Tiered Assessment in Physics

So I want to try SBG (Standards Based Grading), but I got interested in it after I already handed out my syllabus for this year.  What can I do?  Well, I came across this cool idea from Steve Grossberg called Tiered Assessments.  As he explains, it’s not better than SBG, just different, but with a similar idea–you are trying to figure out how well each student understands a very specific set of skills.  Steve used Bloom’s taxonomy to create increasingly conceptually difficult questions.

So I took this idea and tried it on a single quiz for my motion unit.  I did not have Bloom’s taxonomy in front of me, and although I’m only 2 years out from education grad school, I don’t remember it that well, but I do remember “creating” being at the top and I think my quiz moves up the taxonomy as you move up in difficulty.  I also did not warn my Physics students that we would have a quiz, so perhaps it wasn’t the best time to ask them “so, did you like this type of assessment better?!?”, but I did like being able to see where each student sat on the spectrum–and it did really create a spectrum!

Here is the quiz on motion maps (not the most precise name, I know…) if you care to use it, whether as a template or copy it verbatim.  Unfortunately, I realized that each question is tackling slightly different skills as well, so although I like the idea, I would probably have to spend more than just 30 minutes on it to really have it match up as well as what Steve and his colleague put together, but it’s a start!

Please let me know what I can do to improve it, or if you have suggestions for future quizzes such as this (call them “Knowledge Demonstration Opportunities”… I know, I know), or if you’re upset with me for even comparing this to SBG at all, please let me know.  I think that this is a good intermediate step for those of us who may not have the tools to go all out on SBG, although I saw that Frank Noschese has a neat way to do this as well.

Edit: I wanted to let you know that I hadn’t yet taught my students how to solve the “A” type of problem, so while it may seem like a plug and chug–these students actually had to create their own way to solve.  And although a low percentage of them got it, nearly all of the students had good strategies and most of the students make very close guesses based on their models! (Oh, I’m trying out modeling for the first time this year in Physics… I’ll be sure to blog more on that later, too!)

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Tiered Assessment in Physics

  1. I am so glad that you found Tiered Assessment worth a try. While my colleague and I started out with Bloom’s taxonomy literally in front of us, we got to the point where we had either gotten familiar enough to not need it, or we figured out that we didn’t need to be absolutely tied to Bloom to create problems of appropriately increasing difficulty.

    I will say that we usually spent as much time writing the A questions as the other three put together. We tried to shoot for, “what would a student who *really* understood how proportions relate to similarity be able to do?” That sort of thing. I wouldn’t claim that we always succeeded, but that was the goal.

    I will say that at first glance your last problem didn’t strike me as an A problem. I assume the fact that the answer isn’t a whole number is what made it something they really had to work out, by algebra or diagram or what have you. (It disappoints me a little, as a math teacher, that making the math non-trivial can increase the difficulty of the problem so much.) Consider what level of problem this would be if the joggers started 10 m apart.

    Please don’t take this as harsh criticism. These questions (above and below) are just things to think about, the kinds of questions I ask myself when assessing my own assessments. (Ha ha!) I think your quiz is cool, and I’d be curious to know if the students want the next one to work like that as well. I would also be interested to know if the time it took to grade this quiz varied noticeably from what it would have been for a “normal” quiz.

    Also: Did you give a single letter grade for each quiz? Did you use B+, C-, etc.? How did you deal with students who got say, the D and B problem correct, not the C or A? Was there any partial-credit, or was every question all-or-nothing? (I mentioned on my blog that my grading system for these is pretty elaborate. I would certainly be interested in seeing what someone else came up with.)

    Thanks for the shout-out, Mr. Newman. It was a real thrill to see my name on someone else’s blog!

    • Thanks for your input! Yeah, looking at it again, I realized that it didn’t look like an “A” problem, which is why I made the edit to my blog, that we have not been using any equations in Physics aside from displacement = velocity * time. So far, we’ve just been looking at graphs and barely started making the graphs quantifiable, so A actually was difficult for them. Of course, I suppose it may have been psychological–I slap an “A” on there and they assume it’s going to be hard and psych themselves out. Fortunately I have only 12 students in that class (we’re a relatively small school), but only 2 of the students got the A problem correct.

      The grading was actually easier than I thought. Everyone, other than one student who has a significant language barrier, got the “easier” problems correct if they got a harder problem correct, so it worked out really well. If they got B completely right, but not A, then I gave them a 90; or C completely right but not B, then 80, etc. If they did most of a problem correct, but got part of it wrong, I gave them half-way between. So many students received a 95 because they had the right idea on A, and had a very close guess based on the graph, but did not get it exactly correct. I’d have to think about what I would do if a student got a higher one correct but not a lower problem. Hopefully I’ll be able to assess that it was a mistake and not a lack of deep conceptual understanding, and give them credit (SBG strikes me as having the attitude of “mistakes aren’t harmful unless they display a lack of understanding”). In the case of my one student, I’ll be able to talk to him and find out why he couldn’t get D (he didn’t even answer it!) but got C rather well. I think time was an issue, too.

      Thanks again, Steve!

  2. Pingback: Student Feedback: Haha | Hilbert's Hotel

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