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Teaching and testing

A big change for me in my new school is the expectation in the way we assess learning. When we finish a unit students expect two exams. The first is a glorified pretest they call the formative. This doesn't count in their semester grading in any way. They know this, but they take it super seriously. The one that counts is called the summative. Even more serious business. This expectation spans across all grade levels and courses. Making it serious serious business is that the school has a hard rule against retesting. No retakes available for any reason.

Daily work, little quizzes, homework? That's all considered as formative. They only thing that counts here are summative assessments. This is a big mindset change for me. I've graded the crap out of the smallest menial tasks my whole career. The thinking for me is I'm assessing work ethic and effort. Not so much here. Kids know this, but the percentage of homework that's being completed is off the charts high. In my two 8th grade classes yesterday I had three students not complete the assignment completely. In the higher grades those percentages only go up. This could be another apples and oranges comparison between my old and new school.

Another specific change is in the way we create and grade tests. Students end up with a grade that is a score from 1 to 8. Questions have to be created that start as easy (grade mark 1 band) and vary in difficulty all the way up to an 8 (grade mark 8 band). The word "mark" is generally thought of as a point on a test. If a test is worth 40 points, it means they are 40 marks that students can earn. More difficult level 7-8 questions will generally have more marks to earn.

To make life a bit easier in test creation teachers usually break the bands into four levels.

  • grade mark 1-2 band: knowledge

  • grade mark 3-4 band: application

  • grade mark 5-6 band: understanding

  • grade mark 7-8 band: extension

I'm a math teacher so you get a math example. If you don't like mathy stuff I'll understand and won't judge you. I feel your pain. It would be similar to you asking me to sing on a stage in front of others.

  • Question 1: which is a fraction? 7 or 3/4?

  • Question 2: add 1/2 + 2/7

  • Question 3: Draw a diagram showing which is larger, 2/5 or 1/3?

  • Question 4: Bill's recipe calls for 5/6 cup of flour. How does he use a 1/4 measuring cup and a 1/3 measuring cup to get the precise required amount?

Coming up with the harder extension questions is tough. It has to be a situation where students have to use the learning in a setting they haven't considered before. Students know this and expect to be challenged. The better students love these questions. The weaker students know they're coming and don't seem to mind. To achieve an 8 (perfect score) on an assessment is rare. Generally we only see one or two 8s on any exam. I've only seen one so far in my high level (HL) 11th and 12th grade classes.

Adding to this we have some different testing expectations for our Middle Years Program (MYP is grades 6 to 10). Each semester MYP students need to be assessed on each of four criterion. These four criteria are labeled as A to D.

  • A: knowledge

  • B: patterns

  • C: application

  • D: communication

This leads to project based assessment. For our quadratics unit in 10th grade we used this frog jumping simulator for a patterns investigation. It also lets us assess communication as well. The goal is to have the frogs make it across in the minimum number of jumps. There are some interesting patterns that develop when you change the number of frogs.

Overall I'm happy for the changes. This is partially why I wanted to come to China and teach in a new school. I was looking for a different teaching experience. I felt like I had gotten into a rut teaching the same things every year. If I were back in the states tomorrow I would certainly look to incorporate more project based assessment. Fortunately I'm getting hooked up with some quality resources. Good times.

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Mike Durkee
Mike Durkee
Nov 18, 2022

I'm seeing a "Diehard with a vengeance" question on a test in the future.... 5 gallon bucket and 3 gallon bucket and you need exactly 4 gallons or else the bomb goes off... Oh, wait just a second---was that a movie reference? Insert shocked baby face here. I'm thinking that 'fluff' subjects don't have much of a place in your new school--like anything that comes close to art, graphic arts, etc... you know those subjects that don't mean much (tongue in cheek) which are the same subjects that make life worth living and looking at a beautiful world or reading a great book, or possibly watching a movie that actually moves your soul.... oh, just a second I just got…


Over the years I have definitely moved towards less assignments with more importance applied to each a d tests having more weight. Seems that lower students, especially those with learning disabilities, struggle when there are a lot of assignments. But I wonder how students here would take to the tests being all that matters. Seems our educational system has been moving away from that, especially in terms of how we do a summative assessment. With this UDL we are basically being asked to find multiple ways for students to show mastery. I'm assuming for students there, they all take the same test? Is there any differentiation? What about Special ed?

David Shick!
David Shick!
Nov 10, 2022
Replying to

They have ILPs (Individual Learning Plans) that look and feel like IEPs from the states, but there's no formalized Special Ed program. They have an SST (student support team) that works similarly to the special ed teachers, but they don't have classes that they teach. They spend most of their time chasing various students around school trying to get them in the right place at the right time to get help.

Our projects and assessing one of the four A to D criteria above forces us to give students opportunities to display learning in various way. That feels a lot like UDL.

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