Ever get tired of the same old, same old? Well, if your assessments are boring you, imagine what the students are feeling!

I discovered a great idea while at the Tri-Association Conference in Bogota, Colombia. I was at a breakout session on differentiation and we were asked to pair & share assessment ideas with the people at our table. Originally I was at a table of four, but two people left (did my deodorant malfunction?). This worked out as the last person with me at the table was chock full of great suggestions. One idea she shared with me she called Layered Assessment. This teacher would construct summative assessments that provided students with different options to choose from. Each option provided different levels of difficulty and each was, accordingly, weighted differently. In her model, for high school students, the students had to choose enough options to get to a certain grade value. So, they could do 5 activities from the option 1 list, or 2 activities from option 1 and then 3 from the option 2 list, or nothing from the lists of option 1 or 2 but 5 activities from option 3. I am certain that I am butchering this description, so let me summarize by saying that choosing from the easier option pool capped the student grade at 70%, while taking the more challenging activities made higher scores possible.

The teacher who told me about this explained that options were helpful to students in many ways. For students who were struggling, they had options that were less difficult for them to handle. And, the weighting differences encouraged struggling students to stretch here and there to increase their scores. Also, for students who were busy with assignments/assessments from other classes (such as near the end of the semester when lots of teachers schedule tests in the same week) could put their energy into assessments for classes where they needed the extra attention/grades.

I decided to try this out recently, with a unit test on the 13 Colonies. I chose the time to correspond with the end of the middle school quarter, when there were a number of other assessments taking place for other classes.

I created a test that offered students 3 options to choose from:

Option 1 = 25 fill-in-the-blank questions at 1 mark apiece for a total of 25 points

Option 2 = 10 short answer questions of various points, for a total of 25 points

Option 3 = 2 extend-answer questions that together totaled 25 points

Each option was weighted differently. Option 1 capped the value at 80%, Option 2 was capped at 90% and only Option 3 gave students 100% of the point value.

I struggled with the weighting, trying to decide whether the 80% and 90% weightings were too high. But, I felt that a 70% weighting was far too low and, if a student missed one or two questions, their score would be in the 60s, damaging their overall course average.

Note: be careful when construction such a test. Try to ensure the questions in one option do not provide details/hints that would be valuable in other options!

I was curious about what choices the students would make and later, when grading them, tracked the choices. Of the 85 students who wrote the test, 47 selected Option 3, 35 took on Option 2 and only 3 chose Option 1.

Some students surprised me with their choices. Some high-achieving students were among those who selected Option 1 and were okay with the outcome. And, I was delighted to note that some of my struggling students really stretched themselves and took on the more-difficult Option 3 – and knocked it out of the park.

Nevertheless, a few students managed to bomb the test. This was a disappointment as there were three levels of difficulty to choose from and I had given the students the ability to switch from one option to another mid-test, if they felt they needed to.

All in all, I was happy with the outcome. Students appreciated having the choice and I felt I had provided an assessment that was custom-tailored for the needs of my students.

Try it out and then let me know what ideas you employed and what you encountered.

Hi 5!