New Tests or Old?

Every year, I tell myself that I’m going to make it easier on myself and create a semester exam that I can use every year.  Unfortunately, I’ve only ever used a test two years in a row before I scrap it and start again.  This means that I have to not only create a test, but double check all of the questions and answers for ambiguity and for clarity of purpose.  Does the test really assess what I want it to?

Good things have come from this.  I’ve done away with rote memorization.  My final is “open notes” so that students can use any notes they wish, so long as they are handwritten.  This not only gets the students to actually prepare by writing down all of the information that might be on the test, but it eliminates much of the problems with definition.  For example, if I ask a student to identify whether or not the fact that Bob is  hungry is an example of internal conflict or external conflict, I know that the students are applying knowledge of the term, not just trying to remember the definition.

Now, many of my coworkers think that this method is poor.  They must know these terms by heart, they say.  How can they succeed in the world if they don’t know the meanings of words?  I say, in today’s world, it’s actually unnecessary to know definitions.  Helpful, sure, but not necessary.  At any time, I can pull out my iTouch and look up the definition of a word that I am unfamiliar with.  It takes no time at all.  Cell phones that can surf the web are in the pockets of most people, so if they don’t know the meaning of onomatopoeia, they can look it up with ease.

Instead of asking questions about definitions, I make them apply that knowledge.  Despite using notes, very few of my students think that my tests are easy.  Because, and I quote, “It makes me have to think.”

Back to my point, however, I don’t know if I can use the same test every year.  Each class is different.  Each year, I approach the same information from a different vantage point.  Whatever it takes to grab the attention of my students and pull them down the path to enlightenment…or at least a little bit of learning.  So, I don’t feel that I’ve been able to make a test that takes into account those difference.

Is that important?  Do standardized tests care about what sort of skill set my freshmen students bring to the classroom?  No, and they are much more “high stakes” than a semester test in English 9.  It is my belief, though, that my tests should be part of a growing process that the students undergo as they make their way through high school.  Much like a personalized workout program is better for a person than just going to the gym and working out, I think my rewriting of tests each year is important for my students.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I just haven’t written the right test yet.  I really feel like this year could be the one.  But I don’t know what next year will bring, do I?

I am the language lover and these are my thoughts.


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