Wednesday, June 27, 2018

More assessment hacks: Reading and Listening

  Time spent on assessment is time spent not giving comprehensible input.
If one totaled up the time spent for assessments in one class for a year, you might be shocked.

I was.

All that time spent giving tests and grading tests was lost, when I could have been providing comprehensible input (or, in the case of grading, taking care of myself).    And I don't know about you, but I always want more time.

 Click here to learn how I grade writing (and save time).  

(Side note: fascinating read and podcast about time from one of the most influential teachers, Angela Watson, that I have ever come across.)  

So, I changed my practice.  Sure, I want to see if kids understand what I am saying, and what they read.  I mean, I know in the moment because I do a lot of comprehension checks.  But how do they do without that scaffolding?  Plus, like most teachers, I have to put grades in a grade book and, unfortunately, come up with a number that represents their learning.

(The efficacy of that system is a whole other discussion, but I am still stuck with a traditional grading scheme- letter grades- and administrators who are working through the implications of other systems for our school  So this is what I have to work with. ) 

Three Important Notes:  

  • I weigh reading and listening (aka interpretive) skills more for my novice learners. 
  • I don't believe in giving a ton of assessments so when I give them, I want them to be primarily input-based.  
  • I don't want my planning time to be eaten up by grading.  I have better things to do.  Seriously.

Hack #1: Keep quizzes short. 
My reading and listening assessments are mostly taken from the SOMOS curriculum, by Martina Bex, or are written in a similar style.  They are short: 5-7 questions tops.  Short quizzes are good for so many reasons. They are easier to write.  They are easier to grade.  They are easier to take.  And well written short quizzes can give me just as much information as long ones, but in a fraction of the time.  For more information, read this article by Martina Bex.

Hack #2: Assess comprehension in L1
The questions are, almost exclusively in L1.  That's right. Comprehension questions that assess...comprehension.  If you want to read more about why I assess comprehension in L1, take a look at this article.  This totally changed my way of thinking about reading comprehension.

Hack #3 Grade on a consistent rubric
I grade almost every quiz on a rubric.  The rubric is usually at the bottom of the page.  The grades correspond with the proficiency descriptors I use (e.g. advanced, proficient, developing, emerging, beginning), but are not indicative of ACTFL levels.

For reading, I use the word "reading" in the rubric. For listening, I replace the word reading with the word "Listening."

Here is a link to the rubric, adapted from a post by Martina Bex.  

*Caveat* Not every test assesses all levels.  Nor does it have to.  
 In discussing this with the expert at a Marzano Proficiency Standards training I attended a couple of years ago, he gave me permission to sometimes leave out advanced questions.  So, sometimes I do.  And sometimes I get pushback from parents, especially when nothing is marked wrong, but that is usually a quick conversation.

This is especially true for the types of quick, A or B listening assessments that I learned how to create with student illustrations or photos.  For these, most kids get 100% and I give them full credit.  If they miss 1, I give them a B.  (These quizzes are usually 5 questions.)

Hack #4: Don't mark errors
Don't mark errors.  Just don't.
1) It saves you time.
2) Students can't share correct vs incorrect with students in the following years.  (OK, I suppose a student who got an advanced on a quiz could share it with a student for the following year, but that has never happened, and I am not going to spend my energy on it.)
3)If you wish for the student to re-take it, you don't necessarily need to make up a whole new test!

A note on improving tests
I have rewritten tests often.  Some tests I have written and rewritten to better measure advanced vs. proficient.   Often, at the end of a unit when I am grading, I will take a few moments to try to write better questions or change what needs to be changed.   This is one of the best practices for improving assessments.  I highly encourage you to try it, if you need to.

For more ideas about how to write assessments, check out this post about assessing for acquisition, also by Martina Bex.


  1. Hello, I feel silly asking this but in the past I haven't used rubrics: When grading with rubrics, is it as simple as whichever category the student/work falls in, I assign a 55%, 65%, 75%, 85%, or 95%? That's it? Do you never give anything in between or 100%? Thank you!

  2. Hi, I am SO sorry I missed this question. It is that simple- I put the % in the grade book for whatever level of work they use. I do give 90% (all indicators of proficient, some indicators of advanced) and 80% if a kid really falls between the lines. Again, I am SO sorry I missed this. Blame NTPRS18. Good luck!

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