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A New Take on Assessment - A guest post by Craig Halpern

by Craig Halpern


After the pandemic I realized that I could improve the manner in which I assess students. Pre-pandemic, my assessment looked like an AP exam, with about 20 multiple choice questions and 2 context-rich open- ended questions in the style of AP Physics. They were usually released items from the AP Physics 1 exam or multipart, context rich questions that I designed.


During the pandemic, I rewrote the open-ended questions so that the solutions were not "google-able." Sure, they could find similar problems but not the exact ones I wrote. I had them solve these questions after our school day, but still answer the multiple-choice questions during class time. During the pandemic I heard a talk from another teacher who assessed in a different manner. He would test his class with a multiple-choice test, then have them work on the same assessment with a peer. He would then have them solve a single context rich problem in the AP physics style, and finally he would interview his students to see what they learned. Each of these subsections were worth the same amount of points.


After hearing this talk, I thought that the "ungoogle-able" questions I wrote during the pandemic could still be assigned to be completed at home outside of class and I could then free up my class time for trying some of the alternate assessment techniques used by that other teacher. Since my class size was too large to interview every student, I opted for the partner tests. Last year was my first year trying this technique and I need to say that the conversations about the test really drove the level of understanding to new heights. Students were talking about physics and explaining it to their peers not only gave them higher grades on that subsection, but they did better on the open-ended questions as well.


This year I wrote a shorter partner test based on concept inventory items so I knew they would address student misconceptions. I also used some questions from AP classroom and some reworked released AP exam items. This year the conversations are at a higher level and the students more engaged in their learning. Overall, I would recommend using this for of assessment going forward. The level of student understanding is increased and their tests curve themselves. If you have any questions reach out I am happy to discuss it further. chalpern at ewingboe dot org

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