be hard pressed to justify any mark to a student or a parent given that the tests get sent off, never to be seen again. Students should be able to look at their marked work and question my judgement, which is sometimes right and sometimes wrong. In fact, I enjoy when students start questioning my evaluation as it often brings out what they truly meant to write or allows me to better understand their misconceptions.

5. Rationale

When students ask why the test has to count for a portion of their grade I struggle to give a valid reason. I typically say something along the lines of "If you're going to spend two days writing it, we may as well give you some credit for it". It's not an answer I'm comfortable with but it's all I have. One of the reasons I'm not comfortable with it is that the vast majority of my students perform much worse on the test than they do on the final exam. We could probably discuss what that says about my teaching, but let's save that for another post. The real reason that we count the test as a portion of a student's grade is that we believe that this will make them take it more seriously, which means they will perform better, which will make the school look better. Given that twelve out of eighteen students in my colleague's class said on the survey at the end  that they didn't know if the test was going to count (and yes he did let them know on numerous occasions), I'm not sure that counting it is a good motivator. Besides, is this in the best interest of the student or the school?

I'm curious to know whether counting the test as a portion of a student's grade makes them perform better. What does the data say? Do schools that count the test outperform those that don't? Is this information publicly available? Are there any schools that don't count the test?  Or does everyone count the test so that they don't look bad? Is this in the best interest of the students?

What does your school do about EQAO testing in grade nine math?