Sunday, October 16, 2016

When The Class Bombs A Test

Photo by Wendy Berry

Last Thursday I gave a test to my grade 12 Advanced Functions class. It was our first test of the year and the results were disastrous. My first hint that things may not go well came the day before the test.

Typically the day before a test students in this class keep me busy for what seems like every minute of the day. Some will come in before school and ask questions. Some will sit in my room during their spares and work so they can ask questions. There's usually a flurry of activity at lunch with students working in groups at their desks or at the board. My prep period becomes an impromptu tutorial for students lucky enough to have a spare at the same time. This year, I had a student or two at lunch time and one who stopped by for a few minutes during my prep period.

While students wrote the test I could tell things weren't going well. Some were taking the long way around for a lot of the questions, which meant they would need extra time (apologies to their period two teachers). Many of them seemed to be struggling. A number of them asked if I could drop this test mark or if we could do a rewrite as they handed the test in. Not a good sign.

I wasn't going to look at the tests that night, but I was curious to see what the results were actually like. My suspicions about the class as a whole doing poorly were confirmed. The marks were terrible. I spent a lot of time thinking about why they were so bad. How much of it was failure on my part? How much did they need to take ownership for? How could we rectify the poor result?

Without having enough time to come up with a solid plan of what to do next I decided that my number one priority had to be for students to master the content. The next day I put them in groups of three and gave each group a copy of the test. I had the groups work through the test at the boards. I was able to circulate, listen to the conversations and provide some leading questions when they were needed. There were some great discussions, problems solving and peer teaching going on. I think most students learned at least a little and some learned a lot.

The logical thing to do seems to be to have a retest. Past experience has shown me that the results from retests are generally not all that much better than the original test. Students have good intentions but then run out of time to prepare so their marks improve very little. I think that walking through the tests in groups helped but they won't be writing the test in groups. To help ensure every student who rewrites the test is well prepared I have decided that I will meet with each of them to go over their test. I will ask questions that will help identify what they know and what they need work on. Hopefully this gives them a list of topics that they should go over in preparation for the test.

It seems like a lot of work but I'm hopeful it will pay off. What strategies do you use when tests or other forms of assessment don't go the way you expected?


  1. Always a good read Dave but tough question this time. Are you assessing more than one overall expectation per summative? That's where Al O's idea works well. Expectations are reassessed more than once. I'm attempting this with my class this year but my class is annual. Seems easier. My first test had 3 o. expectations. Some bombs others did well. So it's like a summative for some Ss and formative for others.

    1. I did assess more than one overall expectation. I haven't gotten around to spiralling this course yet. Students in this course really like doing things traditionally. It's a tough habit to break. I really like the idea of a test being summative for some and formative for others. I may have to rethink for the future.

  2. When this happens I usually figure I rushed them, or made the test too hard. If I feel that is true, then i will sometimes redo just a section of the test and word it more clearly, or make it more reasonable to expect. Sometimes I think I make my senior social sciences tests more at a college level than a high school level. I am not a math teacher so I think my tests are more subjestive as is the marking sadly. But, when the whole clas bombs I do a similar thing. We take up the test together in groups, or as a whole class. Sometimes I let them look at test in class, decide which questions they feel they could benefit form re-writing and have them each individually rewrite their chosen sections. That works well as usually each kid has some understanding of some part but not all. I think that taking the time to work one on one is amazing, however I rarely do it, and students NEVER come to see me for help outside class time. Anyway - love reading your posts....always make me think

    1. Thanks for commenting. It's possible that I rushed them but I didn't think the test was too hard since it was inline with what I've asked in the past.

      Great idea about rewriting the parts of the test that a student feels they need to rewrite.

      I met with most of the students individually. I think some got more out of it than others. Some came back for more afterwards, which is great. I think others were just jumping through the hoop. They rewrite this week. I'm looking forward to seeing the results.