Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education
When Tammy began college three years ago, she thought assessments were cruel and unusual punishment. Throughout her progress towards her education degree, though, her opinion began to sway. Where she first thought assessments and testing were just a way for teachers to judge and rank students, she now realizes they are used for so much more.
In education, assessments are used to evaluate student understanding of a concept, monitor progress towards a goal, and determine effective teaching methods. A specific kind of testing, culminating assessments, are used at the end of projects or units and are typically tasks that ask students to apply and demonstrate knowledge and skills. Let's follow Tammy as she discusses culminating assessments with her fellow teachers during class.
Using Culminating Assessments
Tammy's Methods of Teaching class has come together to talk about culminating assessments. In particular, they want to know how to use them in classrooms when they become teachers so they can be authentic and intentional about their teaching practice.
The professor explains that new and more rigorous standards have led educators towards more diverse ways of determining whether a student understands concepts. Instead of an end-of-unit test with fill in the blanks and multiple-choice questions, teachers these days create tasks that students complete to apply the knowledge and skills they developed throughout the unit. Let's look at two ways this can work.
1. End-of-Unit Projects
To show understanding of key ideas and concepts at the end of a thematic unit or long-term lesson, a teacher may ask students to turn in a project. Because the project comes at the end of learning, it's called culminating. Culminating projects show a student's understanding of a topic or unit. It doesn't just pop up towards the end of learning, either. Teachers should explain throughout the unit that a culminating project is going to be due at the end.
Tammy remembers completing a culminating project in high school. Her class was working on a unit on careers. Tammy chose to observe several childcare centers and to show what she learned, she created a 3-D model of an exemplary center.
Her sister also did a culminating project in grade school. Her class was learning about the solar system, and the teacher arranged students into groups of four. The group was responsible for using math and science skills, like measurement and force and motion, to design a spaceship to explore Saturn. They had to act like reporters and present data on the planet as part of the assignment. Her sister had a lot of fun on the project but also worked hard to demonstrate her understanding of key skills.
2. Performance Task
Tammy's professor introduces the second type of culminating experience, the performance task. These are like a culminating project because they're done at the end of learning. Unlike a project, though, they're a simple task students perform. The professor gives an example.
Let's say a math teacher has just finished a unit on fractions. She gives her students a test during which students answer questions and complete computations. Part of that test is a performance task where students come to her desk to demonstrate how to show 2/3 using base ten blocks.
Comparing Projects & Tasks
Teachers can assess students at the end of learning with an end-of-unit project or a shorter, specific task. Culminating projects and performance tasks are the same as they both require a student to use all information learned to show understanding of a key skill or concept. They're different, though, because a project has more criteria and takes more time and energy. Both require the teacher to create a scoring guide, such as a rubric, to measure student performance and determine if students showed proper understanding of the concepts. Students should have access to the guide so they can see what criteria is used for grading.
All right, let's take a moment or two to review. Tammy now knows teachers use assessments to determine if students understand taught skills. Culminating assessments are simply assets that are complete at the end of units. Teachers can assess students at the end of learning in a few ways.
One example is the culminating project, which is a task that asks students to apply the knowledge and skills they develop throughout the unit in one product. They're sometimes done with a group or partner and the unit builds towards their creation. Another example is a performance task, which is a culminating assessment that is typically seen as part of an end-of-unit test. It can be a task students perform as part of the test or the teacher could observe the student.
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