Improving Tests & Eenzaamheid

Last night I went to my first-ever in-Dutch lecture (spannend!), by top Dutch history teacher Jelmer Evers. One of things he talked about was how eenzaam (literally translated “onesome” or solitary) teaching can be. It felt great to make some connections here in the Netherlands, maybe find a bit of a community.

I’m grateful to the MTBoS for giving me an online community, but I also realize that we each only share a small snippet of what we do. And what we rarely share (for probably good reason) are our tests. But this has got to be one of the most difficult (and considering the weight placed on assessment, most important) things we do, actually, and it would probably be better if we weren’t so alone in that endeavor.

I really had no idea what the heck I was doing when I started making tests–I’m embarrassed now to think of how rag-tag and unprofessional they looked, all cut and pasted and mismatched. And as a new teacher (or a veteran) I don’t recall anyone ever sitting with me and saying, “this is how you make a good test,” or asking me why I choose a particular question (or the particular numbers in the question), or suggesting a different question (or way to ask something) instead.

These days I’m trying to look at my own tests critically — looking for the things I can turn into an open-ended or an open-middle question, for example. And I’m constantly bookmarking problems on Twitter or in other people’s blogs as “GREAT QUESTION ON ___.” I’m also trying to find questions that expose misconceptions, but I don’t know how good I am at that yet.

But the point is, although I’m trying it, I’m doing it mostly alone, with the occasional assist from my wonderful coworker (who never blogs, for shame). And sometimes another coworker will hand me their test, like FYI, this is what I’m giving to the class, but I rarely say, “Hey, I’m not sure about this question,” or “Have you thought about asking this instead?” or even “Do you want to work on developing test questions together?” It’s sort of difficult to initiate that conversation.

But I think maybe I’ll propose it to the department, because teaching–and testing–should be less eenzaam, I think. Do any of you do test study and have any tips?


About katenerdypoo

Middle Years and Upper Grades math teacher in the Netherlands teaching both within the Dutch national curriculum and the IB MYP and DP.
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7 Responses to Improving Tests & Eenzaamheid

  1. We take turns setting tests and all give feedback. It can be a very collaborative process where the end product is much better than the initial version. Ideally, all the teachers involved would get together and go over what they like, don’t like (and why) and brainstorm what changes could be made to improve the test. This requires the initial test to be ready well in advance of when the students will write it (I would say a week), coordination between teachers and a willingness to compromise and not take comments personally for the sake of the end product.

    • katenerdypoo says:

      hey Mary, it works like that in our Dutch department, in principle, too. but i notice that most of my colleagues’ tests are just rearrangements of the pre-packaged tests that come with our textbooks. the books give two long tests per chapter, and then most colleagues just choose questions from those tests to make a test.

      i guess that is not a bad method since clearly the makers of the textbook thought about the test questions critically (??) and perhaps i’m too wheel-reinventy. but that does mean that there is little to no real analyzing going on within the department. in our international department, there is typically only one class (sometimes two) at each level, so then you are making a test completely on your own, so almost no analysis.

      have you ever after a test sat together to look at everything and decide what worked and what didn’t and what could be better?

  2. howardat58 says:

    I would be happy to comment on a test or two.
    Clearly by non blog methods
    It’s a site I did of my grandfather’s art work. The page has relevant info

    • katenerdypoo says:

      thanks for the offer howard! i’m really interested in first trying to get this going at my school and seeing how that can play out. but maybe it’s nice to now and again post a question and ask for feedback from the wider group! 🙂

  3. Cleargrace says:

    I think you are thinking in the right direction. The way tge questions are posed and the resulting “thing” you are testing are very important. I struggle with creating good questions (and some of the standardized test questions are horrible and horribly convoluted- but we need to let our children know they are out there!) what level do you teach?

    • katenerdypoo says:

      thanks grace. i agree that there are horrible questions out there (also in textbooks sometimes!) but that you do have to expose the kids to what they will ultimately see. i hate that, but it’s also the reality.

      i teach the dutch equivalent of 7th and 8th grade, as well as the international baccalaureate myp 4 & 5 (equivalent of US grades 9 & 10) and dp math studies 1 & 2 (equivalent of US grades 11 & 12). this is a VERY hard year for me as I have one of each class, so i’m spread all over the school. that makes it also harder to *care* about quality tests!

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