One of the biggest questions I had to tackle as a new teacher was “My students failed this test. What am I going to do about it?” Instead of binging on junk food (or in addition to), I learned to look at it reflectively and use these situations to grow myself as a teacher and to grow my students as learners and test-takers.
Read on to learn some constructive next steps that you can take when your students fail a test.
Analyze the Assessment
First, I always analyze the assessment itself. I keep these areas in mind as I analyze the test:
1. Format: Was the format of the test itself tricky? Do my students have practice in this type of assessment format? For example, I have never had a group of students who were able to master the long list of choices they had to match to the long list of questions. All those choices just throw the majority of my students off. So, I would need to teach them how to take tests in that format or no longer use that format for formal assessments.
2. Tricky Vocabulary: Did the assessment use vocabulary that I had not exposed my students to and they had no context to help them define it? This is not really something that you can avoid as many state assessments contain unknown vocabulary. However, being aware that the vocabulary is hindering the students can help guide your future instruction.
3. Background Knowledge: Was there any background knowledge that the students needed (and didn’t have) in order to show mastery on the assessment?
4. Aligned with Instruction: Did I effectively align my assessment to my instruction or vice versa? In the past, I have been guilty of searching for a test a couple of days before having to give it. This was never a good practice because I couldn’t guarantee that the assessment adequately matched and assessed the instruction that I gave. This is not suggesting that you “teach to a test” in any way. However, the test you give should be well-aligned with both the standards and your instruction.
Analyze the Data
One of the most important steps for me when my students fail a test is to analyze the data itself. If the test is a lengthy test (unit or benchmark test), I may even use a spreadsheet to help me. Here is what I look for when I analyze the results:
1. Which questions were missed the most? Then I can look at those questions specifically and determine were the problems stemmed from. This goes back to analyzing the assessment. Maybe the question was tricky, maybe the skill is still “soft” for the students, or maybe I just did a terrible job teaching that skill.
2. Which content was missed the most? This is particularly useful for large unit tests. By analyzing your data, you can zone in on which particular areas were a struggle for the students. This will keep you from thinking you have to reteach the entire unit. This will also guide your instruction in future years. This may let you know that you need to spend additional time or present some of the content differently when you teach it again the next year.
3. Which students struggled the most? Do those students have anything in common (ESS cluster, ESOL cluster, low reading level, etc)?
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Next Steps for this Skill or Topic
Once I have done all the analysis I can, I now need to take action.
Here are some things I do after my students have failed a test:
1. Reteach the content whole group or small group (in a new way). I teach skills missed by over half the class to the whole group. Skills that were missed by clusters of 6-8 students are retaught to only those students.
2. Spiral the content through homework, daily review, and centers/stations. These are skills that the students missed because of vocabulary or background knowledge. I still want to review them to ensure mastery but I don’t need to get behind on my pacing for these skills.
3. Review the assessment questions as a class in an engaging format. Sometimes I take a day to review the assessment questions if I felt like the format of the test was tricky or that the students didn’t perform well because of test taking strategies. As we review, I teach good test taking strategies while we review the content.
4. Discuss the assessment with the students and get their feedback. This is good for a few reasons:
- It allows the students a chance to reflect on their understanding and performance.
- It give the students a voice and that helps them take ownership of how they do on assessments.
- I get really valuable information about the assessment from these discussions.
In the Future
Now, here are some ideas for things you can to keep this situation from happening (or at least lessen the frequency):
1. Teach mini-lessons as needed for test taking strategies (vocabulary, format, background knowledge,etc).
2. Create your assessments before the instruction so you know they are perfectly aligned.
3. Embed tricky vocabulary from the assessment into your daily instruction.
4. Regularly give quick assessments in a similar or same format – (but not the exact same questions).
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There you have it! Those are all the tips I have for when my students bomb a test and how I proactively work to keep this from happening. What are some tips that you have for when the majority of your students fail an assessment? Let me know in the comments!