Team Tests

I administered my skills tests for the week today, but instead of making students complete the tests individually, they were encouraged to work within their team (of 3 or 4 students total).  Each student turned in a separate piece of paper.  I picked problem 1 from student A, problem 2 from student B, problem 3 from student C, and so forth, to determine the grade that all group members would receive.  Interesting.  Overall, I recommend you try it.

Pros

  1. A different format.  The kids were really in to it.  Afterwards, every kid I asked said something between “I liked it” and “It was way better.”
  2. Easy to administer and grade.
  3. I felt like I could put tougher problems on the test.  In fact, all of the problems I put on it were harder than usual, and the scores on this test were 10.6% higher than the scores on the rest of my tests.
  4. Students got practice communicating in a “high stakes” environment.
  5. It didn’t feel like I was spending the whole class on assessment.  There was also learning going on.  I heard things like, “this is the way I’ve started to think about this,” and “can we check this [answer]?”

Cons

  1. Tension was high, particularly in one group, when there were disagreements.  There was some snapping and flustered rustling of papers.
  2. Probably at least one student earned a grade higher than his understanding should indicate.

The pros are great, here.  Compared to the atmosphere during individual tests, today’s vibe was much more collegiate and… educational.  How can I mitigate the cons?  I could alternate individual and team tests.  I could talk with the students about strategies to work under pressure.  Would more time alleviate the tension?

Anyone else have experience with team tests?

18 thoughts on “Team Tests”

  1. I like your idea. I understand the cons though – I had a class in college that always had group quizzes. It seemed like I always got stuck with the person that didn’t study and I did all the work. Maybe put the group test scores in a different category (that’s not worth as much as skills tests) instead and still have the students take the skills tests individually?

    1. Students learn in groups every day in my class. Since they took the tests in the same groups they studied with, I think that problem was not a big one. It seems like an important one to look out for, though, and I’ll have to remember to watch for it during class. I wonder what repercussions I would face if I said, “Steven, you don’t really seem like you’re contributing much to this group, so I don’t think I can give you the same grade that they’re earning.”

  2. To Mrs. A’s point, maybe there could also be an “evaluation sheet” like the stuff that goes with group projects often (what did you contribute, 1-5: how well did your group get along, etc.).

    You might also allow for difference of opinion? It might be a bit of a compromise, but include some part of the instructions that says something like, “If no mutual understanding can be reached among group members, put a STAR next to the part you disagree on and this will be graded individually.” Each person can have 1 star per test? I don’t know…just brainstorming here.

    1. Oh, interesting. This might make a good class discussion about assessment! Since I would be OK with the stars or without them, it makes a perfect topic to give the students ownership over.

  3. I let them do “partner quizzes” once in a while. I’d like to claim high-minded forethought here, but it happens when I am too lazy to make different versions of a quiz or separate the desks.

    I grade all their papers individually either way. It’s still a little easier grading because they tend to hand in their paper at the same time as their partner, so if I glance at a solution and see it’s identical to the previous one, I can just give it the same score.

    1. My thought with the random selection was that it would require those students who could probably do the tests themselves to check the work of their partners, hopefully increasing their own understanding in the process. This time, there was only a single test out of the entire class that was different from the other tests in the group, so maybe it’s an unnecessary bit of complication.

    1. This is a really interesting question. For this test the students were not selected randomly at all, but grouped into skill levels. I literally sorted the students by their test average and put the top 3 together, the next 3 together, etc. My idea is that kids of similar skill level will be best able to interact with each other in a way that is useful to each team member.

      When I’ve sorted kids randomly, I’ve run into a couple of problems:
      1) The students with advanced skills are held back by the students without them
      2) The students without advanced skills feel like they’re holding back the students more advanced!

      I’ve worked to make my classroom a place where there’s not much shame in having less skill and not too much pride in having more skill, so the separation has been easy (I think).

      Anyway, short answer: I would not let students choose their own groups in my class. It may make sense in another class!

  4. I’ve done partners where students choose their own partner, mostly to build confidence at the beginning of the year or when we have a difficult topic. I would do a two-part test: students work with partners to complete more high-level application/critical thinking problems, and then separate their desks to do more rote skills-mastery stuff (of course, there were challenging problems and higher-level stuff here as well). This way, I get to assess at a higher level but I also get individual mastery on the required skills. And, students are generally in a pretty good mood by the time they start the individual portion, so there’s less test anxiety and blank faces.

    I let them choose their partners, but I understand that this wouldn’t always be ideal for many reasons. In my classes it worked because 1) students often chose partners of similar ability levels, 2) the top students quickly chose other top students before they could get chosen by someone they felt would hold them back, and 3) struggling students felt more comfortable expressing confusing to their friends. There were often “oh, I get it!” moments which I wished had happened earlier in the unit.

    There was a lot of selling involved– before we would do this, and also in a cover page full of reminders, we would talk about things like:
    *speaking quietly so only you and your partner benefit from your studying and hard work; plus, you don’t want to hear someone else’s wrong ansewr
    *contributing equally to the work, and holding your partner accountable (you don’t want to get walked on, so make sure you ask your partner questions if you feel like they aren’t pulling their share)
    *managing your time wisely, which could mean splitting the problems then checking each other’s work or doing them together

      1. Hmm, it’s never been a problem for me although I could see it happening in some classrooms. I taught at a small school so all the students knew each other and even if they didn’t all like each other, had been drilled on the value of teamwork and being “nice or neutral” when interacting with their peers. Sometimes I would make working with a partner optional, so that students who liked the social aspect and the comfort could benefit but those who preferred to work by themselves were able to focus, and that helped too.

    1. The random paper selection was meant as a guard against one person doing all the work. My students have practice working in teams and know that that behavior is unacceptable – I’ve developed a vocabulary for addressing it with them and they seem to try their best to include everyone.

      My questions were just a little more complex – instead of graphing the inverse of y=3x, I had them graph the inverse of y=sin(x)+2. Instead of finding the domain and range of y=x^2, I had them find the domain and range of y=-2(x-3)^2+3, so they had to work together to verify their thoughts about transforming a graph. I work hard to isolate skills on tests, but on this team test I felt I could combine skills a little more.

  5. I’m thinking that the key to a good group test is that it really needs to be more complex than something that you’d give them individually. The tough thing is that it is really difficult to determine how much of the process actually belongs to each individual student. A lot of times groups will have either a dominant personality or someone who just flat out knows more than the others.

    1. Yes. I would say that a prerequisite to useful team testing is trusting your students not to write things down that they don’t understand.

      Whew, I just wrote that sentence, and now it seems ridiculous. Am I really expecting a student whose grade is on the line to say, “no, wait, I don’t understand this” in a time-sensitive, grade-sensitive situation? And yet, I do trust my students to teach when they know something that a classmate doesn’t understand.

      What about these new prerequisites: team tests are more useful when:

      1) The teams have been working together before the test. As a teacher I already have some idea of the level at which different teams are working, and who is struggling, and who is too quick to steamroll a conversation with absolute knowledge.

      2) The students have been practicing working in teams and have received feedback from me and from each other about their teamwork skills.

      3) Every student holds as important the learning of other students.

      #3 here is a much better version of the first sentence of this comment. These prerequisites are met in my class and I think they are why I felt good about this team test!

    1. That’s always an important question to ask.

      Informal assessment is something I do constantly: is this student talking like they understand? Asking questions like they understand? Drawing and writing like they understand? All of these questions gather evidence for me to use in deciding if a student, well, understands.

      The formal assessment is still useful, as:

      1) more evidence, of a different type, for my eventual conclusion,
      2) a specific event that a student can prepare for,
      3) something concrete to which it will be easy to refer when giving feedback.

  6. Just found this again skimming over old posts … have you heard of mixed individual / group structures for tests? There’s one someone else blogged about recently, I forget the name of the structure but it’s basically a sequence:
    – individual work, handed in
    – group work on same problems, handed in (one copy for whole group)
    – whole class brings their work together to come up with one agreed-on set of answers

    I haven’t tried this (haven’t built up that group-work culture in a class yet) but it sounds worth a go.

    Another version mentioned by a prof I had, and which I also haven’t tried yet, was to throw a very challenging problem at students and let them work on it as per usual (in groups, probably with groups sharing ideas). Then when each student is ready, they step out of the room to a side room or some-such and write down the solution to the problem in their own words. The room logistics of this (having a secondary space that’s private) is slightly tricky but otherwise this seems to reinforce all the good stuff of group work while requiring each individual to demonstrate their own personal understanding. (I think this could work but you’d have to specifically ask them to write something down that demonstrated deeper understanding to avoid kids simply memorizing a final answer.)

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