The Realities of Testing: Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Grading

Coryn Prince pulls out the gritty aspects of the Future of Assessment.by Coryn Prince

Coryn Prince is a secondary assistant principal, holds a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from Texas A & M – Commerce, and is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at the University of North Texas. Follow her on Twitter @coryneprince.

In this era of accountability, educators find themselves struggling between balancing efficient assessments and effective assessment.  Movements towards increased formative assessments have eased the pain somewhat, however, there is still a need to reflect on what grades mean and how teachers can maximize effectiveness when measuring student success.

The high school level presents several very unique issues including, cheating, GPA competition, receiving credits, etc. For those students aiming to land in the top ten percent of their class, the difference between a 94 on a test and a 97 can be crucial. While it seems unreasonable, the perceived importance placed on these incremental grade increases is palpable for students.  Queue cheating.

“For those students aiming to land in the top ten percent of their class, the difference between a 94 on a test and a 97 can be crucial.”

Elaborate cheating rings have begun to pop up in districts all over the state, some involving criminal charges, as students trade, buy, and sell test information to gain an edge.  These students are most successful at cheating on non-essay based tests such as multiple-choice and short-answer; which are the most efficient types of tests to grade. When weighing the cost of writing a test that is hard to cheat on and writing a test that is quick to grade, one can see why a teacher with a roster of 170 students might prefer efficiency.

To answer the question “Then what do we do?” we first have to look at the concept of what a grade really means. Does a 70 mean a student has learned 70 percent of the information? Or have they developed enough skill to be successful 7 out of 10 tries? Or are they somewhat arbitrary with a large enough group of stakeholders agreeing upon the standard? I land on the side of grades being mostly arbitrary, especially for multiple-choice tests.  Anytime I can assign a performance task and apply a rubric, I am much more likely to get an accurate representation of mastery.  Coincidentally, this also means I’ve practically eliminated cheating.  This isn’t, however, always feasible.

For teachers, like math teachers, who cannot use essay tests, there must be a way for students to take a test, and if they fail, relearn and retest the material.  Thus, we re-enter the discussion about what a grade means.  To determine what and how a student can retest, a teacher or teacher group (PLC, administrative team, teacher leadership team, etc.) has to define what a grade means to them and communicate that to the community.  Some teachers may decide that simply correcting tests errors is enough to receive credit towards increasing a failing test grade. Some may require a reteach session and an entirely new assessment.  Where you fall in this spectrum should be at least a team decision, and, ideally, a campus decision.


Continue Reading Part 1 & Part 2:

  1. The Future of Assessment by Katie White
  2. Future Focused Assessment Practices: Undoing Unintended Consequences of Standardized Assessment by Latoya Dixon