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Performance AND Learning: Why Test Corrections are Important

One of my core beliefs about learning and especially learning math is that it never ends. There is no finish line. In the current education system however, we arbitrarily put finish lines at the end of each course with an assessment that somehow holds students, teachers, and schools accountable to a standard of performance. In reality, it causes anxiety for all parties. Administrators put pressure on teachers to get their students to perform, because the performance is public knowledge and it is how the school will be seen. Students then internalize that pressure because they must pass the exam to graduate, or move to the next course, or get into their choice of university. School therefore becomes about performance, and not about learning. Learning is a nonlinear journey. We each have our own starting points and wind our way through life and education making wrong turns, back tracking, and leaps of faith. While I disagree with standardized testing, I also must work inside of the system that uses it. I have to use strategies that focus on learning AND strategies that will help students perform. Both can be true at the same time.

For me the performance part of my class is easy. All I really need to think about is how I was taught math. Taking notes, quizzes and exams are all a part of the performance part of math. Easily observed. Easily measured. As a teacher, I have complete control over all of these aspects. I choose the problems to complete in class and can easily ensure they are aligned to the unit assessment, state assessment or SAT/ACT. The learning part of my class is trickier. Mixing in problem solving tasks where students work collaboratively to solve a problem which emphasizes reasoning and strategy use rather than the correct answer, using Project Based Learning to drive instruction, having students create portfolios where they store and analyze their work, implementing self assessments routinely, and a controversial one, using test corrections all help me send the message that there is no end game in learning. I believe it is the combination of all of these strategies that makes my math class fun learning zone.

Why I Use Test Corrections

Using test corrections to improve grades is a hot button topic on my campus. Here is why I use them. Empirically we know that we learn more from the mistakes we made in life than our successes. People like Steve Jobs and JK Rowling exemplify this in the media. From a neuroscience perspective, we know from Jo Boaler’s research that more brain activity occurs when a mistake is made. Because there is diversity in humans, we do not all learn things at the same rate and in the same time frame. Not all babies crawl, walk, and speak at the same time, therefore we cannot expect humans to understand math concepts at the same time either. Since I do not test students on concepts on an individual basis “when they are ready” and give students the same exam at the same time, I need to have a policy in place that values learning as well. Test corrections allows me to get through the required curriculum so students are exposed to the material on their end of course exam AND it allows students to 1) identify the type of error they made, 2) analyze why that error was made, 3) use resources to re-learn or fix their mistake, and 4) formalize their thoughts on what they learned from this experience. They get both performance (because I do adjust their grade) and learning.

What are your thoughts on using test corrections to promote learning?

Want my test correction form? This is my latest iteration of how I have students make test corrections in my class. Click on the image below!


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