How to Look at Multiple-Choice Assessments Formatively | Edutopia
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The following is an excerpt from my new book, 'Tween Crayons and Curfews: Tips for Middle School Teachers, I share what I call "lesson trails," step-by-step activities that I routinely use in my classroom following every formal assessment, in order to use that test formatively. In the book, I describe two different kinds of lesson trail packets: one for formatively reflecting on essay writing, and one for formatively reflecting on a multiple-choice assessment for any subject. The excerpt below is an abridged description of the latter.

As a student, I would study for a test (most likely the day before or, I confess, even the period before), take the assessment, and then, much like a person who is done with a document on their desktop, my brain would simply "Empty Trash."

To avoid this same scenario happening to my own students, I use assessments formatively. That is, I have designed a series of activities that routinely follow each test that help guide my students to learn from the results of their formal assessments. Therefore, the information gets routed, not into their brain's trashcan, but into their long-term memory. These activities help my students to look frankly at the results of their tests, analyze and reflect on how they did and why, and set goals to achieve better.

Bottom line: In my classroom, taking a test doesn't end the learning. In fact, it signals the beginning.

The day after I receive the results of their multiple choice tests, whether they are scantron, peer-scored, or teacher scored, the students know that we will begin embarking on a series of what I call "lesson trails" to create a formative packet that becomes both evidence of their learning and a resource for their future test preparation.

"Lesson Trails" lead from one to another, building towards a goal. We step onto one stepping stone, accomplish that task, then jump to the next one, which can only be tackled if the one before it is complete.

A Lesson Trail Following a Multiple-Choice Assessment

Basically, each student gets a Formative Assessments folder. This folder, which can be used for any subject, becomes a yearlong vault of information for each student. Through its development, I guide them to analyze their own growth. During the standardized testing season, the folders are also used as a test prep resource. However it is more than just test prep because it is a dynamic and growing resource that students interact with formatively.

Depending on the assessment being analyzed, the packets therein could look something like this:

1. Their Copy of the Test - Let's say this is the original packet of 50 questions that they used to take the initial test. When taking the test, the students should be encouraged to write in the margins, highlight words in the passages, show what they were thinking at the time they came up with their answers. They should also circle their answers in the booklet before bubbling the answer onto their answer sheet in order to assess another skill: bubbling prowess.

Frankly, even the best students make bubbling errors. It's a fine-motor skills issue. By getting the additional information that the circled response gives them, the students can decide for themselves whether it was a careless error or a lack of content knowledge.

2. The Original Answer Sheet - This way they can't dispute the accuracy of the actual scantron machine.

3. Reflection Questions - This is a sheet that asks students to quantify some of their mistakes on the assessment as a whole so that they can look at their data in the eye in order to goal-set later. On it, I ask the following:

  • What Score Did You Get?
  • How Many Problems Did You Get Right?
  • How Many Did You Answer Incorrectly?
  • How Many Bubbling Errors Did You Make?
  • How Many Errors Did You Make Because You Didn't Understand A Word In The Question?
  • What words or phrases challenged you on the assessment?

4. Short Answer Packet - This is a different kind of reflection that asks students to zoom in and look at each individual question to analyze why they missed certain questions. Basically, it has four columns. It looks something like this:

# Your
Correct response Why you chose what you did and why the correct answer is right
5 A B I chose A because I thought it was asking for the character trait, not the main idea.

It's actually B because the author wanted the reader to understand that we are dependant on the environment's health to survive.
5 C A I chose C because I read the question too quickly.

It's A because when you move the X over to the other side of the equation, you get 3/4.

5. Goal-setting Statement - This can be anything from an index card to a more formal writing piece. What are their goals for next time? Are they going to work harder to show understanding of a certain standard or are they setting a percentage goal for themselves in how they will improve from Below to Proficient by moving up 10% in their correct responses?

6. Data Displays - In order to incorporate a non-linguistic element into their Formative Assessment folders, students should create a visual graph of their own progress from test to test in order to analyze their growth or lack thereof. Additionally, you can have the students graph the data that represents their class as a whole group based on the data from 1st to 4th quarter. Cover the classroom in graphs that show both individual and class-wide growth.

By the end of the year, through analyzing their own data, goal setting, and reflecting, more students will improve. I've seen it. Using data formatively is vital for students because it gives them control in their own learning, and in the end, less information will find its way into the cranium's trash.

Heather's book is available at the Web site Eye on Eye Education Publishing and on Amazon.

Comments (29)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Julie Thomas's picture
Julie Thomas
7th Grade Language Arts Teacher from Minneapolis, Minnesota

I love this idea! Our school is looking at adopting Learning Targets. Learning Targets assist students in understanding the expectations of the teacher. Assessments are given showing what students know and then students are expected to reflect on the assessment. Up until I read this blog, I was struggling to find a way to help students reflect in a way that would encourage them to care about their learning. I think that these folders are the perfect way to encourage students to reflect. The assessment is no longer just thrown away and not thought about. Students look at what was correct or incorrect and evaluate what needs to be learned in order to improve next time. I will definitely be using this in the future.

Tara's picture

Great idea! Like all teachers, I always feel crunched for time. I am so grateful of your idea of using assessment folders. I feel like all too often the day of the unit test is the last day of learning for that unit. In doing so, unit tests simply become summative in nature. By taking the time and keeping folders to show students' progress and having them reflect on their learning, their testing now becomes formative! Students need to be able to set goals, accept and learn from their mistakes, and become analytical in their self reflection. Taking time to do some metacognition and engaging test reflection seems to be a must in this process. I loved the folder idea!

Julie B's picture
Julie B
Third Grade Teacher

I have a data folder where students graph their math fact test scores and at-home reading minutes. I've especially found the math fact graphs valuable and motivating for students. They clearly and visibly see their progress from week to week.

Especially for elementary teachers who teach a variety of subjects, I wonder how other people organize folders? Do keep graphs all together in one folder? Do you have separate folders for different subject areas? I'm always looking for ways to be more efficient and effective.

Ellie's picture
6th grade English teacher

I love that the test symbolizes the beginning of the learning, and not the end. I agree that most students (and people in general) empty their brains right when the test is done. I love the idea of a data folder where formative assessments are kept so that students can look back, figure out what they did wrong, and then make goals to correct their mistakes. In my classroom I keep writing folders (samples of students' writing) and we see how they have progressed throughout the year, but I like the idea of keeping formative assessment results in there, too.

djrice's picture
1st grade teacher MN

I am such a data person! I love this idea of having a formative assessment folder. I must admit that I am one of those people in elementary and high school who took the test and put the information in the recycling bin. I like that after taking the test it isn't an end but just a beginning. I like how the folder contains all the formative tests and then is test prep for those high stake tests. I liked how you have students write on the side of the paper next to the ones they got wrong how they came up with the answer. I am going to use the circle the answer before bubbling on my son. His fine motor skills are not the best and I can see where he is probably getting a lot wrong because he isn't matching the answer up with the bubble. I love the self-reflection questions and am going to steal them for my class. I am also going to steal the goal part. I am bad about going back and checking goals the kids have created at the beginning of the year but by having it right there in the folder it will be easier to check and rethink those goals. When I taught sixth grade, I did a lot of graphs but have gotten away from it since I moved to first grade five years ago. I think it would be easy to implement again and something to show at conferences to parents. I was curious how you handled peers scoring other peer's tests? I was also wondering if elementary teachers do this for all the subjects they teach?

HMartin's picture
Middle school Language Arts, Michigan

Great idea. It really upsets me when students throw away all of their graded tests and assignments. My students will look for the mistakes they made on a returned assignment. They even will ask why a particular answer is incorrect. Unfortunately, however, by the end of the class period, the papers end up in the recycling bin. I think your "lesson trail" exercise could be useful for improving student achievement and for allowing extended learning opportunities. Thanks for sharing.

Tina's picture

What a great way to use multiple choice tests! I teach third grade so I like to use multiple choice tests but I always want to do more with them. This is a creative way to make it a formative assessment. I can now still use my multiple choice questions and make my students think about their answers. Thanks!

Ryan Spencer's picture
Ryan Spencer
6th grade math teacher in Anoka, Minnesota.

I love your idea of using the short answer packet after multiple choice assessments. I don't really like giving multiple choice assessments but I feel like I have to since so many standardized, high stakes tests are given as multiple choice. I don't know why I haven't considered a strategy that asks students to explain their choice before, I think it's great. Thanks for sharing it. Do you ever give formative assessments before the multiple choice test? If so, do you grade them?

Tom's picture
Instructional Systems Specialist/ DoDEA/DDESS/KyD

In bringing the students into the assessment in a way that causes them to become responsible for their own learning you are achieving a monumental assessment task according to AFL advocates (myself among them). When the child is so directly included in the assessment process they learn to focus on the guiding principles of formative assmnt- Where am I going? Where am I now? How will I close the gap? Good for you!!! May I "borrow" your ideas? P.S. Have you tried including students in a parent conference, letting them explain their learning and goals?

Mrs. H's picture
Mrs. H
7/8 band teacher, Minnesota

I don't use a lot of multiple choice tests in my classroom, but when I do, I am always frustrated by the kids who "learn it for the test" and then don't know it the next week. I think this is a great idea that I would like to borrow. It will also be immensely helpful at conferences - we have student led conferences and I'm always at a loss of what to put into a folder from a music class. I am excited to try this with my next unit test!

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