Creating Quizzes

Standards-Based Grading

Video Transcript:

Now that we’ve created a concept checklist, we can start to create assessments for each concept on our list. I like to call the assessments quizzes because it tends to be a less threatening term than “test” or “assessment”.

In addition, the goal is to make the quizzes short, yet highly informative of the level of understanding students have.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sit tight, and join me in exploring what makes a good concept quiz.

Creating concept quizzes before a unit begins is ideal because it allows us to know where we are going before we start teaching. But what makes a good quiz? And how can we know how well students understand a concept?

Let’s start by taking a look at the rating scale I stole from Niles New Tech in Michigan.

It’s important for students and teachers both to know that we’re not just scoring a quiz, but we’re actually seeking categories of learning. I don’t want anyone to think students are just a C level or an A level student. Instead, it’s helpful to look at grades with meanings attached.

For example, as you can see here, if a student scores a 6 on a quiz, yes, this technically means they’re failing. However, I prefer to rephrase it as they’re not there yet. Similarly, we could look at a score of 7 as barely passing, or we could look at it as a student with emerging understanding. Recategorizing grades is helpful for creating positive mindsets in our students.

Now, with creating a concept quiz in mind, starting with the rating scale is important because these are the levels of understanding we’re trying to uncover when we give a quiz. More than just a grade, we’re trying to see if a student is emerging, proficient, or advanced in their understanding.

I’ve found that in order to rate a student’s understanding with these levels, then the questions on a quiz have to progress through these levels as well. For example, a mistake I made in the past was that my questions tended to be too easy, and this made it difficult to truly know if a student was hitting the advanced or mastery level.

Easy questions could realistically only allow me to know if a student reached up to the proficient level, and no higher.

Therefore, in order to improve this, I ended up using the following question distribution for each quiz.

Every quiz has 3 Proficient level questions, 2 Advanced level questions, and 1 Mastery level question. This is a total of 6 questions, so it’s a small snapshot of their learning, but the progressive difficulty of the questions is also very informative of student understanding.

This is the number that I landed on after many years, and I think it’s a sweet spot for both having enough body of work to accurately capture understanding while not having too many questions to overwhelm students or make retakes difficult.

With retakes in particular, if there are too many questions, students may avoid retakes simply because they don’t want to work on a lengthy assessment, not because they’re incapable of showing growth. In addition, short quizzes make quiz analysis much easier because we don’t have to look through lengthy assessments. Instead, we can see where we need to improve in an efficient manner.

So, that’s the overall structure of every quiz. Now, let’s dive into each question level. Let’s start with proficient level questions.

Here’s the proficient category again. It represents an 8 on the grading scale, the equivalent of an 80 in the grade book, and our rationale is that the learner has demonstrated understanding of the specific knowledge and skills.

Basically, proficient level questions are skill level questions. Can the student do the questions we’ve been working on frequently in class? There really aren’t any surprises with these questions. They’re straight forward, and they let the teacher know that the student has picked up the skill during the unit.

Here’s an example from a quiz about slope to illustrate. As you can see, it’s just a straightforward question. What is the slope represented in this table? We’ve worked on this in class a lot, and it lets me know whether the student has picked up the skill of calculating slope. If they do well on 3 questions in this category, I’m confident as a teacher that they’re proficient in their learning.

Now let’s move on to an advanced, 90 level question. Again, here’s the category in our rating scale. It represents a 9 which is the equivalent of a 90 in the grade book, and our rationale is that the learner has demonstrated outstanding scholarship and fluent understanding of the specific knowledge and skills.

You may notice that we’ve ramped up our rationale a bit. We’re no longer simply looking to see if students have picked up the skill we’ve taught. We now want to know if they can take the skill a step further and be fluent with it. Can they apply their learning, basically.

Here’s an example from the same slope quiz. Notice how it’s not straightforward anymore. It’s noticeably more difficult because a fraction is involved and it’s a negative number as well. In addition, the structure is different from what we’ve seen in the skill level questions. It’s no longer just teed up ready for the student to knock it out of the park. They need to do some serious thinking to work through this problem.

Therefore, if a student does well on 2 problems at this level of difficulty, a teacher can be confident that they’ve entered the advanced level of their learning.

Finally, let’s take a look at a mastery level question. The category on the rating scale says this level represents a 10, or a 100 in the gradebook. Our rationale is that the learner has demonstrated the highest level of conceptual and procedural understanding of the specific knowledge and skills.

Basically, we want a question that is challenging enough to where if a student does well on it, we’re comfortable that the student has mastered the concept and can be stamped with a 100 for this concept. We have strong evidence for everyone to see that this student has a great understanding of the topic.

Here’s the example from the slope quiz. As you can see, it’s an Open Middle style question, more on that website in a minute, and it provides a great opportunity for students to apply their learning. If a student successfully reasons through this question, then they most likely know the ins and outs of this concept.

Let’s see the entire slope quiz so you can view a potential structure for the quizzes you create. Notice that I actually like to label the sections as 80 level, 90 level, and 100 level. In addition, since there are only 6 questions, we can easily fit all the questions on one paper printed front and back. No stapling needed!

It’s a nice flow that students and teachers get used to quickly, and it also makes grading much faster.

Finally, you may be wondering, where do we find all of these questions? From my experience, proficient 80 level questions are pretty easy to come up with because we do them in class all the time. You can even take problems you’ve done in class and just change the numbers. Again, 80 levels are supposed to be straightforward.

However, 90 and 100 level questions are definitely more challenging to come up with. With that in mind, these are my go-to places to search for them.

First, I like to look for questions at the end of chapters in textbooks. In many books, they actually tell you which questions are advanced, so you can pull from those to find 90 and 100 level questions.

In addition, I like to look online at the following sources. as mentioned earlier is a great site with lots of challenging, free to use questions.

Also, I like to go through released state exams and released PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP exams. If students can tackle questions from those sources, they’ll be in good shape moving forward.

Finally, New Visions has a quiz banker that is convenient to use.

You can find all of these sources with their links in the assignment 2 section of our workshop page.

It took many years of trial and error, but that’s the structure I finally landed on for each of the concept quizzes in my class. It’s not a long assessment, but it still provides strong evidence of student understanding at multiple levels.

In addition, the structure helps make grading faster, and that’s what our next video is about.

Now that we have these quizzes, how do we grade them? We’ll find out in part 5.

14 thoughts on “Creating Quizzes

  1. Hi, thanks for sharing. I’m just choosing the best SB model for my classroom, and this sounds interesting. I have a question: when a student takes a quiz, does he/she choose which level problem to work on or has to solve all levels up to whatever they can?

    1. Hey Yelena,

      Thanks for the question! I have the students attempt both the proficient and advanced level questions in order to try to get the most holistic view of their understanding that I can. The only questions they are not required to attempt are the mastery level questions. Those are on a separate paper titled “Optional Challenge”.

      Let me know if you have other questions at any time!

      1. Thanks you, it makes sense. Here is my next question: based on what I read, you give a grade for every concept (you’ve mentioned midpoint formula, distance formula etc.). So each concept is its own category in your grading book? I like this accountability, but it seems like a lot of entries. How do you organize and keep track of them?

      2. Dane,
        I guess I have to re-write my question (there is no edit option!). I re-read your FAQ and noticed that you listed only four major grades per 9 weeks, which is not a lot. The reason for my question is that I teach Algebra 2, and with such degree of “granularity” I’d have a major grade every 2-3 days. I work on my system of outcomes now, and trying to balance between too many little outcomes that are impossible to re-take and keep track of. and too big chunks of concepts that are hard to grade.
        I just realized my topic is not about creating quizzes, sorry.
        Thank you again!

      3. These are great questions, Yelena. I prefer to have each concept be it’s own category in the gradebook because it allows the kids to quickly know what they need to work on. Also, it’s more specific to know they need to work on reflections instead of seeing that they need to work on transformations in general.

        However, like you mentioned, it can be a lot of entries. First, I’d say go through your list of concepts in Algebra 2, and try to narrow down the ones that are most important. One way I’ve done that in Algebra 1 and Geometry is to look at my state standards and mainly assess over the “major” concepts listed in the standards. For example, my state has what they call “readiness” standards and others that they call “supporting” standards. The readiness standards are what they feel are the most important for the course. In addition, these standards have a higher percentage of test questions on the state exam. Therefore, most of my concepts on the concept checklists are readiness standards.

        Overall, I try to narrow down the list of concepts to 22-25 for the year. This requires some slashing for sure, but it helps prevent the kids from being tested too often and also helps with the number of gradebook entries. However, cutting concepts off the list doesn’t mean that we can’t teach those concepts. It just means that we won’t formally assess and quiz those concepts. I teach a lot of things that aren’t on my concept lists and aren’t quizzed. I just want the most crucial standards to be the ones assessed. That way, when kids inevitably feel pressure to do well, it’s not over concepts that aren’t as important to their overall understanding of the course we’re teaching.

        Let me know if that helps! Thanks again for the questions!

      4. Yes, thank you, it really IS helpful. Actually, you answered what I wanted to hear. I have 29 standards so far, and i’ll go over their importance levels to try to reduce a little. But it is not too far from your 20-25, so I feel better now.

  2. I was reading about how you grade quizzes and assessments and it sounds like you expect students to show work and justify their answer based on the questions not being multiple-choice. I have no problem with that, however our school is a 1:1 school with Chromebooks and we use a LMS for tests and quizzes in order to look at the data for any RTI. If the questions are not multiple choice then we can’t use our LMS for assessment, so we are back to the traditional way of completing work. I am just trying to determine how to get SBG and the assessments to work in our math class with our Chromebooks after so much money was invested in this technology. Your website is very informative and I look forward to reading and learning more about SBG.

    1. Thanks for the question! I haven’t tried SBG in a multiple-choice, LMS environment before, but I think it’s worth trying to make it work. One thing that I’ve been learning recently is that multiple-choice isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here are a few quotes from Dylan Wiliam, someone who has great ideas around assessment.

      Quote 1, Quote 2, Quote 3, Quote 4.

      I specifically like how he talked about low-order vs. high-order questions. In the “Creating Quizzes” post above, I shared my thought process behind the types of questions I use on quizzes. So, I’m not sure how your LMS system works, but is it possible to edit the actual questions and the amount of questions on each quiz/test? Maybe a solution could be to put 2-3 “proficient” level questions, 2-3 “advanced” level questions, and 1-2 “mastery” level questions on an exam. When the results come through, maybe they can be organized based on those categories. Maybe questions 1-3 on the test are proficient level, and you give a student a rating based on their performance on those (maximum of 8 in the SBG system I use). Then, analyze the 2-3 advanced questions and give an SBG rating up to 9 on those, and so on. Whatever the highest rating they achieve at the end of your entire analysis can be their final grade.

      It’s ideal to include student thought process in the ratings, but maybe that’s a way to get around it. Is there any way to have an open response type question in the system y’all use?

      Hopefully that helps a little bit! I’m happy to continue the conversation. Thanks again for reaching out!

  3. Hello,

    First, thank you for taking the time to compile these pages! I sincerely appreciate the information.

    A few questions (please feel free to send me links to specific pages if these questions have already been answered and I missed it):

    1. If students are required to answer the Proficient and Advanced questions, is the maximum score they can receive a 9? If they decide to do the Mastery question, they must also do the other two questions as well, is that correct?

    2. When passing back the quizzes, I noticed you mentioned that you do not include their score (which I love). With that being said, what do you mark up on their paper if anything?

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I really appreciate it.

      1. Yes, the max score for only attempting the proficient and advanced questions is a 90, and yes, they must do all questions including the mastery question in order to get a full 100. Also, I’m going to experiment this upcoming year with requiring all questions to be attempted no matter what. I’ll take off the “Optional Challenge” label. I’m going to see how it goes to require a mastery level question to be completed correctly in order to get a full 100 for both an original quiz or retake.

      2. I don’t mark anything on their paper (except for rare cases where I can’t resist. I’ve taken this approach so that they focus on their quiz analysis more while we go over them in class. Also, I don’t want kids to automatically think they did horrible if markings are on their quiz. It’s also too time consuming to mark each individual quiz, and I’ve found that it’s more efficient to take the most common errors and put them on a warm up later to analyze.

      Thank you for the questions! Feel free to send more.

  4. Hi Dane!

    First thanks so much for all these great resources!! I did SBG this past quarter and am looking to fully implement in the upcoming school year. I’ve been spending the summer researching and refining my system so it’ll work best for me and my students. One question I have – if you aren’t putting anything (i.e. scores) on the returned quizzes, how do you recall what score to record?? I’m really struggling with this aspect for myself. I typically go through assessments by sections/questions at a time for all students, then move on to the next section until all are done. Then I go back a record. I would write the “meaning” they were receiving on the assessment, so it was easy for me to record later.

    1. Hey Stacy! Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it!

      I really like that you put the meaning on the kids quizzes. I think that’s a great idea and a good compromise if a teacher chooses to mark the quizzes. For me, I grade an entire quiz for a student all at once using the proficient, advanced, and mastery guidelines to help me process what I’m seeing. Once grading a student’s entire quiz, I put the grade in my own private spreadsheet and move on the next student’s quiz.

      Because of this, the first class I grade takes the most time because that class is setting the standard for the rest of my grading. Usually, similarities emerge, and it’s not too difficult to categorize quizzes into specific grades. Most quizzes have a similar feel to the first class, and I’m able to be consistent with what’s needed to make and 8, 9, etc.

  5. You have done an excellent job of explaining how you do it, really do it, in class with real kids, not just theory how this should work. Thank you.

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