SBG - Year End Assessment Thoughts and Questions

This week we had our final exams, and I have all of my Physics 11 and 12 marks in. Overall the exam marks were extremely disappointing. The Physics 11 exam was 50 questions and my class average was 61%. For Physics 12, the multiple choice section was even worse with 51% average, while the written portion was much higher at around 85%.

It is difficult for me to understand exactly what happened with the exams. I think there are many factors that contribute the results:

  • the last couple of weeks the students completely lost steam and motivation, with many
  • school-based distractions and conflicts (lots of kids missing classes)
  • my classes hardly did any MC questions during the year
  • my teaching obviously did not leave the students properly prepared
  • many of the Grade 12 students were not concerned with the test at all, only needing a 70% average to complement university admittance which they already have

Some colleagues have suggested that my SBG system with re-tests may not have prepared the students for a 1.5 hr exam, as they may have become reliant on re-testing. I think there could be some truth to that, and the SBG scheme leaves some other questions open which I will address in another post. The vast majority of my physics 11 students didn’t do any re-tests. However, some of the students that did do re-tests did poorly on the exam, and I think this was the most disappointing thing for me overall.

Some students also compared me to other teachers (which I asked about), and gave some reasons why other classes may have better results. Some students think that if they are tested more often for more marks, they will work harder. For example, other classes (not just physics) have quizzes every day, pop quizzes, and longer tests with lots of multiple choice questions. In contrast, I had frequent small quizzes with 4 written questions per quiz. I did not have students hand in homework, nor did I perform homework checks. Well, I would always ask about the homework but I did not give or deduct marks for completing homework.

I suppose it’s predictable that students may not work as hard in my physics 11 class, as the overall grade is low-stakes and the students are not constantly pressured to produce work for a mark. However, I really dislike the idea of using behaviorism in order to achieve a educational outcome. Am I doing the students a disservice? Possibly.

There is one question that still remains though. I’m not convinced that my students actually know as little as the exam would indicate. I think there is some truth in that my students are simply not great at doing a long MC physics exam. My reaction to this idea was that next year I would prep a bit more for the exam by doing a bit more MC quizzing, and doing at least one “practice” exam at the end of the year. But then I got think…. Really? I’m going to spend time getting the kids ready for a MC exam because? When will they ever have to do/see a MC exam or test again? Other than high school sciences, probably never. Ultimately the MC format seems like a colossal waste of time, if time is specifically spent preparing for the format itself.

Maybe the above point is misleading though. Maybe it wasn’t a problem with MC exams. Afterall, many of my top students still performed at the top. Maybe it ultimately comes down to my students simply not knowing the material well enough, such that any type of summitive assessment would produce poor results. I will have to do some strong evaluation on how I assessed this year. It doesn’t sit well with me that my terms marks (from labs, assignments and quizzes/tests) are so much higher than the exam marks.