# Another Question Regarding Assessments

Just had dinner with an amazing teacher I work with – the topic of assessment came up – I want to write down some of these thoughts before I forget.

**The Question**: How do we create opportunities for students to *exceed* our expectations? Is that opportunity something that belongs on an assessment, or does it belong somewhere else?

**Possible Answer:** Students exceed expectations in the way they *make connections *and *problem solve* when presented with new content/meaningful problem/deep project. You are more likely to have students surprise and excite you when presenting *new* information rather than assessing *old* information. *New* contexts rather than old ones. These are the things we blog about – how amazing our students did on a project, or how a particular lesson elicited an ‘aha!’ moment that was more profound than we were expecting.

Does that mean my traditional pen-and-paper assessment can only reach the level of *meeting* my expectations rather than *exceeding* them? If I change the level of rigor that I want – in other words, if I raise the bar of for what *meeting* an expectation means – does that mean I have to change the type of assessment I give?

I’m gonna ask that question again, just because I like it, and so it’s the last thing in this blog post:

**How do we create opportunities for students to exceed our expectations?**

I don’t know if the traditional assessments are set up for students to have that moment where everything clicks.

The more I look into projects and ideas based around project-based learning, the more I’m seeing that those could be capable of what you’re talking about. If the project was the assessment that you used then you could potentially have some pretty big moments as students worked through and connected the ideas together.

This is a fascinating question that I don’t have a good answer to yet, which makes it a perfect candidate for the Productive Struggle blog. Would you like to cross post there? ProductiveStruggle.wordpress.com

When I was taking physics in college, the pen-and-paper assessments were structured such that each successive question layered another concept onto the previous question. Each question usually had a bonus part at the end which you would only be able to answer if you had a fairly deep understanding of the connections between the concepts. You wouldn’t necessarily get extra credit for answering a bonus part, but it might provide make-up points for some arithmetic mistake somewhere else on the assessment.

I actually had several moments where something clicked for me during the assessments when I was attempting the bonus parts of the questions. :]

I think you want an open-ended task with a low entry point and a high ceiling (if any).

I’m collecting ideas at http://maththinking.org but it may be hard to see how some of these tasks meet your curriculum objectives, but for a shorter and perhaps more structured task, look at Dan Meyer’s http://101qs.com.

I’m loving these posts about assessments Daniel. Ok so the way I try to get my students to exceed my expectations on assessments. Is by throwing problems at the kids that either extend their knowledge, or teach them new things and then ask them to apply this new thing. Students are initially not very fond of these kinds of questions (shockingly I know) but some of them grow to look forward to them.

For example last week we had a trig quiz covering the unit circle and 6 basic unit circle identities. sin(x) = -sin(-x) etc. At the end of the quiz there were two proofs. The first was to use the unit circle to prove that sin(x) = sin(π-x) which was easy since we had talked about it a lot. The second introduced the identity sin^2(x) + cos^2(x) = 1, and asked the kids to prove it. We had never talked about this. But they proved it and wrote some great stuff.

One thing that helps is to make assessments hard enough that you don’t expect anyone to do it all. A lot of college tests are written with an expected mean of 50% and standard deviation of 15%. It is a very rare student who gets over 90% right.

In the usual high school test, where good students are expected to get 90% routinely, there isn’t much room to exceed that expectation. Most of the test questions are wasted separating the utter failures from the mere failures, rather than on challenging the good students.

Having high-ceiling tests makes it possible for students to exceed your expectations.