Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Personalized assessment

First, I want to make clear what my assumptions are about assessment.

  • Each student learns at a different pace
  • There should be no punitive action taken against a student who learns slower.
  • Students are allowed as many times as they want to demonstrate learning.
Also, you must know of my story around abolishing grading in my calculus class.

Currently we are three quarters through the course and running out of outcomes to assess and master.  This week I have tried something different.  Personalized assessment!

Each student is given a test but it is drastically different than anything I ever given before.  On the front page, there are questions which assess their knowledge of an outcome we have been working on for a week.  On the next pages, each student's exam is different.

On some, the pages are blank.  These are for the students whom have already demonstrated understanding of all the outcomes up to this point.  The cool part is that these students can be enriched with an activity, as they will most likely finish the test first.  For the rest, their pages are filled with questions on the outcomes they have yet to demonstrate understanding of. (Up to a maximum of 2)

Example:  Susie hasn't demonstrated understanding of outcome 5 and 7 and therefore on her pages, there are questions around outcomes 5 and 7.  Jason, on the other hand, has demonstrated these two outcomes but has missed outcomes 1 and 6.  Consequently, on his test there are questions around outcomes 1 and 6.

Next, I will assess this test under the following scenarios.

  1. It will be summative if the student correctly demonstrates all parts of the test. 
  2. It will be part summative and part formative for those who can only demonstrate learning of certain outcomes. 
  3. It will be entirely formative if a student can't demonstrate any understanding of any outcomes.

If I followed the philosophy that all assessment should be common, then all students would be writing a test around outcomes 1-10, which would take longer than a period, and be a complete waste of time for those who have already demonstrated learning.

Is this a lot of work?

Yes! However, it is worth it when I can say that this test is more about the needs of my students than it is to generate another "mark" in my gradebook.


  1. Just a question/thought;
    Why not, on the exams for the students who have already demonstrated mastery, put a question that may not test specific outcomes, but rather a question that incites imagination/problem solving skills?
    I.e find the area under an ellipse of semimajor axis "a" and semi minor axis "b"?
    The trig sub required for this integral would probably not be covered in the learning outcomes of the course, but it could be an activity that would incite the student to some lateral thinking/problem solving skills.

  2. I got strange looks from some colleagues when I gave my students instructions to circle the questions they really don't know the answer to instead of guessing the answer. Yes, most of the tests were out of different totals but by organizing the questions by outcomes the students were able to see which areas they still needed to learn or relearn.