Types of assessments test student skills


Katie Whaley

Civic studies teachers Michael McGinty and Debra Perry’s classroom buzzed with chattering freshmen. The teachers were outside the room in the hall, and the students took their absence as an opportunity for conversation.
Though one might assume the topics of these discussions would be anything but academic as there was no adult supervision, most of the teens’ words dove deep into American history in preparation for their final exam.
Their test was unlike anything the students had done all semester: an oral assessment. Until then, her teachers only asked the freshmen to write argumentative essays. Now, for their final, they would do an exit interview, or a verbal essay one-on-one with a teacher.
One freshman anxiously awaiting her turn was Anushka Jalisatgi. In the class, she sat with her friend practicing her assessment, speaking quickly but carefully, making sure each word was precise. Reciting her speech comforted her, and the extra practice and critical feedback from her friend calmed Jalisatgi’s fluttering nerves.
“I practiced a lot because I’m not very good at giving speeches with bullet points. I have to have everything word for word memorized. So I practiced many times with a friend until I had it mostly memorized,” Jalisatgi said. “To some extent [the tests] make me nervous because they’re such a large portion of our grade. But our teachers prepare us enough, in my opinion, and the topics just flow well together and go along with current issues [so] that it becomes interesting to learn about.”
Down the hall, Civic Studies teacher Lacey Hahn was assessing a student’s exit interview. Her pen hovered over the communication strand of the grading rubric, mentally debating whether the student’s speaking abilities deserved a three or four. She took into account the student’s nervousness and how that may have affected his speaking ability, as many other students share this trouble.
Hahn said she understands students sometimes feel anxious toward oral assessments. She said the interviews introduce important skills the students will need later in life and that they should use this time to begin mastering public speaking.
“I think that as professionals, if a student is uncomfortable, we as teachers can usually still assess a student’s content knowledge. The ‘communication’ portion of the rubric that might be disrupted by that discomfort is only part of the grade,” Hahn said. “The interviews are valuable practice for students’ futures, and I think that being uncomfortable is often a sign of growth.”

From bud to full-bloomed, the growth of proficiency

A shining example of a student who has improved through adversity is sophomore Anusha Mishra. In the beginning of her freshman year, Mishra felt overwhelmed with the amount of assessments in her Civics class, written and oral alike. She says she didn’t have the skills she needed to write good papers or make good arguments going into the class, but through practicing and improving upon skills, she blossomed into the four student she is today.
“[On essayes] I can be really specific and take a long time, and I don’t have to worry about time limits, but the teachers can judge more critically. What I like [about oral assessments] is that it’s easier to be persuasive because of tone, you can talk pretty informally and you don’t have to have everything spot-on or an amazing thesis as long as you prove your argument well. When you talk, it is more about the persuading part rather than the essay. Teachers usually grade easier,” Mishra said. “What I don’t like is I sometimes get nervous and it messes up my argument. It hasn’t ever affected my grade but I would have rather said [my argument] in a different way. Some things are just better written. In Civics, I preferred writing. It just worked better for me.”
Speaking in front of people is a huge component of teachers’ lives, as they speak to classrooms of students every day, and this is especially so for drama director and public speaking teacher Holly Kerns. Her life revolves around talking in front of others and teaching students how to do the same. Though she’s mastered the art of maintaining a cool composure in front of a crowd, she acknowledges the uncomfortableness students may feel when talking in the spotlight.
“Not working on public speaking can make it more difficult when it really matters, either to speak out about an issue we care about, to advocate for someone we love or to achieve a professional goal,” Kerns said. “Regardless of the occasion, we all have a voice. How we use that voice can be shaped through practice. Just like an athlete gets better through practice, so, too, do our speaking skills.”
To make sure students can develop their skills in both writing and speaking, teachers who all teach the same English class meet and decide the format of assessments, following the district standards closely, U.S. Studies teacher Deborah Tucker explained. She said the meetings are important, as they decide what they require the students to know and perform on.
“Balance between the two [types of assessments] is important. As teachers, we’re trying to evaluate what students have learned and how they think about what they’ve learned. That makes it extremely important for students to be comfortable. People rarely do their best when the stakes are incredibly high and they can’t use their preferred method to convey their knowledge,” Tucker said. “That being said, it’s important to prepare students for the realities of both post-high school education and the work world. Both writing and speaking are important skills for communication.”

[quote]”These skills are more than the grades they get you, they’re a necessity to life,” Mishra said.[/quote]

Being skillful in both methods is key to a successful academic career and an asset to performing well in life beyond high school, Mishra said. This life Mishra alludes to, is getting a great job and having a prosperous career. According to research conducted by the University of Salford Manchester, people’s employability rates increase if they possess higher level or more developed writing and communicating skills.
“You’re not going to get to choose what you’ll have to do [for your job] most likely. Most people will work for someone, so you need to be able to do lots of different things. For example, if you’re a lawyer and you are just comfortable with written essays or arguments, you’re not gonna be that great in a courtroom setting. You don’t get your pick in life, so you have to be ready for everything or at least as much as possible,” Mishra said. “[For those uncomfortable with speaking], talk with your teacher and other people. If you have trouble writing theses or evaluating, look at examples on the internet. Ask what would make your paper better. You just have to keep working at it; there isn’t a shortcut.”
Before she knows it, someone’s tapping on Jalisatgi’s shoulder, saying it’s her turn. With a last bit of reassurance from her friend, Jalisatgi makes her way to the hallway, ready to show her teachers what she knows.
“I don’t really see it as a final but rather a big test. So I think it was fair because in the end it is just an assessment of what you’ve learned,” Jalisatgi said. “Everyone is going to have to give a speech at some point in their life. Learning the skills to do so early is beneficial [now] and for life as well because being able share something eloquently is important.”
Do you believe students should be assessed with written and oral exams? Are learning those skills important?