Module 5 discussed written response assessments in the form of short answer and extended response items. Short answer questions work best for concepts that are straight forward and do not allow for a broad range of answers. Extended response questions are to be used to assess learning targets that are more complex and require greater depth in a student’s response (Chappuis, 2012, p. 175).
Chappuis (2012, p. 171) suggests that written response may not work well for primary, ELL, and children with special needs due to the fact that it requires the student to write and understand English. I had used short answer items with my kindergarten students in the past and had some success with my higher level students. I would offer students the opportunity to write their responses when the assessment called for an explanation of their thinking. This is often the case with the formative assessments from our adopted math curriculum that are delivered at the end of every lesson. Students who are advanced writers are able to explain their reasoning in written form and may not need one on one conferencing. Students who are not yet adept at writing will dictate their thinking while I record it on their paper. Students can score between a one and a four, with a four being indicative of deep understanding of the learning target.
I have included five samples of a written response formative assessment below with my comments as well as the Formative Assessment Rubric for scoring provided by the publisher of the curriculum. The rubric designates points that correspond to 3 categories: 0-3 Intervention; 4 On-Level; 5 Advanced. Our team assigns a score of 1 to 4 as follows: 0-1 points= 1; 2 points=2; 3 points=2.5; 4 points= 3; 5 points=4. This scoring format correlates with our district grading system.
The learning target for the assessment that is featured in this blog was for kindergarteners to extend a growing pattern. This can be categorized as a knowledge target. The assessment presented a growing pattern and had students fill in the bubble next to a set of objects that would come next. They were then presented another pattern and asked to draw the shapes in the next 2 rows to extend the growing pattern. Lastly, students were to “explain their thinking” (as worded in the text) verbally to the teacher. I added lines to the assessment and asked students to try to write a sentence to explain how they know how many shapes come next. If student answers were illegible, they dictated to me as I wrote it.
Student Sample 1 is completed by a student with high level writing skills; however her writing here has many erasure marks. I was able to read her response without dictation as “It’s because there are six apples in the growing pattern.” She articulated what she put as her answer but didn’t really indicate her reasoning.
Student Sample 2 is completed by a student who did not have the writing skills to provide a written answer but she dictated to me “I counted this row. I knowd (knew) how much it would be down below. Five.” I believe that this phrasing conveys her reasoning adequately.
Student Sample 3 also required dictation. He stated “I knew five apples came next. 2, 3, 4, 5. And I also knew after 5, comes 6.” This also indicated adequate reasoning for his answer.
Student Sample 4 was written independently and states “I cowted (counted) the apples.” This student was able to come to the correct answer but was not quite able to articulate his reasoning.
Chappuis et al. (2012, p. 175) states that short answer items are best for demonstrating understanding of concepts that are fairly narrow. After conducting this assessment with my young learners, I realize that having kindergarteners “explain their thinking” when extending a growing pattern allows for a pretty broad range of acceptable answers. Since extended response items are clearly inappropriate for primary grades, I am inclined to agree with Chappuis that written response methods of assessment do not work well in the primary grades.
This exercise also made clear to me that students who are not comfortable with writing may not present all of their thinking in written form as well as if they are conferencing about it with the teacher. This is true even for kindergarten students who are advanced writers. So much of their effort goes into the writing that it keeps them from focusing on conveying their reasoning.
I am an advocate for offering all students a variety of ways to show their learning. I will continue to offer writing as a response option on some assessments to my kindergarteners but I will also follow up on their writing with conferencing in order to understand the full range of their abilities. Similar to written response, personal communication such as conferencing provides a strong match to knowledge and reasoning targets (Chappuis et al., 2012, p. 94).
Chappuis, J., Stiggins, R., Chappuis, S., & Arter, J. (2012). Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right, using it well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.