Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dealing with test results

This week, I've given three tests - a test in each of my three math classes (Math Studies, Math Standard and Math Higher). Inspired by all the brilliant SBG posts I've read lately, I want to find a good way to deal with the students' results and reactions.

Some random student reactions to performing below their expectations:
- I can't believe that was a 4 [barely passing, maximum grade is 7], I mean, I didn't know anything.
- Can I retake the test?
- There'll be many more tests, right, which will raise my average, right?
- Man, I really need to get my act together. 
- Will we be coming back to this material?
- What are we doing next? I want to be on top of it all the time from now on. 
and the heart-breaker:
- I don't understand it! I did all the homeworks, helped other students, and then on the test I can't remember it at all!
One student had her parent call the student's mentor, to speak about "her teacher and her test". That's me and the test I gave them this morning, folks. And the parent called literally 5 minutes after the student had handed in the test and left the room. I wish this student had just come to talk with me directly. If it's anything I've been proud, it's that my students can confide in me. This year I'm trying on a tougher attitude and maybe it's not working out well with some students.

So I'm figuring out how to deal with all these varied student reactions. For the Math Standards (think "honors") and Math Highers (think "honors squared") I'm settling for this strategy:

  1. Suggest to the students that if they are unhappy with their results, and think that they could perform better with more or different studying, then write a brief plan of what they will change from now on. 
  2. Suggest also that if they do not think that they are willing or able to reach a higher result through more or different studying, then they should switch to a lower level math than the one they are currently taking. Or accept that this is the kinds of results they'll be facing.
  3. Provide the students with answers, but not solutions, to the test questions. 
  4. Give them as homework to figure out complete solutions to all questions. 
  5. Check their homework via Binder check as usual. 

The Math Studies students, however, cannot switch to any lower level. These are also students accustomed to lower results - in the sense that they still get frustrated, but no longer believe in their own ability to do better.
My strategy here feels a bit like flailing desperately and I wish I had something better up my sleeve:

  1. Make time to discuss with the class as a whole why their results are this abysmal (they are!). Acknowledge that they have been under tons of stress with other school work, and that they are upset and frustrated, and offer encouragement that they can do better (they can!) and that we're in this together (we are! I'm just preparing them for the final exams.)
  2. Ask students to write down what they can do differently and what they wish I would do differently. 
  3. Ask them to talk with me privately about any concerns that they have that they don't want to share with the whole class. 
  4. Then give them the answers to the test questions and give as homework to get the correct solutions. Instead of the re-test they've been asking for, do a binder check type of activity on this homework and if they do better, acknowledge that this is a sign of increased understanding of this topic. 

This should take care of all the "types" of students except the heart-breaker. I still don't know what to do about her.


  1. For the heartbreaker, maybe some questions/thoughts to prompt a discussion:

    1) "When you do your homework, are your notes open on the table near you? What about your book?" Basically, I find a lot of students use their notes & their book as a crutch, and then when faced with not having it in front of them, like on a test, they are shocked they can't do the problems.

    2) SLEEP - kids don't think this is important. Heck, even we don't. But sleep the night before a test makes a huge difference.

    3) Some students (especially some with learning differences) find taking tests in a "distraction free setting" makes all the difference in the world. Maybe have him/her come in during lunch on the test day and take the test alone with you in the room. See how that goes?

    4) Make flashcards for different "types" of problems. Have the question on the front, and the method of solution (& solution) on the back. It helps students who have trouble processing what a question is asking.

    Just a few things that I've found has helped students in that heart-breaker category.

  2. Thanks Sam, I especially like the first suggestion. I've been thinking of observing her study anyways, and maybe she uses several crutches such as books, friends, etc? my students are way too willing to work in groups, and I'm making an effort to have them at least give a question a serious go before seeking support.