Yesterday a student asked me a question that made me stop and think. After squelching my initial reaction, I gave it some thought.

The students’ question was “do I really have to do all these practice questions? I know how to solve two and three-step equations with like terms on each side of the equation”. The old teacher in me would have stressed the importance of practice. I would have thought that I knew best and that all students should do the work that I chose and assigned. After some thought, I realized that this students’ question is an indicator of great things happening in our math class.

We are assessing by standards in our math class. This means that we have broken up the course into 22 learning goals and we measure student ability to do these things instead of measuring achievement on “stuff” (assignments, tests, tasks, etc.). At the end of the day, I need to know if a student can add and subtract polynomials. If they show me this through a task, a test or a video is inconsequential. I just need to know if they can do it.

I have assessed like this for years and remember the excitement when my science students finally understood how the assessment was working and began to advocate for themselves and what they needed to meet learning goals. I always worry that in math, I may not be able to ensure students fully understand how they are being assessed. I stress about how to empower them to come up with ways to demonstrate understanding that works for them. I’m more confident in science assessment.

So, after catching myself and thinking through this students request I responded to him by telling him to “archive your learning and move on”. We can archive our learning in our math class using the Sesame Snap app (thank you Min Min for sharing this tool with me). Each student has a digital math portfolio. We often roam class with our phones and take pictures, videos or notes of student work. These can be used in our assessment.

This students’ question ended up making my day because it showed me that he understood how he was being assessed. He knew that he was not being marked on “stuff”, but that he was being marked on his ability to solve a multi-step equation with like terms on both sides of the equation. He knew that he could better use his time revisiting the concept of multiplying polynomials, because he wanted to improve his mark on that learning goal.

A few of the boys in our class have “gamified” our math class. They have decided that they want to continuously improve and do better on the learning goals, so they are motivated to figure out how to get better and better at the concepts. A couple of these guys have learning disabilities and the ability to show a concept in a different way than the bulk of students have, or the ability to take some more time and reassess it later has really helped with engagement and of course achievement.

I’d love to hear more about how other math teachers view and manage assessment.