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Can you imagine a semester without traditional tests?

4 min read


This week’s Friday Feature highlights reader comments sparked by Nick Provenzano’s post “I’ve got 99 problems, but a test ain’t one,” where he invites us to consider a classroom in which there are no multiple-choice tests.

Thank you for commenting and thank you, Nick, for logging in and having an open dialogue with SmartBlog on Education readers. Here’s a brief Q-and-A taken from that conversation:

Roger: This is great news for your students. What does your principal think of your practice?

Nick: My principal has been very supportive during this process. I would not be able to move forward and try new things if it were not for his support. The freedom to try new things and possibly fail in order to help my students is something I am lucky to have. Strong administration is key to the success of any teacher trying to change things up.

Steve: So when will Target Tests, ACT, SAT, and a variety of other standardized tests go to the project based evaluation? I try for the life of me to do project based assessments with my PAP English classes. We are great at writing our ideas down and I require them to show a gallimaufry of writing skills and styles, but we struggle when it comes to “knowing” how to ID the “skills” on A,B,C,or D answer tests that at this point hold us hostage by the “powers-that-be.”

Nick: While I have shifted away from multiple choice tests as the standard, my students still get plenty of MC in other classes. They are more than prepared for any they come across. Also, if we are all teaching students to critically think, the students will perform on any test they get. My common exam at the end of the semester is [an] MC test that all students of that grade get. My students do just as well on the exam as students who take MC exams all year to prepare for it. So, I do not feel my students are less prepared for that type of exam with a PBL approach.

Doc Smith: Your desire to get your students to express themselves is wonderful, but i must ask you if you are finding them writing in clear English, or, as my wife often tells me when her colleagues run into her room to boast that their students are speaking in the target language: Is it just a bunch of gibberish because the student doesn’t know how to properly put a sentence together? And what scaffolds do you have in place, or can you quickly build, to deal with the problems that appear?

Nick: It’s important to note that Project Based Learning is one of many approaches a teacher can take in the classroom. For me, it does not replace writing. I think this is a common misconception. Just because I use projects, does not mean that I stop teaching other valuable skills. My students still learn to write. I spend the first 2 weeks of the school year on essay writing for all of my classes and students are writing in many different forms for every unit we cover.

I do not have the “gibberish” problem that you mention. My students speak and write clearly. There are some students who are stronger writers than others, but “text speak” or other slang is not allowed in formal essay writing. It is the job of the teacher to help kids understand that there is a time and a place to speak and write in certain ways.

Again, PBL is one of many tools I use to prepare my students for the various adventures life has in store for them. They will read, write and discuss their work just like other students across the country. The main difference is that my students will not be bogged down with “busy work” and will not need to stress over MC tests that do not really tell a teacher as much as they think.

It was difficult this week deciding which blog post comments to shine a light on, especially with Brett Clark’s post “6 pillars of a 1:1 initiative” garnering much attention last week and David Penberg’s post “12 questions for the 21st century” also sparking a lively debate. If you missed these or other blog posts, visit our archive and join the conversation.

Melissa Greenwood is SmartBrief’s senior education editor, with responsibility for the content in a variety of SmartBrief’s education e-news briefs. She also manages content for SmartBlog on Education and related social media channels.