During the first week of school this year, I asked my kids to write on a poster and finish the prompt, “I hope we...” Right in the middle, someone wrote “have no tests.” I never liked tests. As a student, I felt they did not really show what I knew because I was so stressed about trick questions or that I would misinterpret what was being asked. So I decided, why not, let’s try it—a year with no tests.
I figured that after a year of quarantining and hybrid learning, it might be a good time to mix things up a little more than normal. When I told my classes that I wouldn’t give them tests this year, they legitimately did not believe me: “What’s the catch, Mrs. Deinhammer?” I told them that my expectations were that they try their best and focus on learning as opposed to memorizing, cramming, or cheating. I told them that I wanted them to learn how to learn, how to be curious, and how to ask good questions.
How to Gauge Student Understanding
I have many ways to analyze understanding and growth in my students—I do formative assessments almost every single day. Sometimes I review the assessment data, and sometimes I don’t. Depending on what the class needs, I’ll use the data to guide where we go next, or the students just use it to see where they are with the content. Some days we use fun games like Gimkit, Blooket, or Quizlet, and some days we do various brain dump activities or take pretend lab practicals, but never for a grade. One of the easiest methods I have used is just a simple Google Form quiz with four to five questions pertaining to the true learning goal.
They instantly see the results and “score,” but I don’t record it. We have an immediate discussion as a class and clear up any misconceptions they may have. They can explain their line of thinking and how they arrived at the answer to a specific question. Having students explain their reasoning to each other is a great opportunity for them to hear unique perspectives. What I’ve observed so far is that the kids really try on things that are not graded if they are not lengthy and if they get immediate feedback. They want to know where they stand.
Every couple of weeks, we take a quick check for understanding (CFU), anywhere from 10 to 12 questions. This counts as a “daily grade.” The CFU is created in our school’s LMS, Schoology, and students get two attempts. The first attempt is strictly from memory, like a pretend test. They instantly see the score when they complete the CFU. If they aren’t happy with the grade, they can retake the CFU immediately and use their notes from class.
When I review the results, I have the data I need to know who needs additional help, but it doesn’t hurt their overall grade. Some kids study for the CFUs and some do not. Most kids use both attempts, even if the first attempt scored them a 94 or 95. They critically analyze each question to see if they can figure out which one they missed. They ask clarifying questions and want to discuss it afterward. My students are getting so much more out of this than I initially expected. In the past, when a test was given, they took it once and moved on with their lives, usually not giving it a second thought.
To assess science labs, I assign a post-lab quiz with a group. Students each submit their own answers to Schoology, but they discuss the questions together. This has led to some of the most enriching class discussions that I’ve experienced as a teacher. To hear kids defending why they feel an answer is right or wrong is so valuable to me. I love hearing them try to convince their group why they’re right and support their thoughts with evidence. I’m also able to identify misconceptions as I hear their thoughts.
Students Have Positive Feedback and Better Learning Experiences
I regularly ask my students for feedback and get some of my best ideas from the process. I give reflective surveys at the end of a marking period and after major projects, asking such questions as “What did you like?” “What did you learn?” “How can I improve this class for next year’s students?” At the end of the first semester, my students shared their overall thoughts on the class. Here are some of the comments I received:
“I love that we don’t have tests in here. I love that I don’t feel stressed and worried all the time that I am missing a critical detail that will be asked on a test later.”
“I wish all my classes had the no test policy. I have learned more in this class so far this year than any class I took last year. I think the freedom to learn at my own pace is so great.”
“It is really fun to learn when I don’t have to worry about failing and bad grades. You are so patient, and I appreciate the laid-back atmosphere of this class.”
It’s very rewarding to know that my students don’t feel stressed in my class and that simply removing the burden of tests has made learning more interesting and enjoyable for them.
Find Other Unique Ways to Assess Student Knowledge
As an educator, I challenge myself to come up with creative ways to find out what students know. For example, I created a Socratic seminar on vaccine regulations that blew me away. I could not believe the depth of conversations that were occurring and the growth mindset that I saw happening before my eyes. I know my students understand the content, but better yet, I know they can have intelligent and mature conversations about hot-topic issues.
I love my year of no testing and will continue it next year. I love the challenge of finding new ways to ensure that my kids are learning without using a traditional testing process. Spending my time designing lessons that I think will grab their attention and keep their interest is so much more fun than designing tests anyway.