[One-Minute Makeover] Algebra 1 • Topic 7 Assessment

Previously

If you’re just tuning in, check out the first post in the series. Or Topic 5, if you fancy. (Topic 6 doesn’t exist. It’s a long story.)

Algebra 1 • Topic 7 Assessment, Before

There’s a point in the school year—toward the end of the first semester, usually—when my brain and my body get together to discuss whether there’s enough left in the tank to write something decent (be it a lesson, assignment, assessment, or whatever). Apparently, late in November 2011, the exchange must have been something like this:

Brain: “Okay, body, whaddya say? Let’s write a quality assessment for Topic 7, shall we?”

Body: “Must… sleep… so… tired…”

Brain: “What’s that? You think all we can manage is a pile of whatsit?”

Body: “Erghhhh… Where are we?”

Brain: “Okay, then, that’s the plan! Mediocrity, coming right up!”

At any rate, the result of my/our/their efforts was nothing to write home about (except maybe to lodge a complaint). I hereby present to you, two questions worth their weight in zero g:

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The worst part of it? I based these questions off two I found on the CST, a multiple-choice test the quality and usefulness of which I regularly sneer at. A strange thing it is to despise one’s assessment muse.

Now then… On to happier times!

Algebra 1 • Topic 7 Assessment, After

The first thing that had to die: The multiple-choice-ness of the problems. I’m not opposed to all multiple-choice problems in the world, just most. There are some decent questions here and there. In fact, quite a number of the ones I see in preparing students for the AP Calculus exam strike me as worth their weight in… I don’t know, maybe salt. (Modern day market value, of course.)

But multiple-choice on a graphing linear equations assessment? Not a good fit, in my estimation. For starters, students with no idea of what they’re doing could luck their way into a perfect assessment score, especially when there are only two questions. Next, the format invites students to select an answer without showing much of their thinking. And beyond that, I left myself no room for questions that demand any measure of critical thought. (More on that in a moment.)

With those concerns at least partially in mind, I wrote a new assessment with four questions:

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Here’s what I like: Goodbye multiple-choice format, hello (potential for) students showing a record of their thinking.

The questions aren’t amazing, and they’re quite limited in scope as they’re all really just begging for an equation in slope-intercept form (my beloved point-slope form comes up in Topic 8). However, I think they’re a dramatic improvement over the original.

Here’s what I still can’t stand: The assessment is still overwhelmingly focused on procedural understanding.

I suppose this might not change until I revisit/rewrite my skills and concepts list for Algebra 1 to include a more rich approach to graphing lines, but it’s still disappointing to look at a mid-November assessment and see a total lack of “explain-your-reasoning-this” or “explain-your-reasoning-that.”

Wrap Up

A quick word about #3 before moving on… I chose to display the ordered pairs so that students wouldn’t struggle with miscounting too-little-toner tick marks. When Desmos adds a “grid density” feature for improved (read: bolder) printing, I’ll consider removing those labels. In the meantime, they’re staying.

More than any assessment in this series so far, I’m super-excited to hear suggestions on how to address the weaknesses of the updated assessment. Have an idea? Please share!

Feb 8, 2014 Update

Great idea from @BridgetDunbar:

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