Exams are coming up in just a little over a week.  Before the break, I gave a quiz in CS I over what we’d covered so far, and the range of grades was what you might expect.  A few failed, a few did super well, and a lot were in the middle.  Many of my students are super worried about the exam, based on how they did on the quiz.  What they may or may not know is that whatever they missed on the quiz, they probably understand now.  I went over the quiz in detail, round robin style, having each student  try to answer the question.  We also talked about strategies for eliminating questions and I gave them hints like loops usually reset variables, so if you see a loop without that, it’s probably wrong.

On the one hand, I’m not a fan of tests.  On the other, it is a good way to solidify your recall of certain concepts.  I’m not going to lie.  My test is hard.  It’s on par with the AP Test just in a different language.  I’d say I cover 1/2 to 2/3 of the concepts covered on the AP test and my questions are quite similar.  So a little worry is in order.  However, the bulk of my students’ grades come from the work they do in class: labs and projects.  What I find is that students who are doing well on those, which is most of them, aren’t affected by the exam, even if they do poorly.  Students who struggle on those tend to struggle on the exam and therefore do poorly on the exam.  Which makes sense.  You have to understand the concepts to complete the projects.

I do, however, want to change some of my assessment strategies.  I’ve been reading Specifications Grading, and while it’s geared toward Higher Education, there are some ideas in there that are worth considering and modifying.  My department works on a project-based level, but we do want to make sure we can clearly articulate the skills our students are acquiring, some of which are soft skills like figuring out problems independently and coming up with creative ideas.

I’m going to try a version of this in my Mobile Computing class that starts in a few weeks.  I’ll report here on the process and progress.  I’d love to hear other ideas for assessing longer-term projects and skill mastery.