The first time I wrote my own language arts test, it was too long. Like, embarrassingly the wrong length. Those poor students.
Of course I realized the test required students to write more than was sensible and modified it. I felt terrible and I’m sure many students stressed about it.
I needed to include writing on a language arts test though, especially in a writing course. What was the balance between seeing if students were applying writing methods and the constraints of a timed test?
It took years but I feel that I finally met the threshold of a meaningful evaluation. If you are creating a final exam or a language arts test that includes a writing portion, here are a few ways to include writing that won’t require your students to write a book.
1. Include short answer questions.
I ask myself if including a short answer section can serve a dual purpose. This works especially well with literature tests. Students can respond about characters or literary terms in application to the short story or novel.
Another application is for a test in a writing class. Students can answer writing vocabulary questions, while writing.
Examples of short answer questions?
– Explain the difference between a topic sentence and a thesis statement.
– In Animal Farm, what character best symbolizes ‘corruption’?
When grading short answer questions, I explicably write out for students that they will be graded on a) their response to the question and 2) conventions. This allows me to minimize portions on the test as I’m evaluating two content areas through the short answer section.
2. Assign a writing topic before the test.
One semester a few days before the final test, I gave students 3 essay prompts and told them to choose one. I then asked them not to research their prompt but to brainstorm ideas. I encouraged them to get input from peers, other teachers, adults, parents, anyone. They were free to brainstorm any which way – webs, lists, outlines, groupings, whatever they fancied.
At the time, I feared my experiment could be a colossal flop. What if they copied something off the Internet? Had parents write the whole brainstorming activity?
The results were great. Students told me they were relieved that the final exam wasn’t brainstorming and writing about a topic they had just read the day of a test. Writing out the brainstorming results into a short paper didn’t take them long since they already had ideas grouped. Plus, I took into account that this was a rough draft when grading it. Which leads to…
3. Grade the final as you would a rough draft.
I assume that my students know how to spell check and capitalize letters. For a writing class test, I feel comfortable grading a final draft (of the test’s writing prompt) as I would a normal rough draft. This means I may overlook run-on sentences and give points for students returning to the writing and adding editing marks.
To me, that is a fair assessment. Can students follow the writing process? If I’ve seen students create finished products and publish them, then assessing their final drafts they complete during a test as I normally would their rough drafts is fair.
4. Have students write an essay, not a ‘paper.’
High school students must know how to write an essay. College classes require students to respond in a mature manner to a discussion point. Even if students won’t head to college, jobs do require some degree of writing skills.
I often approach students: would they like an essay question, or short answer questions on their writing test? Every class is different and unless the class itself dictates that students respond to an essay, I allow a class to choose. Sometimes they want all their eggs in one basket, and other times they want lots of opportunity to show me their writing, even if they are unsure of the content answer.
A writing assessment test does not mean that students must write for a 90 minute final. By diversifying the writing requirements, teachers can provide students with choice and varying testing methods. If you are trying to include writing on a language arts test, be sure that the writing prompts are suitable for the class, that you will get a fair evaluation of students’ writing skills, and that students can complete the writing prompts in the allotted time.