Today will be a shortened period directly before a holiday release, so our primary objective will be to get the unit test taken. Since some students leave the classroom for tests and all students finish at different speeds, the end of the period (as it typically is after tests) will be spent independently preparing for our study of our next unit on Realism and Naturalism.
Today's assessment will be delivered with our Skyward program, which we also use to house our grades and attendance information. Before beginning the assessment, I will review for students the contents of the upcoming test. Major characteristics of Romanticism and Transcendentalism (and the works we've read) will be tested as well as elements of argument, rhetorical strategies, and research questions. The test will also include a set of questions (much like the Jefferson Mini-Assessment from a few class periods ago) from Achieve the Core to demonstrate student progress with reading strategies related to informational texts. With the shortened hour, I created the test to be shorter than my tests typically are. Also, it is entirely multiple choice since students have already done a great deal of written assessment through the two days of test preparation.
Once I have given my overview of the test, I will ask students if they have any "last minute" questions about the material or structure of the test that I can answer. I will answer any outstanding questions and review any material necessary before directing students to log in to Skyward and wait for the test to begin. I set the "start time" of the test for 10 minutes into class (to allow us enough time to review and answer questions), so any time not spent answering questions will be given to students to review independently for the test.
Students will then take the Unit 2 Test within the Skyward platform. There will be several questions that reference an attached document, a speech from Susan B. Anthony, so I will advise students to leave this document open to use for that series of questions when they see it. I will also remind them that after the test, they will need to proceed to my Daily Recaps to take the "Unit 2 Exam Feedback" survey reflecting on their test preparation and future test-preparation plans.
Many of the questions from the Unit 2 Test were also available as parts of the study guide. This is commonplace in my classroom for a variety of reasons. First, for reasons generally unbeknownst to me, my district has a really firm (yet unspoken) policy requiring explicit study guides to be given to students for everything. This policy is so built into the system that the two days leading up to final exams are completely blocked off for "exam review," meaning that teachers are not allowed to teach any new content on these days. Giving study guides that can be perceived as "vague" can create a giant headache for teachers if parents or students complain, so it's in our best interests to be as forthcoming about what the test will look like and contain as possible. This used to REALLY irritate me when I first started in this honest-to-goodness amazing district, but now that I've gotten used to it, I have worked out other ways to test students for skill mastery and gather more feedback about student behaviors that can be used as talking-points with parents and students. First, I collect frequent feedback from students to gain an understanding of skill mastery (like the No Red Ink assessments for subject/verb agreement, Thomas Jefferson mini-assessment for reading skills, and elements of argument quiz all prior to this test). In my mind, student performance on these assessments gives me feedback that I use to adjust instruction to remediate student skill gaps. Additionally, I incorporated a unique Susan B. Anthony text on this test to give me an updated reading skill mastery level for students on this assessment, so I can see growth in yet another way. The other benefit of giving a study guide with so much of the tested information on it is that you can get a very clear, conclusive picture of how much preparation students have completed before the test. Looking at results, it is extremely easy to see (and discuss with parents and students) which students put in little to no effort reviewing for the test. It's somewhat liberating to be able to show parents empirically that their child (who earned a 20%) had access to 60% of the answers before the test began. I think this helps students be more honest on the test reflection as well, so that is an added benefit. Overall, while it's not an ideal situation in some regards, giving such a "complete" study guide can definitely provide insight into other testing variables and be framed to still provide authentic assessment information, especially if multiple other forms of assessment are also utilized to build a profile of student mastery.
After students complete their test and reflection, then are then to continue the "to do" list in the Daily Recaps by reading about the historical context of Realism and Naturalism (which is our Unit 3) in their The American Experience, Prentice Hall Literature Online: Common Core Edition textbooks (pg. 462-473), which covers the nation's major historical events and literary movements from 1850-1914. While reading, students need to take notes in a format with which they feel comfortable so that we can begin discussing these genres and analyzing examples of them next week. A student's notes are attached in the resources of this section.
If you're looking for similar historical context information, a really complete set of timelines are available at America's Best History U.S. Timeline, though you will likely want to assign small groups to look over 1-2 decades a piece to limit the amount of time they will have to put into reading all the information. Information about Realism and Naturalism are available through PBS's The American Novel webpage, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite webpages! It has a significant amount of background information and important concepts that could help students navigate American literature with greater ease and an updated, functional layout!
Well, not all my students aced their unit tests. In fact, in one class, the class average was only a 63.2% (failing in our school!). Despite those facts, every class earned a higher average than they did for my Unit 1 test, so at least in part, I see this as a success!
After every test, I go through my data with a fine-toothed comb trying to figure out what exactly went on with that assessment, if there are things I could be doing better, and why low grades are happening. I was also looking at study habits for this test, as we've spent a few days preparing for the test in class and talked extensively about the importance of studying for these tests. After I get these numbers (from both the grade book and the test reflection forms students fill out), I throw then into Excel, get average and make pretty graphs to illustrate what's going on. Usually, I have to force myself to avoid stopping everything the test is over to build these graphs, as I'm SUCH a visual person and the satisfaction of seeing evidence so clearly is almost too great to wait for! After I develop these graphs, I post them on my website so that parents and students (and other teachers if they're interested!) can see the same data markers I saw to explain the test scores.
I complete this process for a number of reasons. The first, obviously, because I enjoy data and believe it can bring a lot of clarity to my teaching practice that can make it better. Though some of the data comes solely from student-reported information, even this is valuable! Since I don't punish them for not studying, they have no reason to lie (or at least little reason). I believe that most of my students do fill out these reflections with actual numbers, though I know that some of the study time is inflated. This data is also transferred to my grade book next to each test score so that I have a record of how much students have studied for each and every test I give them. This has helped me out in countless ways, including giving me discussion points for parent-teacher conferences, emails, IEP paperwork, and making comparisons between tests quickly!
The second reason I take the time to analyze this information is to be as transparent as possible with my classroom. Where students or parents may easily balk at the average of 63.2 in my A1 class, they are also forced to see that their class has by far the most missing work, are in 2nd place for the most students who did not study, and have the lowest study time average. Instead of getting an angry phonecall about the average, interested parties can see what they could be doing to improve their grades. It also gives me talking points in my classes to express the importance of studying and turning in work on time! Again, it's difficult to argue when the evidence is so persuasive!
The last reason I look so closely at the information is that somewhere, deep down in my soul, I always think I'll figure out a magic reason for disparities in grades. Maybe attendance? Classroom position? Test anxiety? Sleep deprivation? I'm a research nerd at heart, so I think finding some correlation between poor test scores and behavior would help me show students how to get themselves in the OPPOSITE boat! Though I haven't found it yet, I know I have made an impact in how kids see the value of turning in work, studying, and even attending classes (in years past when I found a really strong class-attendance connection)! Ultimately, I'm seeing more confident, higher achieving students, so something must be going well, right?!?!
In the last few minutes of class, I will remind students about the expectation for completed notes next time and inquire about their reactions to the test. Though I get to see their reflections, I like to gather feedback as I go as well to keep my other classes motivated and engage with all students about the process of learning!
Next time we'll get started with evaluating Realism and Naturalism! Over the break in the middle, I will use my Unit 2 Reflection responses to determine what impact studying over the course of multiple days had and prepare a graphic to share online with students that explains test results for all of my classes. I'm known as the graph-lady by some parents, who are also Excel nerds, so it's hard for me to let anyone down by not making one!